Book Review: On The Edge

on-edgeLevine, Alison.  On the edge : the art of high-impact leadership. Business Plus, 2014.also available in Kindle and audiobook formats.

Alison Levine completed her MBA at the Fuqua School in 2000 and has remained active with the School, serving in leadership roles at both the Fuqua/Coach K Center for Leadership and Ethics, as well as Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.  Outside of Duke, Levine has held positions of leadership in a variety of other nonprofit organizations worldwide. In 2003, she served as Deputy Finance Director for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful campaign for Governor. She also founded the Climb High Foundation, a nonprofit organization that trains women in third world countries to be mountain guides and porters in their local mountains so they can benefit from climbing- and trekking-related tourism.  Alison is currently the co-chair of the West Coast chapter of 85 Broads, a member of the Association of Women MBAs and was a founding member of World Wildlife Fund’s Young Partners in Conservation.  A popular and talented keynote speaker, Levine is also an adjunct professor at the US Military Academy at West Point.

In 2002, Levine served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and she returned to Mt. Everest in 2010 to climb to the summit.  These adventures form the basis for her best-selling new book, On the Edge.  For Levine, mountain climbing is a metaphor for endurance, willpower and achievement.  Her book is about the leadership lessons that she learned during those two climbs – the need for teamwork, moral character and emotional intelligence.  She explains that preparedness is key to success and advises readers to condition for sleep deprivation, even for those whose challenges take place in the office.  Levine uses vivid descriptions of environmental hardships on the mountains to explain that while we cannot control our environment, we can control the way we react to it.  She also explains that backtracking does not necessarily mean you are losing ground, if you are strengthening the foundation of your effort.

Levine chose the women for her team on her first attempt to summit Mount Everest by using telephone interviews.  She “screened for aptitude, then hired for attitude.”  She chose experienced team members who were confident about their skills and felt proud to be members of the team.  As a skilled leader, she developed personal relationships with individual team members to build loyalty and trust, and fostered relationships with those who offered encouragement and support.

In addition to serving as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, Levine also achieved the Adventure Grand Slam, climbing the highest peak on every continent (the Seven Summits), and skiing to both the North and South Poles.  In addition to her successes, Levine details her mistakes.  She describes her own bad judgment during a climb up the Carstensz Pyramid in western New Guinea, as she put herself in danger without proper equipment.  Also compelling was her description of her skiing to the South Pole in 2008.  As the weakest team member, she learned from her leaders to help others compensate for their vulnerabilities.   Levine lays out her story with candor and humor.  Her engaging book is highly recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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