This ended up being one of the few business books that I couldn't put down... High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke. The positioning of leadership skills compared to mountain climbing made a lot of sense, and the stories of what happened during the expeditions were riveting.
Preface; Acknowledgments; Introduction; Danger #1 - Fear of Death; Danger #2 - Selfishness; Danger #3 - Tool Seduction; Danger #4 - Arrogance; Danger #5 - Lone Heroism; Danger #6 - Cowardice; Danger #7 - Comfort; Danger #8 - Gravity; Danger #9 - The Journey Begins; Resources; Notes
This combination of authors is what makes the book work as well as it does. Don Schmincke is the management consultant, someone who teaches leadership concepts to thousands each year. While on a climbing expedition, he met up with Chris Warner, the leader of the climb. Warner runs a company called Earth Treks, which is known for its expertise in leading climbs up the most dangerous peaks each year. When Schmincke and Warner started comparing notes on how leadership plays out while climbing, Schmincke realized that these concepts played out both in the boardroom and at 25000 feet. This book is their collaboration.
The format of the chapters follows a general pattern. You start with a story about one of Chris's expeditions. The story continues to weave its way through the chapter, as the leadership skills are highlighted and discussed in terms of both the organization and the climb itself. Within each chapter you have a survival tip that applies to your position as leader, a summary of the key learnings, and concrete steps you can take to make this learning part of your reality. It's hard *not* to internalize this information, as the climbing stories involve life-or-death situations. Distilling leadership skills from these stories may not be something you'd naturally do if you were just reading a book on climbing, but Schmincke does an excellent job in making the correlations.
While all the chapters were compelling, the chapter on selfishness struck home with me. The climbing story involves a group of Italian climbers who abandon a fellow team member on their descent without concern as to whether he made it back to camp. Warner's group has to alter their plans to mount a rescue. To make matters even worse, the Italian climbers bypass an injured Czech climber, take a pair of crampons not belonging to them, and refuse to help transport the Czech climber to safety (among only a few of their selfish actions). This DUD behavior (dangerous, unproductive, and dysfunctional) drains energy and motivation from the entire team, and can jeopardize the existence of the group. Schmincke recommends this behavior be fought by creating a compelling saga. There needs to be something that can drive the group to a common goal, and something that will transcend individual differences and behaviors in order to reach a particular outcome. It wasn't difficult to see examples like that around me, and also motivated me to not become part of the problem.
I'll be the first to admit that there's no lack of business and leadership books that offer countless ways to make your mark. I personally think High Altitude Leadership does a far better job than most. The climbing stories will keep you turning pages, and the leadership applications will slow you down to contemplate your own actions.