On The Edge

Learn how leadership principles from extreme adventure apply to business.

What makes leading a group of software developers and climbing Mt. Everest alike? Allison Levine, the author of the book “On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership, suggests that the answer is everything.

In this text, you’ll find out how leadership principles that are useful in high-impact adventures are also useful in contemporary businesses. In both environments, the leader has to make a critical decision, despite the layout being far from perfect.

Other things that you’ll learn include:

  • “Practicing” sleep deprivation can assist you with handling critical situations;
  • Staff that have expertise, experience, and ego are more sought after; as well as
  • How complacency may be the end of you.

Team leaders need to empower every member of the team.

When you fail to rise to a challenge, the feeling is never pleasant. You often wind up wondering whether things would’ve been different had you been more prepared. Therefore, whenever a team goes up against a challenge, their leaders must be prepared.

Whenever you’re the team leader, it’s crucial that you’re in the best shape. Your team will be expecting a whole lot more from you than the rest so you at least owe them that. Leaders have to be at their best physical and psychological level.

Therefore, you have to train yourself to be able to deal with situations where you aren’t able to sleep. You’ll never see a crisis situation that you have to stay up all night for coming. This is applicable in times when you’re leading an expedition to Mount Everest or your company’s group of programmers.

If, as the leader, you end up getting stressed out about something as little as tiredness, then you’ll end up stressing out the rest of your team, too. Therefore, it’s important that you “practice” on occasion, therefore you’ll be prepared when the time actually comes.

Another thing that good leaders understand is that it’s their job to inspire leadership within others. They must ask their team members to climb to new responsibilities, therefore, they’ll end up growing as leaders, too.

That type of leaderships helps make a team function a lot more effectively. This also gets them ready for the worst kind of scenario that could even be a life or death situation in an area such as the Himalayas.

Leaders should get their teams ready that way they have the skills necessary in order to move forward with their mission, even if they don’t have a leader.

Leadership skills are crucial which is why you should never stop working to develop them.

Final Summary Leaders should choose their team wisely, by looking for experience, expertise and a healthy ego.

In environments that are extreme, it’s crucial that each single team member works in order to make sure that there’s success. If anyone begins to behave poorly, there is not one employee handbook that you can go to so that you can figure out how to handle them.

As a result, the leaders have to select their team members carefully and with lots of thought. When it comes to climbing expeditions, teams are facing danger every day, thus putting their lives into their partner’s hands.

The thing is, you already have plenty of uncontrollable factors that are impacting you on the mountain top which is why you don’t need any team coordination issues either. In situations as dangerous as that one, that kind of trouble can be fatal.

In a business environment, the team dynamic can cause you to either win or lose a market share. Therefore, regardless of whether you’re in sports or in business, it’s imperative that you select your team members well.

Whenever you’re looking for new members, look for people with experience, expertise, and a good ego.

Whenever you’re trying to take on a mountain, you won’t want to go up with people that are only fun and easy-going. These people need to have the required survival skills in order to succeed in that environment. Therefore, you need to find people with skill as well as experience.

Additionally, your teammates need to have a high performance ego which means that they are confident in their abilities, therefore, they will be ready to take on any large-scale challenges.

In addition, it’s imperative that your team members have a want to not only climb, but also be a part of the team. You want to find people that are proud to work with and take care of one another. In other words, you want people with team ego.

If you have a strong team, then every member cares about assisting others in the same way that they care about themselves.

Team leaders have to build strong partnerships with other teams.

If you’re in the mountains or in an office, other teams can be of major assistance should anything go wrong. They would even prove to be essential in order for things to go right.

Collaboration is always important for success. When it comes to business, it’s almost unheard of for a team to work on its own without the help of other teams within the organization. Each unit depends on one another whenever they’re working towards a specific goal.

Take, for instance, engineering units. They typically depend on both research and development in order to optimize their manufacturing processes.

This also applies to expedition teams. Different teams have to organize their climbs whenever they’re going on the same mountain that way the route doesn’t become crowded. Team leaders have to openly talk to one another about it that way every team has the best possible opportunity for success.

Effective collaboration is also important in order to stay safe. In situations that are dangerous, climbers have to be prepared to reach out to other teams as well.

Strong relationships can save lives even in the most critical of situations. Something can always happen unexpectedly, regardless of how prepared your team is. You will never know if a climbing rope will tear and so a person could fall.

Therefore, you’d be a lot more safer when you are able to depend on people from outside of your team, should an emergency occur. In an expedition, you can’t make the assumption that people that you don’t know will come to the rescue should you need it. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop a relationship with other climbing teams.

If other teams are aware that you’re out there, your team has a much slimmer chance of being overlooked should you go missing. Additionally, if you call for help, you’re more likely to get help as people are more prone to help those that they know versus help those who are strangers.

