On the Edge is an engaging page-turner that uses Levine’s experiences as a mountaineer (as well as Wall Street veteran and professor) to explore, and advise on, the challenges we each face as we strive to become better leaders. I found myself utterly charmed and productively consumed, as Levine’s high-risk experiences give plenty of weight to advice such as: “Rigidity is just as dangerous as complacency” and “Treat every opportunity as if it is your one chance to … leave people with an accurate impression of who you are.” If Levine can implement these standards while sucking on oxygen and hanging off the side of a mountain, we surely can do it while sipping our coffee and sitting at our desks.
The chapter “Go Back, Jack, Do It Again” explains how climbers tackling Everest make a minimum of three shorter but no less dangerous trips up and down, in order to get acclimatized to the high altitude, before even trying to climb to the summit. Levine counsels us:
A great fallacy regarding progress is that it is defined by constant forward motion in the same direction. We assume that any steps in the opposite direction take us farther from our goal.
But taking the longer or the more circuitous route will still get us to our destination, and in fact, Levine suggests, “The mental trick is to understand that going down does not mean you're losing ground, but rather strengthening the foundation of your effort."
Alison Levine will help you realize that extraordinary challenges are extraordinary for a reason, and often feature aspects beyond your control, or that are particularly risky, so each time you try to scale them, you learn something more that you needed to know to proceed. Being the best leader you can be is about continually accumulating knowledge and adjusting, not ever assuming you know everything. On the Edge is a great reminder of that lesson, and so much more.
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