Signature Luncheon with Alison Levine: On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership
Submitted by Danielle Kuhn and Keiko Pace
CREW Charlotte hosted a very motivating speech given by Alison Levine at the Westin for their Signature Luncheon on May 4th. Alison Levine is no stranger to punishing environments. She has survived sub-zero temperatures, hurricane-force winds, sudden avalanches…and a career on Wall Street. Alison has made a career out of breaking boundaries and inspiring others to achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Levine has climbed the highest peak on every continent, served as the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole. In January 2008 she made history as the first American to follow a remote route across west Antarctica for 600 miles to the South Pole. She completed this arduous journey on skis while hauling 150 lbs of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist. Her success in extreme environments is noteworthy given she had three heart surgeries and also suffers from a neurological disease that causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather, leaving her at extreme risk for frostbite.
Levine spoke about how you must climb up a few thousand feet and then go back down to base to rest, hydrate, and then go back up a little higher each time. She related the ascending and descending climbs to work and life. Sometimes you must go backward in order to move forward. She continued to talk about how fear is normal. She had fears about the weather, the journey, and whether she would reach the top, etc. Fear, willpower, and commitment to success can also help propel you forward.
Alison did not make it to the top of Mount Everest on her first expedition. She encountered a few severe storms along her journey, and they had to make the extremely hard decision to turn back and head down the mountain for her safety and her team’s wellbeing. It was heartbreaking not to make it to the top her first time, but the lessons she learned were invaluable.
Alison did go back and reach the top after encouragement from her late, best friend who was also an amazing athlete. On this expedition, she encountered another storm and saw other climbers heading back down the mountain. But Alison had more experience this time and wanted to check out the conditions for herself. After a grueling trek up the mountain, again with more severe weather conditions, she made it to the top of Mount Everest!
She learned many lessons along the way but one of the best lessons was that failure prepares you for success. Without failure, you can’t experience the sweet feeling of success. Failure motivates you to keep moving forward. Willpower and the determination to succeed must come from your heart.
Quotes from Alison Levine:
- “Backing up is not the same as backing down”
- “Take action based on the situation not based on a plan “
- “Fear is okay, it is just a normal human emotion. Complacency is what will kill you.”
- “The storms are always temporary”
- “No one gets to the top by themselves”
- Climbing Everest is nothing at all like the movies!
- Just like in life, while you are climbing a mountain you must act and react quickly in environments that are constantly shifting and changing
- You don’t have to be the best or the fastest or strongest, you just have to be relentless and want to continue
- Leadership is about realizing that everyone has a responsibility to help a team move towards a goal, not just the leader themselves.
- Leadership is not about you; it is about everyone around you. You must think about every move you make because it is going to affect everyone else on the team and not just you.
- We cannot control the environment, but we can only control the way we react. You may be put in scenarios where you have to act based on the situation and not the plan.
- If the conditions aren’t right, it is okay to cut your losses and walk away because one person’s poor judgment can bring down an entire team or organization
- When you are going to try hard things, you are going to have to give yourself and your team the freedom to fail and come back around to try it again. The hard work you put in will impact those who come behind you and do remarkable things because of your experience.
- Failure stifles people from taking a risk. However, because of the previous failures Alison had or people had before her, she was able to be where she is today.
- The lessons you learn along the way and what you are going to do with that knowledge going forward is what continues to change the world.
- You do not have to have complete clarity to move towards a goal. But if you do have the big picture in sight, sometimes it is necessary to break down the big picture into smaller more doable goals.