All posts by Nichelle

Fortune.com: Here’s What You Can Learn About Leadership From ‘Everest


by Alison Levine  |  September 20, 2015

Alison Levine, who’s climbed the Seven Summits, says the new movie nails the details of climbing Everest—and the importance of authentic leadership.

Authenticity. It’s a word often associated with successful CEOs, high-ranking military officers, coaches of championship-winning sports teams and heads of state (well, a few of them anyway). It’s not, however, a term typically applied to anything related to Hollywood or the entertainment industry. But there is one director who’s out to change that: Baltasar Kormákur.

This weekend marks the opening of Kormákur’s $55 million feature film, Everest, one of Hollywood’s most anticipated movies of the fall. With a star-studded cast that includes Jake Gyllenhall, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Keira Knightly, and Robin Wright—there is no shortage of A-listers in the credits. The movie is based on a true story and follows two groups of climbers as they attempt to scale the world’s highest peak.

I attended the premiere of the film last week at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and had no idea what to expect. Sure, the trailer looked good, but don’t they all? It’s the other 99% of the movie that typically never lives up to the hype.

I was skeptical when I first heard there was another Everest movie in the works. While there have been a couple of fabulous mountaineering films released in the past, the majority have been cheesy and ridiculous. I’ve climbed Everest twice, so I know what the mountain looks like and what it feels like. I wondered if the new movie would be another adrenaline-junkie film that would mainly appeal toCliffhanger devotees. I prepared myself for disappointment, because here’s the thing: You can’t out-Stallone Stallone.

But as Kormákur addressed the 3-D goggled audience before the start of the film, he made it abundantly clear that he “didn’t want to sanitize the people and the events.” Rather, he hoped to “humanize them and make them real.” He went on to explain that he shot in temperatures as low as -22F and at altitudes of 16,000 feet. He said he took the cast and crew as high as any insurance company would allow them to go. He wanted his actors to feel the stress and discomfort that’s associated with being up high, because that was the only way he could make sure that what came across in the final cut did indeed feel authentic.

They filmed a great deal of the movie in Nepal, with the balance filmed in the Dolomites in Italy and on a sound stage. I caught up with actors Michael Kelly and Jason Clarke (separately) after the screening, and talked to them about what it was like to film at altitude in the cold temperatures. They both mentioned how difficult it was to be flown right to the shooting location. They didn’t have time to properly acclimatize and were plagued with the headaches, nausea and insomnia that commonly accompany altitude sickness. Bummer for the actors, but another brilliant Kormákur move as far as “keeping it real,” since Everest climbers deal with these ailments on the mountain.

So, how did Kormákur get his celebrity cast and crew to deal with such uncomfortable conditions on top of an already-grueling shoot schedule? He did what any good leader would do: He went through the hardship with them. In his own words: “I think what’s helpful is that I will stay right there with them, in the same conditions, show them what they need to do…So they are more likely to work with you than if you’re sitting someplace warm and telling them, ‘Keep going.’”

Bingo. It’s important for leaders to show their teams that they’re willing to make the same sacrifices and endure the same hardships as everyone else. As a leader, you can never expect the people on your team to be willing to endure anything that you are not willing to endure. By getting out there with his cast and crew, Kormákur was building trust and loyalty—two incredibly important aspects of high-performing teams. And he needed these actors to perform, because they were re-creating scenes that would require them to withstand some of the most physically challenging conditions they had ever experienced.

You may know how the story unfolds: On May 10th, 1996, several groups of climbers left Camp 4 (which is situated at a place called the South Col at 26,000 feet) and headed for the summit, marching higher and higher into what is known as the “Death Zone.” They call it the Death Zone for a pretty good reason: because once you hit an altitude of about 26,000 feet, human life can no longer be sustained and your body is literally starting to die. Your muscle mass is deteriorating as you climb further and further up. And the more your body decays, the more the mountain demands from you. Summit day’s recipe is one part irony and one part cruelty as you’re tasked with making life or death decisions as your brain is oxygen starved and you’re suffering from hypoxia.

(SPOILER ALERT) The deadliest storm ever to hit the mountain enveloped the climbers who were stranded up high on the mountain. Visibility went to zero. Ferocious winds and ice tore at peoples’ skin. Human beings froze like statues and became part of the landscape on the mountain. Among those who died in the storm were two of the world’s best, most experienced mountaineers. The cold hard reality of mountaineering is that sometimes no matter how good you are, and no matter how experienced you are, things can still go wrong. And plenty did.

Everyone’s efforts to make Everest feel authentic paid off. The mountain scenes feel as real as any documentary. The cinematography and special effects are nothing short of spectacular. After the movie ended, I approached Kormákur and told him that he had made the most realistic mountaineering movie I had ever seen. Variety reported that he was on cloud nine after my comments. At least I know that he’s used to the altitude.

Alison Levine has climbed the Seven Summits and skied to both the North and South Poles. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments.

Oprah.com Shares Alison’s Advice on Resilience

Alison Levine: How to Keep Going When You Think You Can’t

We’ve all hit the wall: that moment when carrying on feels impossible. Polar explorer Alison Levine—who has skied to both poles and summited Mount Everest—explains how to find the will when you think you’ve got nothing left.

Photo: Harry Kikstra
Photo: Harry Kikstra

1. Remember that backing up is not backing down.
Climbing a mountain is never a straight shot to the top. Because of Mount Everest’s altitude, you spend two months on the mountain acclimatizing your body (you know, so you don’t keel over and die), which means that every time you move forward, say from Basecamp to Camp 1 or from Camp 1 to Camp 2, you turn around and climb all the way back down to Basecamp and start over again the next day. Although going backward is extremely frustrating, it’s not a setback. It’s an opportunity to regroup and regain some strength. One of my favorite phrases is, “Backing up is not backing down.” When you return to where you started, it’s not defeat, it’s not backing down. So often we think in order to achieve something we have to go in one particular direction, but I’ve learned from my experience on mountains that progress doesn’t only move in one direction.

