Book: On the Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership
Author: Alison Levine
Reviewer: Mark Becker, president, Georgia State University
Alison Levine is not your typical leadership author or guru. She is not a professor who has spent her career studying leadership, nor is she a former corporate executive. Instead, she has, among her other achievements, been a Wall Street investment banker, captained the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, completed the adventure Grand Slam of climbing the Seven Summits and skiing to both the North and South Poles, and made history as the first American to complete the traverse from west Antarctica to the South Pole following the route of the legendary Reinhold Messner. Alison Levine is an adventurer, explorer and mountaineer, and in this book she makes the case that the lessons she has learned in extreme environments apply more broadly and in the business world.
Levine’s thesis is that “(l)eadership in extreme environments requires the willpower, the teamwork, the high moral character and the emotional intelligence necessary to overcome exceptional hurdles, solve complex problems and face any sudden, uncontrollable, high-risk situation, including those that exist in today’s business world.” There is a premium on the ability to lead when conditions are far from perfect and consequences for any missteps are serious.
On the Edge kept my attention and made for a good read because Levine’s perspective is unconventional and her style engaging. She puts herself out there with advice that is not the norm for the leadership genre and may strike the reader as counterintuitive or wrongheaded. For example, Levine recommends that leaders:
- Look for teammates with big egos.
- Turn around and change direction when making progress.
- Practice sleep deprivation.
- Make the most of weakness, rather than try to overcome it.
Considering different voices and perspectives is a powerful way to expand one’s own capacity for leadership. I found Levine to be so engaging and compelling that I have given a copy of her book to every member of my senior leadership team.
Last year’s review by Dr. Becker: Books 2014: A Vivid Fictional Window Into North Korea