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  • Desleigh White

Leadership = Compassion + Mindfulness + Selflessness

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Over recent weeks I've been interested to watch the unfolding events as the 13 people were rescued from the flooded cave system in Thailand. It struck me that there were a plethora of examples of extraordinary leadership demonstrated.

The obvious and much discussed include:

  • the efforts of the highly trained Thai team in charge and their early acceptance of assistance

  • the efforts of people from around the globe - working together to get the 13 out.

  • the offers from others to support the efforts to their best - from divers to doctors to Elon Musk and everyone in between

But what strikes me is that there is much more to leadership than those examples demonstrate.

I was recently at a seminar where Potential Project were talking about three components of leadership - compassion, mindfulness and selflessness. And so I think we should talk about the selfless actions and the compassion that showed true leadership in Thailand.

  • the coach who gave up his food for the kids in his charge; who taught them to meditate to manage themselves in the difficult situation; who when given an opportunity to write to family/friends wrote to the parents apologising.

  • the international groups who seemed very respectful of the Thai team running the rescue and publicly deferred to them (and didn't big note themselves)

  • the diver, Saman Gunan (alternatively spelled Kunan), who took oxygen tanks in but didn't leave enough for himself and tragically died

  • the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha who delayed visiting the site so he didn't disrupt the rescue operation

  • the doctor / cave diver Richard Harris who was extraordinarily and intimately involved due to his rare combination of skills and whose father died while he was in Thailand

  • the divers who stayed with the group for over a week - leaving the caves last.

What amazing acts of compassion and selflessness #trueleadership #potentialproject

And then there was Richard Harris's extraordinary Facebook post:

"I am sitting in the back of an RAAF C17 on the way back to Australia with Craig and the amazing Australian team members from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force. I feel like it is the first opportunity to really stop and reflect on the extraordinary events of the past 8 days since Craig and I were deployed as a small AUSMAT team to the rescue in Chang Rai in Northern Thailand.

By the time we arrived on site, local divers like Ben Reymenants and the awesome foursome from Britain (John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell) had already been doing the most extraordinary dives through the cave and laying the very robust rope which made all subsequent dives to the soccer team not only possible, but safe. The efforts and skill of these guys in blazing this trail cannot be underestimated. Following someone else’s line is very much easier than finding your own way. Rick and John not only found the children and coach alive, but conveyed the gravity of the situation to the rest of the world and thus the rescue started in earnest. The 4 Brits then did further supply dives to the soccer players, the coach and the four Thai Navy Seals which allowed them to prepare and sustain themselves for the rescue ultimately.

Meanwhile on the ground, the Thais and international community sent in swarms of men and women to provide everything from catering, communications, media and of course the huge teams of workers filling the cave with tonnes and tonnes of equipment to try and lower the water and sustain the diving operations. I have never seen anything like it with man battling to control the natural forces of the monsoon waters. Local climbing and rope access workers rigged the dry cave section for that part of the rescue and scoured the bush for more entrances to the cave. Drilling teams attempted to get through nearly a km of rock to the boy’s location. And all this time 4 brave Navy Seals sat with the Wild Boars knowing they were in as much danger as the kids.

When it seemed all other options were exhausted, the decision to swim the players out was made and the rescue went ahead. As the kids came out, the 4 British rescue divers were supported by Craig and I, three other very talented young CDG divers from the UK (Connor, Josh and Jim) and the ͞Euro divers͟ (Erik, Ivan, our good mate Claus and Nikko). The pressure that was put on these guys was immense and they never dropped the ball for a second.

When the kids and coach were delivered to chamber 3, the US pararescue teams, AFP SRG divers, Aussie CD, Chinese divers and Thai Navy and Military medics assessed the kids, then whisked them out of the cave to a field hospital before moving them to the massive hospital in Chang Rai centre. We were lucky to visit the boys, coach and Seals and all the beautiful medical and nursing staff in the hospital on our way home.

I wanted to write this to try and give credit to all the people who were in some way involved. Craig and I have had a spotlight on our efforts and we want to make everyone realise that while we might have become the face of this rescue for some reason, everyone should know that the role we played was no more or less important than all the many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people I have mentioned. The part we played has been made out to be a lot more noble than it actually was, we just consider ourselves lucky to have had some skills that we could contribute to the wonderful outcome.

Special thanks to the NCCTRC and AUSMAT, DFAT, Australian Embassy Staff in Thailand, the Thai Tourist Police (our protectors!), local liaison, the local cavers. Our heartfelt condolences to the family of ex Navy Seal Saman Gunan who died during the rescue efforts.

At home we must thank our families for dealing with the media and the worry we caused them (they are used to the latter I fear). To MedSTAR and the SA Ambulance Service for the significant assistance and support especially from Drs James Doube and Andrew Pearce. To the team at Specialist Anaesthetic Services for the same. To the Cave Divers Association of Australia for handling the flurry of interest in our sport…the management team there has been amazing especially our best mate John Dalla-Zuanna. To the worldwide community of cavers and divers who have handled themselves with grace and dignity and tried to throw some facts the media’s way occasionally! Finally to the thousands of well-wishers from Thailand and around the world; we promise we have read every message!

Kittanu, Michael, Cameron, Andrew, Glenn, Jo and Grace… sorry to give you so much grief! Legends every one of you. To our new band of brothers; the Aussie, US , UK and Euro/Canadian divers - lifelong friendships and respect.

Harry and Craig"

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