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On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership

September 22, 2020|0 min read
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As we wrap up this year’s Money Experience Summit, we’re highlighting the incredibly memorable keynote speakers who joined us on stage. In today’s post, we’ll take a deep dive into Alison Levin’s discussion about what it takes to climb the tallest mountain in the world — Mount Everest. Alison Levine, First American Women’s Everest Team Captain and Bestselling Author, talks about the strength, perseverance, and determination it takes to make it all the way to the top. A lot of the lessons she learned about leadership and the mindset she had to master in order to succeed can be applied to banking, especially during this transformative time. 

Here are 6 highlights from the discussion on what it takes to get through insurmountable challenges and rise to the top.

Backing up is not backing down

In the discussion, Levine recounts that in order to reach her goals of getting to the top, she had to first let her body acclimate to the environment. “Sometimes you are going to have to go backwards for a bit in order to eventually get to where you want to be,” she says. “So don't look at that backtracking as losing ground, look at it as an opportunity to regroup and regain some strength. The next time around backing up is not the same as backing down.” The lesson that Levine is conveying here is simple: sometimes you have to allow yourself to go back in order to move forward in the right direction. 

Fear is ok, complacency will kill you 

Levine dives into how she got through Khumbu Icefalls — the most dangerous part of the climb: “Everyone's feeling fear. If you're not feeling scared, there's something wrong. We're in some scary times, but fear is just a normal human question. Complacency is what puts you at risk. You have to be able to keep going right through that fear. You can be scared and brave at the same time. And it's just a matter of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. You don't have to have perfect clarity on what you think that future's going to look like. You just have to know you're going to keep going and you're going to have to change directions.”

She goes on to say, “Another element that's really critical to success is being able to redefine what progress looks like. People often think that progress is linear. You start here and here's your goal. So you have to go from here to here and you're going to have to change directions a bunch of times before you get to your goal. So it's all about being flexible, being adaptable, and being failure tolerant.”

Everyone on a team is in a leadership position

As the discussion deepens, Levine reveals that one of the most important parts of accomplishing any great goal is the team you have beside you. She states, “It truly takes a team mentality to be successful. When you're in a leadership position, even when you feel like absolute hell, you still have to get out there and do your job. And every single member of a team… is in a leadership position. Leadership is not about title or tenure or how many people report to you or how big of a budget you oversee. Leadership's about realizing that every member of a team, regardless of title or tenure, has a responsibility to be looking out for one another. And everyone also has a responsibility to help the team move toward a goal.” 

You have to be flexible with your plans

Levin then tackles the importance of having flexibility in your plans and being able to adapt quickly to the situation at hand. She says, “The one thing you know about these storms is that they're always temporary. There's just no such thing as the storm that lasts forever. So when you're in the middle of something like this, you just have to keep your bearings, and at some point clouds are gonna go away.”

She goes on to say, “everything will look a whole lot better, but the key to surviving [these storms] is that you have to be able to take action based on the situation at the time and not based on some plan. Whatever plan you came up with last year, last month, last week, even this morning, your plan is outdated when you're in these environments that are constantly shifting and changing. And we have never seen shifts and changes like what we are seeing today. So yes, of course plan, but you can't be hell bent on sticking to that plan no matter what. You want to be much more focused on executing based on what is going on at the time.”

Break down big goals into small steps

Once you have a plan with some built in flexibility, Levine believes it’s important to take something big and break it down into actionable steps, “The only way I can really wrap my brain around what we had to do was by breaking that whole summit day down into much smaller parts,” she says. “I had a goal that felt like it was going to be a ridiculous, hairy stretch. And I took my headlamp, and I signed it on this rock that I could see down the chair. And I thought, okay, I just need to make it to that rock. That's where I'm going for right now, just to that rock. And I would take my step, my five to 10 breaths and my step again… before I knew it, I made it to that rock.” 

She goes on to say how she leaned on this practice of one small step in front of the other all the way to the top. “Once I got to that rock, I did the same thing again,” she says. “I took my headlamp, and shined it on a big chunk of ice. Every time I would make it to another landmark, I would think, ‘Okay, hang on.’ I didn't think I could make it to that last one, but I made it to that one. So I bet I can make it to one more. Well, we climbed through the whole entire night that way.”

Give yourself permission to fail 

Lastly, Levine reminds us all of how critical it is to allow ourselves to fail:. She says, “My point is, when you're going to try really hard things, when you're going to set ridiculously high goals and truly push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you're going to have to give yourselves and your teams the freedom to fail. And you never know who's going to be following in your footsteps down the road, who will go on to achieve really great things. Even if you didn't have the outcome that you wanted at the time, they'll go on to achieve those things because you paved the way for them.”

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