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Periospectives July - September 2017 : Page 6

NAVIGATING LEADERSHIP The climbs of her life A decorated adventurer brings leadership lessons down from the heights of Everest, business, and other extreme environments. Alison Levine In 2002, Alison Levine was fewer than 300 feet away from the top of the world. For two months, she had been the team captain of the first American women’s expedition to Asia’s Mount Everest, the highest summit on Earth. Levine had already reached the tallest peaks on each of the other six continents, and completing the final leg of the Everest trek would render her one of the world’s greatest adventurers. But a dangerous storm blew in. Levine and her team were in what is known as the death zone, an altitude higher than 26,000 feet where the air is so thin, a person’s body begins to perish from the lack of oxygen. Amid Everest’s planes of ice and rugged terrain lie the remains of more than 200 other mountaineers who succumbed to the perils of such extreme elevation and for whom avalanches provided a frigid burial ground. When you’re up there in these mountains, you have to be able to make very tough decisions when the conditions around you are far from perfect. Fear is okay. Complacency will kill you. AAP Perio spectives | 6 Pressing on in such treacherous conditions could have meant inevitable death for Levine and her team. Climbing a mountain was a slow and steady process, and although the summit seemed close enough, reaching it would take several hours. With the howling wind and the deteriorating weather at their backs, the group decided to turn around and descend the mountain, eventually meeting a helicopter that would take them to the nearby Kathmandu, Nepal. “When you’re up there in these mountains, you have to be able to make very tough decisions when the conditions around you are far from perfect,” Levine said in a 2011 talk at TEDxMidwest. “Fear is okay. Complacency will kill you.” Perhaps that’s a mantra for Levine’s approach to life. She knows a thing or two about how complacency can hinder progress in both extreme athletic and business environments. Levine is only one of 58 people on Earth to have completed the Adventurers Grand Slam by skiing to the North and South Poles

The Climbs Of Her Life

Alison Levine

A decorated adventurer brings leadership lessons down from the heights of Everest, business, and other extreme environments.

In 2002, Alison Levine was fewer than 300 feet away from the top of the world. For two months, she had been the team captain of the first American women’s expedition to Asia’s Mount Everest, the highest summit on Earth. Levine had already reached the tallest peaks on each of the other six continents, and completing the final leg of the Everest trek would render her one of the world’s greatest adventurers.

But a dangerous storm blew in. Levine and her team were in what is known as the death zone, an altitude higher than 26,000 feet where the air is so thin, a person’s body begins to perish from the lack of oxygen. Amid Everest’s planes of ice and rugged terrain lie the remains of more than 200 other mountaineers who succumbed to the perils of such extreme elevation and for whom avalanches provided a frigid burial ground.

Pressing on in such treacherous conditions could have meant inevitable death for Levine and her team. Climbing a mountain was a slow and steady process, and although the summit seemed close enough, reaching it would take several hours. With the howling wind and the deteriorating weather at their backs, the group decided to turn around and descend the mountain, eventually meeting a helicopter that would take them to the nearby Kathmandu, Nepal.

“When you’re up there in these mountains, you have to be able to make very tough decisions when the conditions around you are far from perfect,” Levine said in a 2011 talk at TEDxMidwest. “Fear is okay. Complacency will kill you.”

Perhaps that’s a mantra for Levine’s approach to life. She knows a thing or two about how complacency can hinder progress in both extreme athletic and business environments. Levine is only one of 58 people on Earth to have completed the Adventurers Grand Slam by skiing to the North and South Poles and reaching the highest summit on every continent in the world (Yes, she eventually reached the top of Everest in 2010). And she did this while completing Duke University’s MBA program and ascending the heights of the professional and political worlds, with a resume that includes positions at companies like Goldman Sachs and pharmaceutical titan Allergan, and as deputy finance director for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 gubernatorial campaign.

After her 2002 Everest expedition, Levine gained a perspective applicable to all manner of uphill climbs. “I was a different person when I came back from the mountain,” she told 60 Minutes Sports in 2014. “I started looking at uncontrollable factors in a different way. I looked at managing risk in a different way. I looked at teamwork in a different way…When you have a big, awesome failure, you really learn so much from that.”

Levine has since taken her lessons on the road as a coveted speaker and trainer sought after by the likes of General Electric, IBM, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she was an adjunct faculty member in its Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership for three years. On Sunday, Sept. 10, she will share her insights in a keynote presentation at the 103rd AAP Annual Meeting in Boston.

