You’re not special

1f5772_4847608I simply couldn’t resist picking up a book that compared mountain climbing with business leadership, especially one that featured a foreword by legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

I must say Alison Levine’s ‘On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership‘ is a page-turner that contains as many unexpected twists as the summit weather on Mt. Washington.

Levine inhabits both the business and climbing worlds. She began her career as a Goldman Sachs trader and today delivers some 150 speeches a year. She’s also topped out ALL Seven Summits as well as skied across the North and South Poles. And, get this, she also suffers from a heart condition. I got winded just writing that last paragraph!

Levine pooh-poohs a lot of conventional leadership wisdom. For example, she:

– Believes one should practice sleep deprivation, since leaders will inevitably have to face long, crisis-filled days and nights. The more your body acclimates to sleeplessness, the better you’ll respond in crisis (note: I periodically practice sleep deprivation. But, I assure you, it’s NOT done on purpose, or to prepare for a crisis.).

– Ego is a great thing, and the best leaders should surround themselves with strong egos. I agree. Passive, yes-men (or women) can destroy an organization. Smart, self-assured egos who ‘play’ together can form an unbeatable team (Think: Coach K’s various gold medal-winning Olympic basketball teams).

– You’re not special. I know I’m not. I know I need smart, strong leaders and managers to help run Peppercomm.  Climbers (and stand-up comedians) also know they’re not special. Each may harness an inner resolve when they climb or perform, but both are amazing team players. Comedians are incredibly supportive of one another before, and after, a performance. Ditto with climbers. Business executives not so much. Levine says the best leaders know they’re part of a team and, ultimately, can be replaced.

Last, but not least, Levine and Coach K both share the same belief: A person cannot control the environment, but only his or her reaction to it. That is SO true.

While we try our best to carefully plan Peppercomm’s future, we also know a long-standing client could hire a new CCO tomorrow, and we’d be fired. And, while comedians can carefully rehearse their A-material, they cannot control an out-of-control (or worse) indifferent audience. And, it goes without saying that avalanches, rock slides and horrible weather have ended many a climber’s best-laid plans.

I highly recommend ‘On the Edge’. It’s an ideal primer for college graduates about to enter the workplace as well as those grizzled veterans who think they’ve seen it all. There are many insights to be gleaned, including the most important of all: you’re not special (and need to be fully supportive of your team).

3 thoughts on “You’re not special

  1. I completely respect your POV, Ken. As I’m sure you can appreciate, a brief blog cannot possible do justice to a 227-page book. Alison Levine is not recommending sleep deprivation. She speaks to the long-term damage it can cause. Rather, she suggests leaders practice it to see how their body responds. Leaders WILL be faced with 24- or 48-hour crisis periods where sleep is simply not an option. Knowing in advance that your body can handle it provides a distinct, competitive advantage. As for egos, it’s a different subject for a different day. I WANT strong, confident people surrounding me. Smiling yes men (and women) can destroy an entrepreneurial-driven culture.

  2. RepMan, I usually agree with the majority of the points in your posts, yet I must respectfully disagree with some of the points here. Sleep deprivation does not work. Lack of sleep can lead to some serious health issues, as well as lack of mental clarity. I can tell you I’m much more on my game since shifting from sleeping five hours a night to sleeping seven to seven-and-a-half hours per night. In addition, I think people become stronger practitioners and counselors when they figure out what makes them special. You’re a special guy, as are so many of the smart folks I’ve met at Peppercomm. And I became a much better consultant when I figured out, accepted, and felt completely comfortable in the areas in which I’m special. As to ego, ego-driven leaders don’t invite the kind of direct feedback that I know you ask from your team. When it’s about confidence, not ego, strong leaders can say “I’ve heard your opinions. I’ve made my decision. Here’s the direction in which we’ll go.”