High Altitude Leadership - What The World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success

12 Aug 2010

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Book: High Altitude Leadership - What The World’s Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success
Author: Christopher Warner, Don Schmincke
ISBN-13: 9780470345030

I buy most of the books through recommendations from authors, references from books, websites, word of mouth etc. I buy some books on an instinct, just by flipping through few pages. This is one of them. The title & the cover picture implied adventure and praise from Ken Blanchard (author of One Minute Manager) made this book to my library.

Chris is a vivid mountaineer who is one of the nine American’s who summited world’s two tallest mountains Mt. Everest and K2. Don is a scientist and engineer who pioneered fourth generation medical imaging technology and researched on simulating timing systems for navy’s nuclear missile systems. They both write a book on management & leadership?. Sounded crazy and started flipping immediately!.

The book starts with Dead Zone Leadership. Dead Zone - an altitude above 26,000 feet makes survival for a long period impossible. Only the highest performing team survives these extreme altitudes. These climbers resemble entrepreneurs, CEOs and the dead zone, a perfect backdrop for the tough times these CEO’s go through regularly. Chris & Don postulates the high altitude leadership based on their first-hand experience in the dead zone.

I felt like watching NGC when Chris describes the events happened during the expeditions to various mountains and the behavior of the climbers. He is so good at narrating his own experiences and those pages move super fast. Most of the management and leadership books will be on the positive side, but this is different. This book just lists down the negatives and dangers that you should be aware of, rather than the positive side. This made a little noise in my mind as my idea is completely opposite. Here is the list of dangers that Chris and Don warn us.

Danger #1: Fear of Death What would the climbers do when they stuck in avalanche?. Stand still or run sideways for support?. That is an idea. Don’t let the tough time paralyze the organization, instead act decisively and early.

Danger #2: Selfishness Blaming others, backstabbing, political maneuvering, looking good to the boss, passing the buck, grin faking are some of the DUD behaviors (Dangerous, Unproductive & Dysfunctional) root on selfishness. No organization in the world escapes DUD infection. DUD behavior eats profits and makes work less satisfying. Chris suggests that the organizations should have a compelling saga, which will inspire the employee to come to work on a daily basis. Not just the vision, mission & values statement printed & hung on the walls. A saga must be crafted such a way that the lowest employee in the organization understands that exactly like the CEO.

Danger #3: Tool Seduction When the organization grows bigger, we tend to use new tools and introduce a new process to achieve our primary goals faster. But over the course of time, the organization tend to give so much of importance to the processes and tools, to an extent that the project halts without them. The company I work with now is a great example. Adapt your tools to you, based on the conditions and not vice versa. This is a problem only when the processes take precedence over the main objective of the company. Otherwise, its a must for every company.

Danger #4: Arrogance Arrogance occurs when overconfidence infects you. You become the know-it-all guy, who ignores or chastise others, spend more time trying to be right vs finding solutions. The solid teams grow stronger when humbled; weak ones become more dysfunctional. Crafting an arrogant-free culture takes work, but its worth the effort. Humility should improve the judgment.

Danger #5: Lone Heroism Ego driven, selfish, glory-seeking lone heroism, which put others at risk is very dangerous and may lead to manager fragging. Ask for help, when you need it. Work as a team to conquer the challenge in front of us. Chris is not referring the surreal attempts by brave souls against the mediocre odd. That’s personal and everyone must do it frequently to keep our spirit alive.

Danger #6: Cowardice Cowardice equally damages the organizations as lone heroism. Just ask & challenge yourself. Nothing wrong in being perceived as a weak person, if that’s the truth. Keep doing it, sooner than you imagine, you will be the bravest one in the organization.

Danger #7: Comfort I am still seeing people in my current company, doing the same work year after year, not because they love the job, but they are very comfortable doing that. The moment you feel that you are very comfortable is the right moment to change. Most of these people become dead weight to the company sooner or later.

Danger #8: Gravity This is the chapter that I contradict with authors views. Chris was saved miraculously in a couple of moments in different climbing expeditions from avalanches and crevasses. (Very interesting, real-life story). This created a strong influence of luck in his thoughts. He even goes on to differentiate skill-based luck and pure luck. I’ll let you guys read his book and understand this chapter since I already have a biased thoughts on this subject.

Few of the concepts discussed in the book are extremely opposite. Like - Fear of Death and Arrogance, Lone Heroism, and cowardice. There is a silver line between these concepts, which could have been handled more efficiently. Many times these overlaps and I actually went back re-read the chapters to understand.

If your organization/team is in trouble and you need immediate help, please don’t buy this book alone. This book is written in such a style that it hammers your thought with the outright truth. You may not comprehend if your mind is not open. Worth reading !!!

Please buy the book from your local bookstore.

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