'Society of the Snow' and Roberto Canessa’s Life-Changing Experience


Jan 4, 2024

NOLS had the opportunity to chat with Roberto Canessa, one of the survivors of the Andes plane crash in 1972. Netflix released a movie, Society of the Snow, about the crash, its impacts on the team that took that fateful flight, and how they endured and survived in harsh and adverse conditions. Roberto shared his life-changing experiences and what those teachings can mean for everybody's life.


Some things that stood out from Roberto were the changing leadership roles and how they presented themselves differently. As he stated, “There are no leaders for every circumstance. Leaders change according to needs. Leaders emerge by the needs of the moment.”

The NOLS leadership model has four leadership roles, and as Roberto confirmed, these roles change under the circumstances and the dynamics and needs of the group.

Society of the Snow_Netflix_03
Courtesy of Netflix

"The people who survive are not the strongest, not the bravest, but the smartest and the ones who have a reason to survive. It’s not always how you survive, but why you want to survive."

-Roberto Canessa 

What are the Four NOLS Leadership Roles?

Designated Leadership – The head architect and guardian of the group process. They delegate and should collaborate when possible. Complex, potentially risky, or tough activities and decisions are best handled with a designated leader.

During the Andes crash, the team captain was the designated leader. He didn’t always emerge as the group leader or agree with the group as conditions evolved. Other leaders emerged as the circumstances changed, and the team needed to adapt to their surroundings to survive.

Active Followership Members show good leadership by following the leadership of others. They seek clarity, give input, respect the plan, help out, and work for the betterment of the group and its goals.

Members of the Andes team followed the leaders when hard decisions were made to survive.

Peer Leadership Each person sees what needs to be done and does it without a hierarchy.

Roberto said, “Leaders aren’t good unless you have a good group, and you create that group by coaching those around you. Make them feel capable and have them feel self-confident.”

Self-Leadership A group member is a leader by who they are and how they influence others, not their position. This is leadership through character and judgment.

Society of the Snow_Netflix_02
Courtesy of Netflix

As the conditions worsened and survival was at bay, Roberto continued to emerge as a natural leader through his character and judgment. From making difficult decisions about what they would need to eat to stay alive to making the 10-day trek to seek help, he exhibited self-leadership. 

Society of the Snow_Netflix_01
Courtesy of Netflix

"Leaders aren’t good unless you have a good group, and you create that group by coaching those around you. Make them feel capable and have them feel self-confident."

-Roberto Canessa 

Written By


NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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