2. Give 150 percent to one thing at a time.
Initially when I was working full time while training to lead the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, I wasn’t doing a good job of anything. I would go to the gym at crazy hours—between midnight and 5 a.m.—and then I wouldn’t get enough sleep. That left me unfocused at work and meant I couldn’t give my colleagues what they deserved to get from me. So I thought, “During the week I’ll focus on work, and when I get home I’ll fundraise, but I’m going to save my training for the weekends.” By compartmentalizing, I could devote my best self to each task. It’s not just about getting everything done, it’s about getting things done the way they should be.

3. If you can’t pull, you can dig.
When I was skiing to the South Pole, I had a really hard time pulling my 150-pound sled full of gear across the frozen terrain. I kept slowing my team down because my 5-foot-4 frame, no matter how hard I trained, couldn’t keep up. I felt so defeated and even convinced myself everyone on my team hated me for it. Instead of giving in to those thoughts, though, or pushing myself too hard in some radical effort to overcome my size, I compensated by doing things I was good at. My taller teammates had a hard time shoveling snow when we made camp every night, so guess what I did? I shoveled like a maniac. In return, they carried some of the gear from my sled, which made pulling my weight—literally—a manageable feat.

4. Put your fear to work.
Here’s what you need to know about fear: It won’t kill you. You can be scared from morning until night, and it only becomes dangerous when you let it paralyze you. Whether you’re at 29,000 feet or sitting at a desk back on earth, that spark of fear can help you stay ahead of the game. If you acknowledge it, welcome it and refuse to let it paralyze you, you’ll make smarter decisions every time.

5. Don’t assume failure is final.
Fun fact: the first time I climbed Mount Everest with the American Women’s Everest Expedition, I had to turn back less than 300 feet from the top. After months of training, fundraising and media appearances, we failed. Coming up short on that climb in 2002 gave me the skills to summit Everest in 2010. If you only pursue challenges you know you can accomplish, you’re never going to achieve anything worthwhile.

Alison Talks Everest in Variety Magazine

‘Everest’ Director: We Need to Make Films that Feel Real

Everest premiere Tim Bevan, Baltasar Kormakur
CHELSEA LAUREN/VARIETY/REX SHUTTERSTOCK

Mannie Holmes | September 10, 2015

Everest” director Baltasar Kormákur was feeling on top of the world at the film premiere Wednesday night at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Kormákur was joyful when he learned that mountaineer Alison Levine called the film trailer the most accurate film portrayal of Earth’s highest mountain. It was a feat the director wanted to make while filming at the Italian Alps and near Everest’s South Base Camp in Nepal.

“When I heard that they were making this movie I thought, ‘Oh great, another cheesy, adrenaline-junky-Everest movie that seemed so unrealistic,” Levine said on the red carpet. “I could not believe how close this trailer looked to the real conditions on Everest. This, to me, looks like the most realistic climbing movie I’ve ever seen.”

And she would know. The explorer accomplished the Adventure Grand Slam in 2010 — climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents and reaching the north and south poles. Variety‘s Justin Chang wrote in his review, “the ever-present howl of the wind and the scrape of boots on snow are kept in just the right balance with the characters’ voices.”

“I just felt like we should do everything that we could possibly do with the elements,” the director responded. “The more that we make the Marvel studio films fantastic for what they are, the more we need to contradict that and make films that feel real.”

The chilling story in “Everest” follows the 1996 climbing expedition, where eight people lost their lives after a severe snowstorm. At the time, the disaster marked the mountain’s largest death toll during a single season.

“The crew had the hardest time because you have to walk up the mountain and then… you have to shoot for twelve hours,” Kormákur revealed about the most difficult filmmaking effort. “There were avalanche warnings every day on the course, we had to evacuate. We lost our sets due to the avalanches, but what I liked about it was that you’ll look up at the mountain and wonder, ‘What is this mountain going to let me do today?’”

He stated that Josh Brolin was the most “macho” on set and that the actor weathered through his fear of heights while filming. Actress Naoko Mori also felt up to the challenge to conquer a potentially dangerous role.

“There are no cars, no heating, no facilities and basically we had to carry everything ourselves and trek,” she started. “Lunch would be like two boiled eggs and a bit of Yak cheese… but we loved it.”

(Universal’s Jeff Shell and Donna Langley flank Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver.)

The after-party at The Roosevelt Hotel was not a far hike. Guests trekked only a few feet to the late night buffet and drinks provided after the 3D screening. Entering the hotel was an adventure in itself. The party wound around the inside of the hotel and out onto the pool area with more food, dessert trays and the opportunity to take pictures in front of a green screen — putting guests atop the Himalayas.

Film’s stars Michael Kelly and Jason Clarke were looking cool as they mingled at their reserved tables by the pool. The most noticeable absence — aside from Jake Gyllenhaal — was Jack Frost. It was nearly 80 degrees at nightfall while the party had backdrops of snowy mountaintops sprinkled throughout the venue.

Universal releases “Everest” Sept. 25.

Image and Style: Ms. Adventure Alison Levine

alison levine

At age 44, this American mountain climber, explorer, sportswoman and entrepreneur completed the last degree Adventure Grand Slam by reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. She has since transitioned into being a motivational and leadership speaker as well as being an author who penned a New York Times bestseller. She’s an inspiration to us and we hope you’ll feel likewise. Meet Ms. Adventure Alison Levine.

I&S: In your travels around the globe you have most likely met hundreds of fellow travelers. What do you perceive as the commonalities among those who seek the thrill of adventuring? Have you any reason to believe that some people are born adventurers?

AL: One thing that most adventurers have in common is a strong sense of curiosity. Curiosity not just about what lies “off the beaten track” – but a curiosity about themselves. They aren’t afraid to test themselves and operate completely outside of their comfort zones. Adventurers also have a need to see, feel and understand what lies outside of the everyday environments that surround most people on a day-to-day basis. As far as being “born” an adventurer – I actually think that anyone can catch the adventure bug and that it is more a function of the combination of that sense of curiosity mixed with open-mindedness and encouragement from people in your circle (and by that I mean parents, friends, teachers, siblings, etc. – anyone who has an influencing role in someone’s life).

