When Luis Urzúa Iribarren bowed from the waist at the webcam in the mine, I felt tears welling up. Some of you might have noticed that Luis was the last of the Chilean miners lifted up to safety after the 69 day ordeal. Luis was the shift supervisor of the miners trapped and he took that responsibility very seriously. He was instrumental in helping them stay resilient and organized during their excruciating wait. Luis insisted on being the last one out. He wanted to make sure that all were brought up safely before leaving the mine. Luis models true leadership– inspiring others to be their best, even under dire circumstances; and serving others and the greater whole before helping himself.
Being a supervisor is seen by many as a thankless job. You often don’t get much more money and you are charged with a multitude of responsibilities, many of which take additional time that you aren’t paid for and require adapting to circumstances that you may not have anticipated. Certainly Luis didn’t expect to work a 69 day shift.
Research conducted by Gallup and other firms shows that the most powerful reinforcement in any employee’s work environment is their direct supervisor. What s/he models gets done. No matter what type of recognition program you have or benefits you offer, it’s the employee’s direct supervisor that makes the biggest difference in whether an employee stays or leaves. Celebrating everyday heroes at work and recognizing them for their contribution is essential for keeping leaders throughout an organization engaged. Besides, it’s the right thing to do. When a leader models the behaviors that reflect higher values like integrity, commitment and resiliency, everyone wins.