November 11, 2008
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - High Altitude Leadership
Don Schmincke, author of The Code of the Executive, has once again put his unique experiences on paper. For his new book, his co-author is world-renowned mountaineer, Chris Warner. The collaboration between a scientist and engineer--one who has become one of the most respected management gurus in the world--and an expeditionist who started his own company (Earth Treks) with just $592.00 was unexpected. Just how did this project between two seemingly polar opposites come to life? On a mountaineering expedition in the Andes, Schmincke--himself a mountain climber who had been pursuing expeditions in remote regions to advance his leadership research--met Warner. Don says of that meeting:
... I noticed something about Chris and his team. They were tight, focused, and professional. [...] He shared with me his experience of high performance teams tackling the world's most forbidding mountains. He also told me of dysfunctional teams collapsing under the strain of the challenge. [...] After hearing him analyze these leadership experiences, I knew I found the "laboratory" for my next book.
As they climbed together, they discovered links between biological leadership insights and death-zone mountaineering experiences, and decided to share these insights with a larger audience.
High Altitude Leadership offers a surprisingly candid outlook on leadership, epitomized by the first sentence in the introduction: "Leadership often sucks!" In studying leadership in one of the most dangerous, unforgiving environments—the Death-Zone, an altitude above 26,000 feet where it is impossible to survive for an extended time period due to lack of oxygen--they discovered that the dynamics of mountaineering can act as metaphors for urgent business challenges.
When you are in the Death-Zone, you can't grab a book to look for new theories, you can't dial a consultant, and motivational speakers are finally short of breath. Up here the best teams emulate behaviors only seen in the highest-performing organizations--and the worst teams wallow in their dysfunction.
Each chapter starts with a documented journal entry from an expedition. Then the authors look at one crucial lesson--or "danger" as the chapters are titled--that can occur and discuss that danger in three ways: how the danger affects an organization; survival tips; and how to instill the opposite view of that danger into an organization. In the chapter, Danger #4: Arrogance, Chris tells the story of a climb gone wrong from over-confidence. In applying this danger to business, they offer insights to detect arrogance in organizations by simply looking at the symptoms of the employees.
High Altitude Leadership reminded me of Leadership Moment, Michael Useem's excellent book that relays nine leadership principles through stories about real people in tight real life situations who experience a leadership moment. Here, the authors present crucial leadership principles learned from a dangerous expedition and bring these lessons back to the world of business with details and examples from their experiences.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.