I&S: What triggered your desire to mountaineer and/or expedition to the North/South poles? Can you describe the feeling of accomplishment you get from achieving your goals?

AL: From the time I was younger I was always very intrigued by the stories of the early mountaineers and the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers. I would read books and watch documentary films about them…and could never seem to take in enough information about these adventurers. I had my second heart surgery when I turned 30 (the first was at age 17 was not successful at correcting the heart defect I was born with) and after that a light bulb went on in my head and I thought: If I really want to know what it’s like to explore these extreme environments, then I should go experience them myself instead of simply reading about them.
As for the feeling of accomplishment, the things I focus on have changed over the years as I’ve grown older and wiser (well, hopefully wiser!). Instead of focusing on getting to the tops of mountains, I focus on what I can do to be the MVP of my team. While it’s always a bonus to get to the top of the mountain or to the North or South Pole, my goal is for the people on my team to look back on the experience and think, ”I am really glad she was part of our team.” That is what gives me that sense of accomplishment.

I&S: Preparation must play a large part in your journeys. Can you tell us about the physical, mental and practical considerations leading up to the start of one of your trips? Where do sponsorships come in with regard to going on expeditions?

AL: The only way to really prepare for a serious expedition is to simulate what it is that you’ll be doing during the trip. For example, if I am going to try to tackle a big mountain, I have to get out to the mountains to train. That means a six hour drive for me (each way) as I prefer to train on Mt. Shasta which is about 300 miles from my home in northern California. If I’m going to be dragging a 150 pound sled across the Arctic Circle or across the Antarctic continent then I have to try to simulate that experience. That means going out to the beach and harnessing a couple of tires to my waist and dragging them across the sand in order to simulate dragging the heavy sled across the ice. This is part of the physical and mental training because a lot of the time it can feel monotonous – and that feeling can certainly be part of these expeditions too! Training in a gym is not really going to help me prepare properly—mentally or physically.
As far as the sponsorships go, I have been very lucky in that I have been able to secure fabulous sponsors over the years. Ford sponsored the American Women’s Everest Expedition and had it not been for them, I would never have had the opportunity to climb that mountain. Finding financial sponsors is no easy task; you have to cast a very wide net and be okay with rejection, because you typically get a hundred companies that say “no” before one says “yes.” You need the “never give up” attitude not only when you’re on the mountain, but also when you’re in search of funding. If there’s something you really want to do, you’ll figure out how to get the money.

I&S: How have your experiences helped you in your career as a leadership author/speaker? Do you equate expedition planning with an executive’s ability to guide his/her company to success in the market?

AL: There are a lot of parallels between the challenges I face in the mountains and the challenges faced by businesspeople. The environments we operate in are similar in that they are unpredictable and are constantly shifting and changing. You have to be able to manage risk and deal with the unexpected. Had I not had these expedition experiences, I wouldn’t have the fabulous opportunities that I have today. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent several years on the adjunct faculty at West Point and to currently serve on the board of the Thayer Leader Development Group (which shares West Point leadership best practices with corporate executives). I also serve on the board of the Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke University, which is also a privilege for which I am very grateful. Yes, I teach, but I also learn. I will always be a student of leadership no matter what it is that I am doing.

I&S: Is it possible to teach leadership to others if they have not faced adversity? Or is it possible to create exercises to evoke leadership?

AL: Yes! I believe it is indeed possible to teach anyone about leadership and I also believe that leadership has nothing to do with having an “official title.” Leadership is everyone’s responsibility because we are all responsible for looking out for the people around us. Of course if you have faced a lot of adversity then you already have the inner-strength and determination which helps build strong leaders. The other thing to remember is that one person might view a particular situation as challenging when someone else could look at it and think it is no big deal. Everyone has a different definition of adversity. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to give people guidance on how to become a leader of consequence that has a positive impact on those around them.

I&S: You’ve held several jobs over the years in parallel with your time spent abroad. Is the author/speaker role going to be your profession going forward or do you expect some new challenge to lure you away? What would cause you to drop everything right now and go?

AL: I am loving the author/speaker job because it gives me something I could never have in a corporate job: flexibility in my schedule and unlimited vacation time (should I choose to take it). I can tell my agent, “hey, don’t book me for any speeches in July because I am heading to the mountains.” I can take two months off if I am doing a big expedition and then hit the ground running again on the speaker’s circuit when I get back. Of course this year has been a little more intense because of the book tour, so I haven’t had much “vacation time.” But heck, it’s my first book (my baby!!!) so I don’t mind being on the road all the time in order to promote it. I don’t see my career taking any major turns anytime soon. The only thing that would make me drop everything right now is if someone I loved needed me to be there to care for them. People are always more important than jobs.

I&S: Can you tell us about your book, On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership? From first draft to final format, how long did it take you to write? How was your reception from potential publishers? How did Hachette win you over?

AL: Never in a million years would I have thought I could write a book that would end up on the New York Times bestseller list. I had been approached by a number of publishers and literary agents over the past decade but never really followed up with any of them because I did not feel a sense of urgency to actually start writing—probably because I just didn’t feel “ready” at that point. Well, I hit the speaking circuit in 2006 and after every speech a bunch of people would come up to me and say, ”Oh – that was great! What is the name of your book? I really want to read it.” Awkward moment…”Uh…I don’t have a book.” Then they would say, “WHAT? How can you not have a book?” After hearing that for a few years I decided it was time to make it happen. I thought it was important to share the lessons I have learned in these beautiful yet dangerous places, and given I can only reach so many people through my speeches, I figured a book was the best way to increase my “reach.” I wanted to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. I did not want it to be a book about accomplishment. I wanted to focus on the hits and the misses, the stumbles, the heartbreaks and the failures. I wanted to be able to share the things that I might not be able to share when there are people from the Human Resources department standing in the back of the room. The book allows me to do that. It is definitely edgier than the speech (although the speech is fairly edgy as well). I probably spent six months in “serious writing mode,” but you could say that my expedition journals were the beginnings of it all…and those were started back in 2002.
Because the book presents a very unique view on leadership and achievement, we had a lot of interest from publishers. My literary agent (Dupree Miller) was able to set up meetings with four of the “Big Five” publishers. Hachette won me over because the editor I met with had published other leadership books by people I really admired—like Coach K, Hank Paulson and Tiger Woods (pre-scandal). And also…they were willing to give me a very generous advance, which signaled that they really believed in me as an author and were willing to throw a lot of support behind my book.

