Leading Under Pressure

For executives and entrepreneurs who need to hit the ground running

The Ultimate Leading Under Pressure

Lessons learned from Nando Parrado

By: Dr. Gaby Cora

Back in 2008, I was interviewing company presidents and CEOs for the new edition of my book, ExecutiveHealth.com’s Leading Under Pressure. All my contacts were direct or warm—either people I already knew or through friends who knew the executives. At the time, my son and I were watching the movie Alive one Sunday afternoon and it just occurred to me: how great would it be to interview Nando Parrado, mastermind of the rescue in the Andes mountains after 72 days of freezing hell? His character in the movie was masterfully played by Ethan Hawke, including a character arc that combined a vague sense of initial self-doubt and worry, eventually replaced by leadership, resilience, and survival. From my research of him, I saw that Nando experienced some tough years after the rescue and gradually found his own path. He became a business owner and created multiple additional businesses, including a television production company.

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I searched for his information on the internet and sent him an email, naïvely thinking that, maybe he would respond in the remote future. I was wrong. Within hours, he answered that he would be glad to schedule an interview, the greatest challenge being coordinating a convenient mutual time given his speaking and consulting appointments around the world.

There were several characteristics about him that struck me. These were my lessons learned from that phone call:

1. Clarity of Purpose: Brilliant and clear. There was no hesitation about who he was and what he was meant to do. His statements were decisive, his delivery direct and to the point. He knew what was important to him and he knew how to connect with others, and help them decide what was important to them. Leaders who know their strengths and talents and who communicate effectively lead others to realize their own skills and bring them together for a common purpose.

2. Generosity of time: We spent forty-five minutes on the phone. He was open to sharing everything that could help others and I had a sense that we could have spent hours on the interview. Leaders know that the translation of the vision that is in their mind’s eye takes time for others to see clearly. They don't just expect for you to get it, they make clear that you do, get it.

3. Humility: Parrado is a celebrity. He could have easily ignored a request from a stranger. And yet, when I thanked him for his time, he said: “We all have projects: I have projects, and you have projects. I’ll help as much as I can.” Great leaders treat everyone with respect, not just those people that they gain some advantage from. They are unafraid of whether others will perceive them as weak for not being on top. They are here to serve and this is what is shown through their demeanor.

4. Sense of Service: Yes, he has a lucrative career as a television executive producer, consultant, and speaker for Fortune 500 companies around the world. But the focus of his consulting, speaking, and sharing of experiences is to inspire others to overcome any adversity and prevail. Leaders look beyond their own direct benefit and constantly think of ways to serve the public at large, beyond any self-serving initiatives.

5. Perspective: Most of us make a huge fuss about the smallest incident. Many live like the world is under constant catastrophe mode and yet, one of the most significant comments Parrado made to me was: “I can tell you that I had all the pressure I could sustain in my life in my early years. Everything in the last 37 years has been a joy compared with what I went through, so any pressure in business is just issues, just simple things. The highest, most profound pressure I’ve ever felt is when you fight for your life and you know you are going to die. Everything I have faced afterwards, people say, “How can you do so many things?” Because they are so easy compared to what I have done.”

Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A., hosts Dr. Gaby's Take: Make Life Interesting. She’s a medical doctor with a master's in business administration.

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