Making it to the top: Lessons on leadership

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Alison Levine is a woman who knows what it takes to make it to the top. After all, she’s climbed the highest peak on every continent.

Levine belongs to an elite group of forty-one people who’ve completed the Adventurers Grand Slam – climbing the Seven Summits (the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents) and skiing to both the North and South Poles.  Upon reaching the South Pole in 2008, she became the first American to complete the 600-mile journey from west Antarctica.

Making it to the top: Lessons on leadership

Alison Levine is a woman who knows what it takes to make it to the top. After all, she’s climbed the highest peak on every continent.

Her quest began in 1998, when she successfully summited her first mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, at the age of 32. The next five summits came quickly after that, until 2002, when Levine set out to climb the world’s highest and most famous mountain, Mount Everest.

Levine, serving as the captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and her team spent nearly two months on the mountain, ascending and descending and ascending again to acclimatize their bodies to the altitude. But on the final day of climbing, as they were just a few hundred feet shy of the summit, bad weather conditions forced them to turn back.

Eight years later, in 2010, she successfully reached Everest’s summit, securing a place in history and her spot in the Grand Slam group.

But Levine maintains that she learned more from that first failed attempt at Everest: a lesson she imparts to her students at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she lectures on leadership, building teams, and making decisions in extreme environments. These lessons are also highlighted in her bestselling book, On The Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership.

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“When you fail at something, it causes you to really stop and think about the whole experience and replay it all in your mind and think about what went right, what went wrong, what you could have done differently,” Levine said.  “Failure can be a pretty incredible learning experience.”

In addition to her mountaineering accomplishments, Levine has also had a successful career in business. She earned her MBA at Duke University, spent time on Wall Street, and advised Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bid for Governor of California. And in 2005, she founded the Climb High Foundation, a non-profit that trains women to work as trekking guides and porters in their local mountains.

For Levine, it was a way for her to combine her love of mountaineering with her desire to give back. For the women in the Rwenzori Mountains, a mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a life-changing step toward financial stability and independence in a male-dominated society.

After training and leading the first group of local women to the summit of Mount Stanley, Levine reflected on the significance of the experience: “That team of women showed an entire village that women can do anything that they want to do. They can do anything that men can do. They can break through traditional barriers that have been hard to cross in the past.”

Levine joined Mike Walter to share the lessons she has learned in some of the world’s harshest, most dangerous environments, and discuss the her hopes for expanding the Climb High Foundation.

Follow Alison Levine on Twitter: @Levine_Alison

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