I&S: Where can readers find your book along with your schedule for upcoming presentations?

AL: On the Edge is available online at 800CEORead , Amazon,  Barnes & Noble, or people can buy it from their favorite independent book-seller. It is also available as an audiobook (and it’s my voice reading the audio version).

As far as my presentations go, most of them are keynotes I deliver at corporate events. But several times a year I speak at events that are open to the public. Those will always be listed on the homepage banner of my website at www.alisonlevine.com and will be announced on my twitter feed @levine_alison.

I&S: Potential is realized only when one pushes beyond the comfort zone. Who among us can say we really push ourselves beyond our limits? Is feeling “stressed” a response to such situations or is this an emotional consequence of not preparing for the ordeal ahead? We urge you to read Ms. Levine’s book so you understand the difference…and how action and preparation can lead to better outcomes in your life.

At age 44, this American mountain climber, explorer, sportswoman and entrepreneur completed the last degree Adventure Grand Slam by reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. She has since transitioned into being a motivational and leadership speaker as well as being an author who penned a New York Times bestseller. She’s an inspiration to us and we hope you’ll feel likewise. Meet Ms. Adventure Alison Levine.

I&S: In your travels around the globe you have most likely met hundreds of fellow travelers. What do you perceive as the commonalities among those who seek the thrill of adventuring? Have you any reason to believe that some people are born adventurers?

AL: One thing that most adventurers have in common is a strong sense of curiosity. Curiosity not just about what lies “off the beaten track” – but a curiosity about themselves. They aren’t afraid to test themselves and operate completely outside of their comfort zones. Adventurers also have a need to see, feel and understand what lies outside of the everyday environments that surround most people on a day-to-day basis. As far as being “born” an adventurer – I actually think that anyone can catch the adventure bug and that it is more a function of the combination of that sense of curiosity mixed with open-mindedness and encouragement from people in your circle (and by that I mean parents, friends, teachers, siblings, etc. – anyone who has an influencing role in someone’s life).

I&S: What triggered your desire to mountaineer and/or expedition to the North/South poles? Can you describe the feeling of accomplishment you get from achieving your goals?

AL: From the time I was younger I was always very intrigued by the stories of the early mountaineers and the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers. I would read books and watch documentary films about them…and could never seem to take in enough information about these adventurers. I had my second heart surgery when I turned 30 (the first was at age 17 was not successful at correcting the heart defect I was born with) and after that a light bulb went on in my head and I thought: If I really want to know what it’s like to explore these extreme environments, then I should go experience them myself instead of simply reading about them.
As for the feeling of accomplishment, the things I focus on have changed over the years as I’ve grown older and wiser (well, hopefully wiser!). Instead of focusing on getting to the tops of mountains, I focus on what I can do to be the MVP of my team. While it’s always a bonus to get to the top of the mountain or to the North or South Pole, my goal is for the people on my team to look back on the experience and think, ”I am really glad she was part of our team.” That is what gives me that sense of accomplishment.

I&S: Preparation must play a large part in your journeys. Can you tell us about the physical, mental and practical considerations leading up to the start of one of your trips? Where do sponsorships come in with regard to going on expeditions?

AL: The only way to really prepare for a serious expedition is to simulate what it is that you’ll be doing during the trip. For example, if I am going to try to tackle a big mountain, I have to get out to the mountains to train. That means a six hour drive for me (each way) as I prefer to train on Mt. Shasta which is about 300 miles from my home in northern California. If I’m going to be dragging a 150 pound sled across the Arctic Circle or across the Antarctic continent then I have to try to simulate that experience. That means going out to the beach and harnessing a couple of tires to my waist and dragging them across the sand in order to simulate dragging the heavy sled across the ice. This is part of the physical and mental training because a lot of the time it can feel monotonous – and that feeling can certainly be part of these expeditions too! Training in a gym is not really going to help me prepare properly—mentally or physically.
As far as the sponsorships go, I have been very lucky in that I have been able to secure fabulous sponsors over the years. Ford sponsored the American Women’s Everest Expedition and had it not been for them, I would never have had the opportunity to climb that mountain. Finding financial sponsors is no easy task; you have to cast a very wide net and be okay with rejection, because you typically get a hundred companies that say “no” before one says “yes.” You need the “never give up” attitude not only when you’re on the mountain, but also when you’re in search of funding. If there’s something you really want to do, you’ll figure out how to get the money.

I&S: How have your experiences helped you in your career as a leadership author/speaker? Do you equate expedition planning with an executive’s ability to guide his/her company to success in the market?

AL: There are a lot of parallels between the challenges I face in the mountains and the challenges faced by businesspeople. The environments we operate in are similar in that they are unpredictable and are constantly shifting and changing. You have to be able to manage risk and deal with the unexpected. Had I not had these expedition experiences, I wouldn’t have the fabulous opportunities that I have today. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent several years on the adjunct faculty at West Point and to currently serve on the board of the Thayer Leader Development Group (which shares West Point leadership best practices with corporate executives). I also serve on the board of the Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke University, which is also a privilege for which I am very grateful. Yes, I teach, but I also learn. I will always be a student of leadership no matter what it is that I am doing.

I&S: Is it possible to teach leadership to others if they have not faced adversity? Or is it possible to create exercises to evoke leadership?

