Leadership Skills In Extreme Environments Can Be Applied Everywhere

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On The Edge: The Art Of High-Impact Leadership,
by Alison Levine

Review by Kristy McCaffrey

on-the-edge-by-alison-levine-official-book-coverAlison Levine is a mountaineer and polar explorer, who has completed the Adventure Grand Slam—skiing to both the North and South Poles and also summiting the highest peak on each continent. She was the captain for the first American Women’s Everest Expedition in 2002 and has worked on Wall Street, as well as serving three years as an adjunct professor at West Point. A popular speaker and consultant in leadership development, she offers some unorthodox advice, including: Look for teammates with big egos; when making progress turn around and change direction; practice sleep deprivation; don’t try to overcome weakness; and, success can be a problem.


“Leadership is everyone’s responsibility.”

Drawing heavily from her experiences in the mountains, she provides real-life examples of what it can mean to be under-prepared and not work together as a team. Both can lead to catastrophic circumstances, especially in extreme outdoor environments, but her insights are easily applicable to the business world. One chapter discusses ego and the need to be surrounded by people who have a big one. Not to be confused with arrogance, teams need members who are good at what they do and know it. When scaling Everest, no one wants to get caught behind a climber suddenly seized by a crisis of confidence.

“Developing yourself as a leader should be a deliberate, conscious process.”

She drives home the point that failure should be embraced. Not reaching a summit imparts valuable lessons to a mountain climber, knowledge that can make the difference on a subsequent attempt. Never underestimate the need for a strong network and always remain agile, both can be reasons that lead to being left behind. And, while it may seem obvious, be good to people. Trust and loyalty will follow.

“What we do makes a difference. And how we lead has impact.”

On The Edge showcases leadership skills gleaned from extreme environments, but the principles are suitable for corporate cultures, running the local PTO, or raising a family. Ms. Levine’s writing style is engaging and humorous, and her expertise leaps confidently from the page. Like any good adventure writer, she seamlessly brings you into her world, making the experience personal and intimate. And, while she has your attention, she imparts wisdom that just may help you run a better business, coach your child’s soccer team, or perhaps climb a mountain.


Kristy McCaffrey lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, and enjoys hiking, running, and 20-minute vinyasa yoga routines. She writes historical western romances and loves to travel. Visit her blog “Pathways” at kristymccaffrey.blogspot.com.

Last modified: February 19, 2014

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