5 Important Lessons from the Thai Cave Rescue

Unless you were lost in a cave yourself, you would have been like me between June 23rd and July 10th — holding your breath while following the news closely on the riveting Thai Cave Rescue episode. There are valuable leadership lessons that we can derive from it.

On 23rd June 2018, 12 boys (aged between 11 and 16) from the Wild Boars soccer team, together with their 25-year old assistant coach got trapped in a flooded cave complex in Northern Thailand.  The search and rescue effort received support from all over the world, involving almost 1,000 people. For 10 days, the boys and the assistant coach braved hunger, thirst, darkness and possibly, despair. On 2nd July, two experienced British cave divers found them.

Picture of the Wild Boars soccer team when they were found on 2 July 2018.

[2 July 2018] Photo released by Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center, shows the boys and their soccer coach as they were found in a partially flooded cave, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Thailand. (Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP)
(Source: https://bit.ly/2mR67sh)

The subsequent rescue effort, including analysis and planning, took another 8 days. The last four boys and their coach emerged from the cave on 10th July.  It was a dangerous mission. The rescuers and the rescued showed resilience, bravery, and tenacity throughout. The feeling of jubilation when they were all rescued from the cave reinforced how we are all connected. It is also a story of heroes and the best of humanity as the international team of professionals and volunteers worked together.

About a week ago, the rescued boys expressed their gratitude to former Thai Navy diver, Petty Officer Saman Gunan who lost his life in the rescue mission.

The episode holds exemplary lessons of leadership for us all.

1. Don’t panic

The boys showed tremendous resilience, strength, and tenacity during the entire time. You would expect them to have cried and be overwhelmed emotionally when they were first found. Surprisingly, they were calm and answered questions.

Throughout the entire rescue, they continued to remain calm. Any overreaction on their part would have jeopardised their own safety as well as the safety of the rescuers.

Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options. ― Simon Sinek

When we are faced with what seems like a disaster beyond any hope of recovery, it is always wise to remain calm so that we can keep a clear mind. Panic and fear clouds our judgment and will make matters worse. The assistant coach, who was a monk previously, taught the boys meditation techniques which helped them cope with the situation. It is good for leaders to learn how to manage the physical effects of panic to help remain calm when it is needed.

2. Stay as a team

When the rescuers found them after 10 days, they were together. And until today, there has never a word of any one of them blaming another. Nor were there anyone claiming to be the hero among them. Such is the nature of a good team.

A championship team is better than a team of champions.

Focus your time and energy to build your team. You may surround yourself with good talents but if each person plays at their own rhythm, you are not going to have an orchestra. When you invest in your team, you are investing in your business.

While talent can win games, teamwork wins the championships. ― Swadha Ojha, Aon Hewitt

3. Be patient and trust the experts

When the boys were found, one of their first questions was whether they could leave the cave that day. I am sure they were very disappointed when the divers told them “Not today.”. Throughout the remaining 8 days, they continued to remain patient and discipline.  They did not make demands and trusted the experts to know how and when they can be rescued.

Sometimes, we may believe that we know better and try to solve problems on our own. It is always wise to seek ideas and opinions from experts, before embarking on a solution to a problem.

“Listen to the experts. They got that way for a reason.” ― Erica Larsen, Bad Boy Nice Guy: A New Adult Romance Novel

 4. Leaders stay and eat last

The assistant coach sacrificed what little food and water he had for the boys. He was found to be the weakest when they were found. He was among the last of the 13 to leave the cave.  Three Thai Navy Seals and an Australian doctor went into the cave and stayed with the boys. These four were the very last ones to emerge from the cave.  This kind of selflessness is always demonstrated in leaders of successful teams.

This is an important concept according to Simon Sinek who authored the book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.   Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort–even their own survival–for the good of those in their care. In the end, it’s about teamwork.  This concept helps create successful organizations, in which people naturally work together to achieve remarkable things in an environment which fosters trust and cooperation.

5. Skill yourself

Adul Sam-on, a 14-year-old member of the Wild Boars soccer team, is proficient in five languages — English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin and Wa, a language spoken near the Myanmar and China border.

His knowledge of English  was crucial because it allowed him to talk to the British rescue divers on behalf of the group.  Adul provided clarity to the rescuers on how long the team had been in the cave and what they needed.

I am sure Adul Sam-on did not learn these languages because he knew he would be trapped in a flooded cave one day.  He probably learned these languages because he knew it would be useful in many ways. However, this language skill proved to be vital to the group’s rescue and well-being.

Some leaders are born; many are made.  Leadership skills can be developed and honed, just like any other ability. Leaders must be equally diligent to earn respect from their team and hold themselves responsible and accountable for their own continual skill development. Conduct an analysis of the type of skills that are lacking and work towards improvement intentionally. Our website visitors  are reminded on our front-page:

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. ― John F. Kennedy

Please visit the information pages on our Leadership Syllabus training titles. Contact us for more information or if you require an analysis so that we can customise our training for you.

About the Author: Gina Phan is a consultant and trainer with Zinfinity Consulting. She currently conducts courses in business communication, leadership skills, and consultative sales to technical professionals. She also consults in library automation. Click here to contact her or follow her on Facebook.

Read her other posts.

#leadership #business success  #gp 

(Source of feature image at the top: express.co.uk)

4 thoughts on “5 Important Lessons from the Thai Cave Rescue

  1. Hi Gina,

    I loved reading your article. They way you have elaborated the leadership lessons with specifics and quotes is just beautiful.

    Keep them coming!

  2. They are excellent and very insightful observations. I’m sure lots of people will take what they need from those – thank you.

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