AL: Yes! I believe it is indeed possible to teach anyone about leadership and I also believe that leadership has nothing to do with having an “official title.” Leadership is everyone’s responsibility because we are all responsible for looking out for the people around us. Of course if you have faced a lot of adversity then you already have the inner-strength and determination which helps build strong leaders. The other thing to remember is that one person might view a particular situation as challenging when someone else could look at it and think it is no big deal. Everyone has a different definition of adversity. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to give people guidance on how to become a leader of consequence that has a positive impact on those around them.

I&S: You’ve held several jobs over the years in parallel with your time spent abroad. Is the author/speaker role going to be your profession going forward or do you expect some new challenge to lure you away? What would cause you to drop everything right now and go?

AL: I am loving the author/speaker job because it gives me something I could never have in a corporate job: flexibility in my schedule and unlimited vacation time (should I choose to take it). I can tell my agent, “hey, don’t book me for any speeches in July because I am heading to the mountains.” I can take two months off if I am doing a big expedition and then hit the ground running again on the speaker’s circuit when I get back. Of course this year has been a little more intense because of the book tour, so I haven’t had much “vacation time.” But heck, it’s my first book (my baby!!!) so I don’t mind being on the road all the time in order to promote it. I don’t see my career taking any major turns anytime soon. The only thing that would make me drop everything right now is if someone I loved needed me to be there to care for them. People are always more important than jobs.

I&S: Can you tell us about your book, On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership? From first draft to final format, how long did it take you to write? How was your reception from potential publishers? How did Hachette win you over?

AL: Never in a million years would I have thought I could write a book that would end up on the New York Times bestseller list. I had been approached by a number of publishers and literary agents over the past decade but never really followed up with any of them because I did not feel a sense of urgency to actually start writing—probably because I just didn’t feel “ready” at that point. Well, I hit the speaking circuit in 2006 and after every speech a bunch of people would come up to me and say, ”Oh – that was great! What is the name of your book? I really want to read it.” Awkward moment…”Uh…I don’t have a book.” Then they would say, “WHAT? How can you not have a book?” After hearing that for a few years I decided it was time to make it happen. I thought it was important to share the lessons I have learned in these beautiful yet dangerous places, and given I can only reach so many people through my speeches, I figured a book was the best way to increase my “reach.” I wanted to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. I did not want it to be a book about accomplishment. I wanted to focus on the hits and the misses, the stumbles, the heartbreaks and the failures. I wanted to be able to share the things that I might not be able to share when there are people from the Human Resources department standing in the back of the room. The book allows me to do that. It is definitely edgier than the speech (although the speech is fairly edgy as well). I probably spent six months in “serious writing mode,” but you could say that my expedition journals were the beginnings of it all…and those were started back in 2002.
Because the book presents a very unique view on leadership and achievement, we had a lot of interest from publishers. My literary agent (Dupree Miller) was able to set up meetings with four of the “Big Five” publishers. Hachette won me over because the editor I met with had published other leadership books by people I really admired—like Coach K, Hank Paulson and Tiger Woods (pre-scandal). And also…they were willing to give me a very generous advance, which signaled that they really believed in me as an author and were willing to throw a lot of support behind my book.

I&S: Where can readers find your book along with your schedule for upcoming presentations?

AL: On the Edge is available online at 800CEORead , Amazon,  Barnes & Noble, or people can buy it from their favorite independent book-seller. It is also available as an audiobook (and it’s my voice reading the audio version).

As far as my presentations go, most of them are keynotes I deliver at corporate events. But several times a year I speak at events that are open to the public. Those will always be listed on the homepage banner of my website at www.alisonlevine.com and will be announced on my twitter feed @levine_alison.

I&S: Potential is realized only when one pushes beyond the comfort zone. Who among us can say we really push ourselves beyond our limits? Is feeling “stressed” a response to such situations or is this an emotional consequence of not preparing for the ordeal ahead? We urge you to read Ms. Levine’s book so you understand the difference…and how action and preparation can lead to better outcomes in your life.

At age 44, this American mountain climber, explorer, sportswoman and entrepreneur completed the last degree Adventure Grand Slam by reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. She has since transitioned into being a motivational and leadership speaker as well as being an author who penned a New York Times bestseller. She’s an inspiration to us and we hope you’ll feel likewise. Meet Ms. Adventure Alison Levine.

I&S: In your travels around the globe you have most likely met hundreds of fellow travelers. What do you perceive as the commonalities among those who seek the thrill of adventuring? Have you any reason to believe that some people are born adventurers?

AL: One thing that most adventurers have in common is a strong sense of curiosity. Curiosity not just about what lies “off the beaten track” – but a curiosity about themselves. They aren’t afraid to test themselves and operate completely outside of their comfort zones. Adventurers also have a need to see, feel and understand what lies outside of the everyday environments that surround most people on a day-to-day basis. As far as being “born” an adventurer – I actually think that anyone can catch the adventure bug and that it is more a function of the combination of that sense of curiosity mixed with open-mindedness and encouragement from people in your circle (and by that I mean parents, friends, teachers, siblings, etc. – anyone who has an influencing role in someone’s life).

I&S: What triggered your desire to mountaineer and/or expedition to the North/South poles? Can you describe the feeling of accomplishment you get from achieving your goals?

AL: From the time I was younger I was always very intrigued by the stories of the early mountaineers and the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers. I would read books and watch documentary films about them…and could never seem to take in enough information about these adventurers. I had my second heart surgery when I turned 30 (the first was at age 17 was not successful at correcting the heart defect I was born with) and after that a light bulb went on in my head and I thought: If I really want to know what it’s like to explore these extreme environments, then I should go experience them myself instead of simply reading about them.
As for the feeling of accomplishment, the things I focus on have changed over the years as I’ve grown older and wiser (well, hopefully wiser!). Instead of focusing on getting to the tops of mountains, I focus on what I can do to be the MVP of my team. While it’s always a bonus to get to the top of the mountain or to the North or South Pole, my goal is for the people on my team to look back on the experience and think, ”I am really glad she was part of our team.” That is what gives me that sense of accomplishment.

