Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On the Edge, by Alison Levine

Alison Levine takes leadership training to new heights, using examples from her experience on Everest and other extreme environments, in On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership. She uses seemingly counter-intuitive advice, such as moving backward to make progress and practicing sleep deprivation, to make strong points for the things leaders should consider and act upon to better their skills. Her high-impact advice comes from her own efforts in the business world and natural world, as well the examples of great leaders of she has encountered. She writes on the premise that everyone is a leader and has a responsibility both to herself and her organization to practice the things that make great leaders, such as extraordinary preparation for challenges, compensating for weaknesses, building from failure, earning trust and loyalty, fostering healthy egos, and giving maximum effort. I like that she doesn't try to turn the book into the tale of her Seven Summits quest, but rather focuses on her biggest challenges that are most applicable to her points, including Everest, Carstenz Pyramid, and her South Pole journey.  

For Everest, she writes about both her experience in 2002 with the first American women's Everest expedition, and in 2010, when she reached the summit to honor the life of a close friend. Her 2002 trip, for which she was team captain, was ultimately turned back by bad weather at the South Summit, though she felt satisfied that she had had the entire "Everest experience," and was happy that the team got along so well and did everything in their power to reach the top. Eight years later, after many more mountains and a couple of Poles within her experience, she returned as a part of a commercial group to a frighteningly similar summit climb, with threatening weather and deep snow, causing many others to turn back. She compares the two styles of "teams," arguing that the climbers on the latter were not a team at all (as the members were not mutually supportive), regardless of what Merriam-Webster says. She also discusses in detail the speed ascent attempts by Chad Kellogg, and why he showed great leaderships qualities without having made the summit.

Levine writes an entertaining and compelling book. I appreciate the way she lifts up others with her examples, while keeping her bad apples anonymous. She gives at times hard advice, but backs it up with concrete examples. By showing what her non-stop, but intelligent work ethic can accomplish, she inspires others to follow. 

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