Therefore, regardless of whether you’re climbing an actual or a metaphorical mountain, it’s important to have strong partnerships if you want to succeed.

Complacency can be deadly, and agility is the key to avoiding it.

Dangerous situations often occur due to people failing to react to any changes that happen around them. Whenever things are going well, we risk going complacent. Sometimes, it may even turn deadly.

Sherpas, which are the local climbing guides of Mt. Everest, can become a victim to that. They could, for instance, get too confident on the hazardous terrain since they are familiar with it, which has caused some incidents to occur due to the lack of taking the right precautions.

In 2012, Namgyal Tsherig Sherpa, who was a climbing guide, died tragically when he had fallen into a crevasse. Had he clipped into his safety rope, his life may have been saved.

Complacency can cause people to engage in such risky behavior as they had managed to get away with it in the past. It’s not difficult to become complacent when you fall too much into a routine.

Since complacency can become so dangerous, leaders have to look out for it. They do so with agility.

When you’re in the mountains, you have to move very quickly and stay alert. You’ve always got to be ready to react to any environmental changes. That kind of agility will boost your chances of surviving.

However, not only adventurers fall victim to complacency. Businesses can also struggle if they don’t end up making adjustments to shifts in their environment.

This had occurred to Research in Motion (RIM), who had made the BlackBerry smartphone. In 2008, it was worth around $80 billion. However, by 2012, it had dropped under $5 billion. How come?

RIM didn’t adapt to the changes happening within the smartphone market. They didn’t expect the rise of touchscreens and their business model wasn’t flexible enough to make alterations to when their consumer’s behavior had changed.

You will never know when to expect an oncoming shift, regardless of whether it’s in business or in the mountains. Therefore, it’s crucial that you are always ready for change.

Good leaders make their team members feel valuable, and help them compensate for any weaknesses.

In extreme scenarios, how you handle a weak link in your team could be what differentiates your team from succeeding or failing.

Often times, in a business, you have to work with people that have less experience or who are less capable than you are. In a climbing team, members will definitely have physical capabilities. Regardless, in either scenario, when you have to deal with a team member’s weakness, the majority of leaders will just try to “cure” it. However, that’s not the best method.

How come? Well, there’s a big possibility that their weakness isn’t curable.

You can alter people’s work attitudes, however there a few limitations that just can’t be overcome such as height, speed, or the certain way that our brains process information.

A good leader understands that it’s their responsibility to assist team members with becoming productive, that way everyone can benefit. This, however, doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of their weaknesses.

On the contrary, just try to focus on compensating for their weaknesses. Alison Levine had learned this when she had taken part in a long-distance skiing expedition in Antarctica.

Levine’s short legs weren’t able to carry her nearly as fast as her taller team members, therefore she was the slowest on the team.

Her team leaders had compensated for her weakness by attempting to overcome it. They had told the rest that she had been carrying too much weight, therefore, some of the members took some of her food supply in order to distribute the weight a lot more equally.

They had made this decision by taking into her account her well-being. She wasn’t blamed for her weakness as that would’ve made her feel worse. When they had asked the rest of the team to help out, they were also engaging them therefore everyone was working on the issue altogether. As a result, the problem was solved and they became closer as a team.

Leaders have to make sure their team members are properly equipped.

Whenever you take on a challenge, regardless of what it is, you are always responsible for your preparation. Team leaders, though, get the most responsibility.

It’s the responsibility of the leaders to know which tools are necessary in order to get the job done. Even if you’ve got the skills, you won’t succeed if you don’t have the right equipment.

Germany had learned this lesson back in June of 1941, when they had gone to invade the Soviet Union. They had many armed soldiers, tanks, and horses, but they didn’t take enough warm clothes for the winter nor did they take the proper tools to maintain their equipment out in the cold.

The majority of historians have agreed that this way the main reason why Germany’s attack had failed; they just hadn’t packed well.

Therefore, even if you have people and plenty of money, you won’t be able to reach your goals if you don’t have the right gear. Leaders must know which skills and tools are necessary in order to get the job done.

Additionally, leaders have to make sure that their team is properly equipped. If you don’t have the right equipment, it can end up being very dangerous.

Levine had gone through this when she had climbed Cartensz Pyramid, which is the highest peak in Oceana. She hadn’t calculated the time it would take to get to the summit correctly which is why she had to climb back down in the dark.

Her headlamp didn’t work, so she wasn’t able to see anything while she climbed She had put her life at risk by not being prepared.

Therefore, if you think that you can’t afford all of the gear necessary, then ask yourself whether you can afford not to have it.

Also, don’t forget that even if one team member doesn’t have the necessary equipment, it could impact the entire team. Therefore, leaders have to make sure that everyone is ready.