I&S: Preparation must play a large part in your journeys. Can you tell us about the physical, mental and practical considerations leading up to the start of one of your trips? Where do sponsorships come in with regard to going on expeditions?

AL: The only way to really prepare for a serious expedition is to simulate what it is that you’ll be doing during the trip. For example, if I am going to try to tackle a big mountain, I have to get out to the mountains to train. That means a six hour drive for me (each way) as I prefer to train on Mt. Shasta which is about 300 miles from my home in northern California. If I’m going to be dragging a 150 pound sled across the Arctic Circle or across the Antarctic continent then I have to try to simulate that experience. That means going out to the beach and harnessing a couple of tires to my waist and dragging them across the sand in order to simulate dragging the heavy sled across the ice. This is part of the physical and mental training because a lot of the time it can feel monotonous – and that feeling can certainly be part of these expeditions too! Training in a gym is not really going to help me prepare properly—mentally or physically.
As far as the sponsorships go, I have been very lucky in that I have been able to secure fabulous sponsors over the years. Ford sponsored the American Women’s Everest Expedition and had it not been for them, I would never have had the opportunity to climb that mountain. Finding financial sponsors is no easy task; you have to cast a very wide net and be okay with rejection, because you typically get a hundred companies that say “no” before one says “yes.” You need the “never give up” attitude not only when you’re on the mountain, but also when you’re in search of funding. If there’s something you really want to do, you’ll figure out how to get the money.

I&S: How have your experiences helped you in your career as a leadership author/speaker? Do you equate expedition planning with an executive’s ability to guide his/her company to success in the market?

AL: There are a lot of parallels between the challenges I face in the mountains and the challenges faced by businesspeople. The environments we operate in are similar in that they are unpredictable and are constantly shifting and changing. You have to be able to manage risk and deal with the unexpected. Had I not had these expedition experiences, I wouldn’t have the fabulous opportunities that I have today. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent several years on the adjunct faculty at West Point and to currently serve on the board of the Thayer Leader Development Group (which shares West Point leadership best practices with corporate executives). I also serve on the board of the Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke University, which is also a privilege for which I am very grateful. Yes, I teach, but I also learn. I will always be a student of leadership no matter what it is that I am doing.

I&S: Is it possible to teach leadership to others if they have not faced adversity? Or is it possible to create exercises to evoke leadership?

AL: Yes! I believe it is indeed possible to teach anyone about leadership and I also believe that leadership has nothing to do with having an “official title.” Leadership is everyone’s responsibility because we are all responsible for looking out for the people around us. Of course if you have faced a lot of adversity then you already have the inner-strength and determination which helps build strong leaders. The other thing to remember is that one person might view a particular situation as challenging when someone else could look at it and think it is no big deal. Everyone has a different definition of adversity. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to give people guidance on how to become a leader of consequence that has a positive impact on those around them.

I&S: You’ve held several jobs over the years in parallel with your time spent abroad. Is the author/speaker role going to be your profession going forward or do you expect some new challenge to lure you away? What would cause you to drop everything right now and go?

AL: I am loving the author/speaker job because it gives me something I could never have in a corporate job: flexibility in my schedule and unlimited vacation time (should I choose to take it). I can tell my agent, “hey, don’t book me for any speeches in July because I am heading to the mountains.” I can take two months off if I am doing a big expedition and then hit the ground running again on the speaker’s circuit when I get back. Of course this year has been a little more intense because of the book tour, so I haven’t had much “vacation time.” But heck, it’s my first book (my baby!!!) so I don’t mind being on the road all the time in order to promote it. I don’t see my career taking any major turns anytime soon. The only thing that would make me drop everything right now is if someone I loved needed me to be there to care for them. People are always more important than jobs.

I&S: Can you tell us about your book, On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership? From first draft to final format, how long did it take you to write? How was your reception from potential publishers? How did Hachette win you over?

AL: Never in a million years would I have thought I could write a book that would end up on the New York Times bestseller list. I had been approached by a number of publishers and literary agents over the past decade but never really followed up with any of them because I did not feel a sense of urgency to actually start writing—probably because I just didn’t feel “ready” at that point. Well, I hit the speaking circuit in 2006 and after every speech a bunch of people would come up to me and say, ”Oh – that was great! What is the name of your book? I really want to read it.” Awkward moment…”Uh…I don’t have a book.” Then they would say, “WHAT? How can you not have a book?” After hearing that for a few years I decided it was time to make it happen. I thought it was important to share the lessons I have learned in these beautiful yet dangerous places, and given I can only reach so many people through my speeches, I figured a book was the best way to increase my “reach.” I wanted to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. I did not want it to be a book about accomplishment. I wanted to focus on the hits and the misses, the stumbles, the heartbreaks and the failures. I wanted to be able to share the things that I might not be able to share when there are people from the Human Resources department standing in the back of the room. The book allows me to do that. It is definitely edgier than the speech (although the speech is fairly edgy as well). I probably spent six months in “serious writing mode,” but you could say that my expedition journals were the beginnings of it all…and those were started back in 2002.
Because the book presents a very unique view on leadership and achievement, we had a lot of interest from publishers. My literary agent (Dupree Miller) was able to set up meetings with four of the “Big Five” publishers. Hachette won me over because the editor I met with had published other leadership books by people I really admired—like Coach K, Hank Paulson and Tiger Woods (pre-scandal). And also…they were willing to give me a very generous advance, which signaled that they really believed in me as an author and were willing to throw a lot of support behind my book.

I&S: Where can readers find your book along with your schedule for upcoming presentations?

AL: On the Edge is available online at 800CEORead , Amazon,  Barnes & Noble, or people can buy it from their favorite independent book-seller. It is also available as an audiobook (and it’s my voice reading the audio version).

As far as my presentations go, most of them are keynotes I deliver at corporate events. But several times a year I speak at events that are open to the public. Those will always be listed on the homepage banner of my website at www.alisonlevine.com and will be announced on my twitter feed @levine_alison.