The changing landscape of specialized dentistry—with shifts in referral patterns and business models—presents clinicians and practice owners with a unique challenge, one that requires a second look at the value of calculated risk. “It’s all about being able to pivot when the situation calls for it,” says Levine, whose knack for making smart decisions in a snap emerged even before she had a college degree.

As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, Levine ran a small screenprinting business out of her dorm room and waitressed at a Tucson restaurant three nights a week. One evening, executives from toy manufacturer Mattel, which had just launched a line of Masters of the Universe action figures, had made reservations to have dinner during Levine’s shift. Levine, knowing that convenience store chain 7-11 sold branded cups promoting the Masters of the Universe franchise, saw a chance to make a career connection. Before the group arrived, Levine walked to the nearest 7-11 and gathered the cups to be used as water glasses during the executives’ meal. So impressed they were with Levine’s ingenuity that the diners offered her an opportunity to represent Mattel at toy industry trade shows. That summer, she began an internship at Mattel’s California headquarters and started her ascent into the business world.

Her journey, however, was not without personal setbacks.

A 17-year-old Levine, whose upbringing in the Phoenix desert stoked a reverse intrigue in arctic escapades and mountaineering, was diagnosed with an electrical heart defect after collapsing on a ski vacation. At 20, she was diagnosed with Reynaud’s disease, a condition that causes arterial constriction of blood flow to the fingers and toes in cold weather. After several surgeries, the heart defect was cured when Levine was 30. Others may have decided to take it easy on a newly restored heart, but Levine still sought to fulfill her childhood dreams of extreme exploration. At 32, she scaled Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, whose average temperature ranges between -20 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Levine’s passion for climbing had been ignited, and for the next few years, she continued to scale heights all over the world. But what about the Reynaud’s disease, which makes its sufferers much more prone to frostbite? “I just used those $2 hand warmers, and that did the trick,” she says today. “Often, what feels like an incredibly complex problem is something that has a very simple solution.”

Some solutions, Levine would learn, are simple but not easy.

During a 2005 journey through Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains, Levine learned that women in the region were considered subordinate to men and prohibited from climbing the mountain range. For a community whose economic power is anchored by jobs as porters, trekking guides, and high-altitude cooks, this taboo conferred social and economic disenfranchisement to women who otherwise had no other access to personal income.

Levine saw an opportunity to empower women to climb literal and figurative mountains when she launched the Climb High Foundation, which provides clothing, equipment, and training for women entering the trekking industry in Uganda and other developing countries.

As Levine and her team trained Climb High’s first Ugandan cohort, she faced the daunting task of bucking longstanding cultural norms. She knew that an important facet of her work would be to shift the perception of a woman’s value and abilities. “It was explaining to the men that allowing women to work in the mountains would benefit the entire community that really changed their views on the matter,” Levine told 60 Minutes Sports.

“For women to be successful in maledominated professions, they need to include men in the dialogue about how to support and mentor women,” she says today. “I see so many organizations that spend a lot of time and money on building women’s networks, yet the men in the organization are never included in the meetings and conversations, so they have no idea how to help.”

The 2005 class of Climb High trainees snagged jobs as porters with the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services in 2005. Many of these women remain in these positions with subsequent Climb High trainees and alongside the male guides who once scoffed at the possibility of a woman’s ascension.

Although accomplishing such formidable feats might grant someone permission to take it easy, Levine is hardly resting on her laurels (Complacency kills, remember?). In 2014, she published the New York Times-Bestseller “On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments,” and currently serves as executive producer of “The Glass Ceiling,” a documentary film about Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who left a legacy of inspiration as the first Nepali woman to reach the top of Mount Everest.

Levine’s commitment to telling stories, whether her own or others’, is at the heart of her ethos. As she told 60 Minutes Sports, “It was cool to be up there, but I realized that this is not what climbing a mountain is about. It’s not about standing at the top…You have to take something back from it… It’s [about] what you bring down with you.”

Alison Levine’s presentation, “On the Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership,” takes place during the Opening General Session on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8 a.m. at the AAP’s 103rd Annual Meeting in Boston. This session is included with your Annual Meeting registration. To learn more or to register for the Annual Meeting, visit perio.org.

Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/The+Climbs+Of+Her+Life/2856391/431578/article.html.

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