Good leaders show their team that they care about them and take the time to get to know them.

Don’t underestimate how important it is to treat others with respect and kindness, especially when you want to achieve a goal. If you treat people nicely, then they typically react the same in return.

A good leader will show their team how much they care about them. Regardless of whether you’re the lead in an expedition or in a software development group, your team has to understand that they’re important to you.

As a leader, you don’t get trust and respect right away just because you have that title. That must be earned by treating your teammates the right way.

For instance, Mark Zuckerberg’s desk is located in the middle of the common workspace at Facebook. He works together with his staff, sending a message that they’re all in it together.

Leaders direct the team towards the goal while making sure that they are all performing to the best of their abilities. They really have to know the people that they are leading.

Whenever you take the time to learn about your team, you’ll be able to let them know how much they matter to you.

A good way to do this is by finding out what they find important, such as their families, hobbies, interests outside of work, or their hopes for the future. Those kind of interactions can help build the foundation for a strong bond.

As soon as you truly get to know your team, you’ll additionally be able to evaluate their abilities. Someone who likes to be part of a big family, for example, would probably prefer to have more social and collaborative tasks.

You have to go about every member individually if you want to help them perform to the best of their abilities. The more that you know about them then the greater the impact that you’ll have on them as a leader.

Leaders should break the rules when necessary.

Typically, rules are there for a reason. However, don’t look at them as a strict set of laws that you have to follow without direction. On the contrary, use them as guiding principles.

On occasion, really awesome things can happen if you break the rules. Take, for instance, the soldier, Channing Moss at a time when his platoon had been patrolling in southeastern Afghanistan back in 2006.

His convoy had been hit by a few rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). An unexploded RPG had gone into Moss’s body which had made him become a human bomb. The typical procedure for that case would be to sandbag him in a place where he wouldn’t be a danger to anyone should he explode and essentially, just wait for his death.

Thankfully, though, the medical team decided not to follow the rules. They had airlifted Moss to an aid station where the explosive device was removed which had been a huge risk for the medical personnel. However, the procedure was a success, thus saving Moss.

In extreme situations such as that one, leaders must make decisions that can push everyone in the direction of the best outcome. Often times, this results in breaking the rules.

In reality, complying to rules in a robotic fashion can actually be harmful.

For instance, in 2011, a parade had been planned in Shelter Island, New York in order to pay homage to the soldier, Joseph Theinert. He had been killed in Afghanistan. American flags been hung on utility poles that stood all along the parade route.

LIPA, which was the local utility company, had billed the town because they had hung the flags on their polls since based on their rules, a fee had to be charged. The bill totalled to $23.

When this story had spread on national news, LIPA had to deal with some major PR issues as it had to deal with popular outrage.

This goes to show how there are some occasions when you need to follow the rules and there are other times when you need to break them. Leaders must know the difference.

Companies need credos - and leaders need them too.

Who we are depends a lot on our actions. Therefore, every single one of us needs to have a credo, which is a set of keywords that reminds us how we should act in both our professional and personal lives.

Businesses have to have credos as well. Leader’s aren’t able to be everywhere at the same time, therefore they have to trust their team to do the right thing even at times when they aren’t being looked after.

For instance, Verizon’s credo was created around words such as integrity, respect, performance excellence, as well as accountability. If a business has a set of guiding principles such as those, then staff will have a better judgement in situations that are a bit tricky.

A leader is able to create their identity by making the effort to put their credo to action. Whenever you’re a leader, you must know what it is that you stand for and what you value the most.

Therefore, what’s your credo and how would you like people to describe you?

Levine’s credo is “count on me”. She strives to be the person that her team members would go to in times of trouble. A credo just like her own can assist you with turning into the great leader that you aspire to be.

Don’t forget, though, that having a credo doesn’t just mean that you can write something down in words and then forget about it. No, you have to take action and live by those words on a daily basis.

When you actually live by your credo, you will be able to gain from your teammates both trust and loyalty. They will know exactly what they can expect from you. Therefore, make sure that you put your leadership philosophy to action every day.

In addition, your credo will assist you with staying true to both yourself and your beliefs, even in times of extreme situations. Both a physical or a mental strain can be threatening to your values, however your credo will help you remember who it is that you’d want to be.

Final Summary

The leadership principles that can be applied to extreme adventure sports is also applicable in today’s extreme business environment. In both environments, it’s necessary for the team to be able to handle sudden, unexpected, risky situations. Therefore, you need to be prepared, take care of each teammate, and inspire them to try and become leaders themselves.

Practical advice:

Don’t attempt to get rid of all of the weaknesses.

Don’t forget that some weaknesses just can’t be eliminated. Therefore, try to compensate for weaknesses instead of trying to get rid of them. This lets teammates make the most out of their strengths and deal with any drawbacks.

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