I&S: Potential is realized only when one pushes beyond the comfort zone. Who among us can say we really push ourselves beyond our limits? Is feeling “stressed” a response to such situations or is this an emotional consequence of not preparing for the ordeal ahead? We urge you to read Ms. Levine’s book so you understand the difference…and how action and preparation can lead to better outcomes in your life.

Sweden with Love: Got Fear? Meet Alison Levine

Dec 15, 2014

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Mount Everest is its own mythical world with daredevil mountaineers, merciless temperatures, unpredictable avalanches and ferocious storms. At the two base camps you’ll find anticipation and fear: for every 13 climbers who reach the summit (29,035 feet above sea level), about two die along the way.

But you’ll also find the possibility of greatness — as in 2002, when the first American Women’s Everest Expedition arrived at the south base camp in Nepal. The team, lead by mountaineer and polar explorer Alison Levine, had more than 450 media outlets covering their every move. CNN conducted live updates from the mountain. The Discovery Channel live-blogged the climb, a first at the time. The Ford Motor Company sponsored the expedition, estimated at $75,000 per climber. But less than 300 feet from the summit, a storm came in and the team was forced to turn around. The failure was devastating.

Eight years later, at age 44, Alison made a second attempt and got to the top. In between, she had climbed the highest peaks on every continent and skied to both the North and South Poles. By finally reaching the summit of Mount Everest, she became one of the few people in the world to have completed the Last Degree Adventurers Grand Slam.

As a climber, Alison was born with the cards stacked against her. Since childhood, she suffered from Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a serious heart condition that can lead to cardiac arrest. After being rushed to the emergency room more than a dozen times in her late teens and 20s, she finally had successful surgery at age 30. Eighteen months later, she bought a pair of climbing boots, borrowed a jacket and backpack and flew to Africa — by herself — to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Boldness and a sense of adventure are great assets: Alison has both in spades. But she also knows how to put them in to action, living her life with a daring beauty. For this month’s Gutsy!, Alison — author of theNew York Times bestseller On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership — teaches us the importance of failure, and why we need to push ourselves beyond our limits. • Ulrica Wihlborg

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Alison by the Geneve spur, above Camp III, on Mount Everest..

Ulrica: Eighteen months after you had surgery to correct your heart condition, at age 30, you flew by yourself to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. That is pretty crazy!

Alison: I had always been intrigued by explorers since I was a child, so when I finally had successful surgery I thought, ‘Now that I’m healthy, what’s stopping me?’ I can’t just sit here and read about things, I have to do them myself! I bought my own hiking boots, because they have to fit you perfectly, but everything else I borrowed from my jacket to my backpack.

Ulrica: How did that first climb change your life? You had lead a pretty ‘normal’ life until then.

Alison: Even though that mountain is not that demanding — it’s a very long, challenging walk — it’s where I found what I call ‘that voice inside of you that talks to you when you doubt yourself.’ I remember I was up on that mountain and it was summit day. I felt terribly exhausted. I’d never put myself through anything like that before, and I was convinced I couldn’t take one more step. Not even one! I was at my limit. And suddenly, I heard a voice inside of me that said, ‘Yes, you can. You can take one more step.’ It was louder than my doubts and fears and it changed my life.

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Ulrica: By pushing yourself to your absolute limit, you discovered you had more in you than you thought. Why is that important?

Alison: I think a lot of us never hear that voice, because we never put ourselves in a position where we need it. But if you never put yourself in that place — a place where you think you’ve reached your limit — you’ll never learn where your limits are. You’ll never learn to push yourself past that point of discomfort. It doesn’t have to be about climbing mountains or anything physical. But if you never give that voice a chance, you might never know your own greatness. And that’s when you limit yourself and your life.

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Alison (in the middle) on The Hillary Step, a nearly vertical rock face about 40 ft high on Mount Everest. Located approximately 28,840 feet above sea level, it’s the last real challenge before reaching the top of the mountain via the South East route.

Alison: A lot of it has to do with fear of failure. It’s not about our own fear of failure, it’s fear what other people will think about is if we fail. If no one ever knew we failed, who cares, right? But what prevents people from pushing themselves to their limits, or taking risks where failure is a real possibility, is that they’re scared other people will see them as failures. They’re scared they’ll be judged in a negative light. And today, with social media, it’s even worse. Social media gives us an even greater fear of failure, and that’s a huge drawback.

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At the Mount Everest base camp before heading up.

Ulrica: You experienced a very public failure in 2002, when you got less than 300 feet from the summit of Mount Everest.

Alison: We were on the Today Show, CBS Evening News, Entertainment Tonight…you name it! CNN was doing live updates from the mountain. Ford sponsored us. So to miss the summit by less than 300 feet…that was failing in a big way. I had to come back to the U.S. and have Ann Curry ask me why I failed. I had to tell everyone about it, because that’s what everyone wanted to talk about. I know it was because of bad weather and we couldn’t have done anything about it, but it was still very hard.

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Ulrica: How did that affect you?

Alison: I was the team captain, and I felt I let everyone down. I was worried about what people were saying, and how it would affect my future. Would anyone want to climb with me again? Would I be able to go on another expedition? I experienced a couple of months of severe depression. Everyone wanted to talk about that day when we had to turn back on Mount Everest. People would introduce me at dinner parties that way. I had put so much into it, and I had failed.

Ulrica: What’s the lesson you learned about failure?

Alison: The reason situations are uncomfortable is because they teach us to be more accepting of failure. I had to accept that I had failed. It’s not bad, it’s actually good. Learning to be okay with failure is the important lesson. We’re not a very failure tolerant society, and that prevents people from taking risks. But look at people who make things happen, who change the world, who are successful. They’re not the ones who never take risks. The often fail over and over again. They almost never have a perfect track record.

Ulrica: So failure is good?

Alison: It’s the people who have been bruised and kicked down and have failed repeatedly who are paving the road. So you know what we need to say to our fear of failure? Who cares! Give yourself the freedom to fail. And encourage other people to take risks, even if they’ll fail. Because those failures are what we’ll build on, and which will allow us to be successful.

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Alison at the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest at 17,999 feet. The icefall is considered one of the most dangerous stages of the route to the Everest summit. The Khumbu glacier that forms the icefall moves at such speed that large crevasses open with little warning. 

Ulrica: You gave yourself the freedom to fail, again, when you went back to Mount Everest in 2010.

Alison: Yes, it took me that long before I had the guts to go back. I felt so much pressure. It wasn’t easy for me. I thought, what if I don’t get to the top again? But in the end, what overshadowed my fear was the thought of never trying again. I didn’t want to have to ask myself for the rest of my life if I could’ve made it. And that first failure was partially what made me succeed the second time.

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Alison and her team on Mount Everest, South Summit.

Ulrica: Why is that?

Alison: That second time, I found myself in the same situation. I was yet again only a few hundred feet away from the summit, and a very bad storm moved in. I thought, ‘Great, here I am, eight years later, and a storm comes in!’ But even though the situation was similar, I was not. I knew a lot more about my risk tolerance and my pain threshold. If I hadn’t had that failed experience in 2002, I’m sure I would’ve turned around. Coming back alive is always your number one priority, but I felt it was a storm I could stare down.

Ulrica: Were you scared?

Alison: It was very scary and uncomfortable, but I had done scary and uncomfortable before. I went back to that voice in my head, ‘Take one more step, then one more after that.’ I had first found that voice on Mount Kilimanjaro, but that voice had gone dark on me. Here, I found it again and it gave me the strength to go on. At the end of the day, no matter your situation, it’s really just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other relentlessly. It’s not the best climbers who get to the top, it’s the people who are relentless.

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Alison training trekking guides for her Climb High Foundation in Uganda.

Ulrica: Do you ever struggle with the question of your life’s purpose?

Alison: I have a significant other, but we’re not married and we don’t have any kids. I’ve always felt this draw to the mountains, but I could never really figure out why. I asked myself for years, why do I do this? Why do I put so much blood, sweat and tears into this? What do I have to show for it? Then I went on an expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains, which borders Uganda, and met so many women who had no way of supporting their families other than prostitution. Most of these women are single mothers and they’re destitute. I trained one of the women as a trekking guide, and I ended up starting a non-profit (the Climb High Foundation) that trains and enables these women to make a living wage by being trekking guides on the mountain. For me, that’s my purpose. I figured out a way for my climbing skills to have a positive impact on the world. I believe if you’re going to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into something, make sure you’re happy with the effect it has on the world around you.

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Sunset at the Mount Everest base camp.

• By Ulrica Wihlborg

To learn more about Alison and the Climb High Foundation, go to her website, follow her on Twitter and check out her book, the New York Times bestseller On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership.

All photographs courtesy of Alison Levine ©2014.

Fortune Best Business Books for Leaders

Required Reading: The MBA List

by Shalene Gupta  Nov. 13, 2014

Here’s what today’s business school students are taking to class.

Never went to B-school or don’t have time for a ­semester-long refresher course? Neither do we. Instead, Fortune reached out to top business schools to find out which books their professors have added to the fall syllabus. The titles range from an analytical look at the health care industry to an explainer on big data—and are all recent publications. Here are five texts that will help you get up to speed with the next generation of talent.

Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao

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Stanford professors Sutton and Rao -tackle one of business’s -biggest challenges: maintaining quality while growing quantity. The result of seven years of research, the book has been lauded by the likes of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Fellow Stanford professor Margaret Ann Neale uses it as an additional resource in her classes. “It marries research with rich cases and is of use to leaders at every level,” she says. “It is chock-full of practical tips and advice.

Published 2014

Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know About Health Care Is Wrong by David Goldhill

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After Goldhill’s father died from an infection acquired at a hospital and that hospital received a huge Medicare payment, he decided to write a book about the dysfunction of the U.S. health care system. Harvard -Business School professor William Sahlman says, “He took a hard look at how health care in the U.S. differs from traditional business. He writes about the absurdity of the system.”

Published 2013

On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership by Alison Levine

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Levine, a former Goldman-Sachs associate, packs her bestselling leadership book with lessons she learned scaling Everest and crossing the South Pole. Wharton professor Michael Useem includes it on his recommended reading list. “Levine helps us appreciate the preparation, determination, and decisiveness essential for moving our own teams across business terrains that sometimes also turn extreme,” he says.

Published 2014

Data Science for Business by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett

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Provost and Fawcett answer the questions, What exactly is big data? How does it work? And what can
it do for business? Professors at MIT, -Insead, and Northwestern have assigned it to students. “There is no other book on practical data science for business applications that simultaneously has as much authority and as much clarity,” says Sinan Aral, a management -professor at MIT’s Sloan. “Students cannot stop raving about this book.”

Published 2014

The Risk-Driven Business Model by Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine

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Insead business school professors Girotra and Netessine unpack risk management and explain how to make risk work for businesses. Professor Antonio Moreno-Garcia uses examples for his Operations Management class at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “This book presents a new framework for business model innovation that helps firms change the way they do business by better managing and shifting risks,” he says.

Published 2014

Good Day LA: Mt. Everest To Boardrooms

Posted by Kelly Taylor  Nov 2, 2014

Link to Good Day LA video

Who runs the world? Alison Levine.

She is one of the few females on earth to have completed the “Adventurer Grand Slam” after reaching the top of all Seven Summits and skiing across the North and South Pole.

Levine is also wrote “On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership” which landed on the New York Times Bestseller list and is an expert on leadership and motivational speeches. She spends the majority of her time on the road traveling the country instructing everyone from major boardrooms to battlefields on what it takes to “lead” and be successful at it.

In her book, Levine writes that leadership principles in the world of extreme adventure also apply to today’s competitive business environment — finding humorous parallels between mountaineering and business.

Connect:
Twitter | @Levine_Alison
Site | alisonlevine.com