How to Develop Your Leadership Style- From climbing Everest to what to wear as a keynote speaker, adventurer Alison Levine spills the beans on climbing to the top
On this week’s episode of The 7 Days to Amazing Podcast, Alison Levine, Adventurer, Mountaineer & Author, talks about her experiences climbing Mount Everest and how to apply the invaluable leadership + style lessons she has learned along the way.
To be honest, I am in awe of people who not only accomplish monumental feats but are so down to earth about their achievements, that it’s just another (well-prepped) day for them. This week’s guest is no exception.
Alison brings amazing to a whole new level. She is a top Keppler keynote speaker and leadership consultant who not only walks her walk but literally climbs to the top from various extreme environments ranging from Mt Everest to the South Pole. And yes, she can also talk about fashion bargains, what to wear as a keynote speaker, and how to pack light, tight and right when traveling to 17 cities in a single month.
Sit back and enjoy this week’s special 7 Days to Amazing podcast… Alison shares some fantastic and very actionable takeaway tips on how to make your life even more amazing this week!
Support Alison’s New Film, The Glass Ceiling!
Watch the trailer for Alison Levine’s documentary film, The Glass Ceiling. Don’t forget to donate! This film cronicles the story of the first Nepalian woman to summit Mount Everest and the social implications that this feat had on the nation, and women as a whole.
Also, if you enjoyed today’s podcast, head over to Amazon and purchase Alison’s book, On the Edge: Leadership lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments, It’s a must read (and very funny too!) Don’t miss out.
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Announcer: Welcome to the Seven Days to Amazing Podcast where you learn how to make your life, business and style even more amazing in the next week! Now your host, Sharon Haver, of FocusOnStyle.com.
Sharon Haver: Hello chicsters! I am Sharon Haver and you know how I always say you are about to be amazed in my intro? Well, today’s special guest on the 7 Days to Amazing Podcast takes amazing off the charts!
Alison Levine is a history making adventurer who has climbed the 7 summits, the highest peaks on each continent. She served as team captain of the first Women’s American Everest Expedition and has skied both the North & South Poles.
Woah! It doesn’t stop there…
Alison is the author of the New York Times bestseller On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and other Dream Environments and I might add, it’s a fabulous read and quite funny too. And she is a former adjunct instructor at the U.S Women’s Military Academy and is a sought after keynote speech maker on the subject of leadership development. And if you can lead a team on Everest what else can you lead?
She is currently producing her first film, The Glass Ceiling, which tells the inspiring yet tragic story of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Everest. So, without further adieu I want you to welcome mountaineer, polar explorer, author, leadership expert, keynote speaker, quick witted style savant – Alison Levine I am thrilled to have you here with us today!
Alison Levine: Oh my gosh thank you for having me here! I will tell the listeners, let’s keep the expectations low… that was a pretty big set-up there!
Sharon Haver: Let’s let people know where we met first: we met on Twitter. I posted a Tweet and Alison answered me somehow. I don’t remember the Tweet, it was something about fashion or beauty and it led to Alison telling me about women fixing their lipstick on Everest. We may have been at my place in Jackson Hole and I am so lame you know, when it is 17 below it is too cold for me. And there I was like ‘oh my God you climbed Everest twice, you climbed the 7 Summits?’ And then we became fast Twitter friends and I was in awe of you.
And yes, then it became conversations about shoes and dresses and all sorts of stuff that isn’t as daredevil-y as being a mountaineer.
Alison Levine: I know and it’s so funny because people just assume because I do these extreme sports whether it’s climbing a big Himalayan peak or skiing the South Pole, that I do not have any interest in fashion at all.
And it’s absolutely not true, I know they are very diametrically opposed and I love all of those outdoor sports, but I honestly do have an interest in fashion and I think it’s really important.
Sharon Haver: I think it is too. Style is as you know, a matter of showing up and about how you look and how people perceive you within the first few seconds of meeting you. Especially when you are a speaker because Alison is also a well-known, highly coveted keynote speaker and when you are on stage, you don’t come out like you were just cleaning your skies, taking the snow off. And you’re gorgeous!
Alison Levine: It’s weird because what I wear on stage tends to affect my speech, it changes my delivery style. Whether I am in something more edgy like a leather dress with leggings and motorcycle boots or I’ll be in something more fashionable like a Victoria Beckham dress which I am a big consignment store shopper and a big onliner. Every time I go to New York I go to the consignment stores where you can get a $2,000 dress for a couple of hundred bucks.
I noticed my delivery style when I am on stage changes based on what I am wearing and what kind of mood I am in. You know, I pick what I pack based on the mood I am in or what the audience is like whether it’s a more formal audience like the tax partners from Price Waterhouse Cooper or if it’s a software company I will wear something a little more edgy and fun. I find that what I say on stage and how I say it changes based on what I am wearing.
Sharon Haver: I find that so fascinating and I can’t totally agree with you anymore but I know that when I talk to a lot of women that have been in a speaking group, they don’t seem to understand that it is all a part of your package and part of your mood.
It’s part of everything and I am so glad you brought that point up because if anyone can solidify it – it’s you! Last week I was doing a very short speech and it was for women entrepreneurs and most of them work from home. And I knew that I had to dress in a way that I was completely relatable.
I wore a big cashmere tunic and a pair of leggings and killer shoes because I know that I could wear the same outfit at home working in sneakers or if I take off the tunic and just wear my tank top with the leggings and sneakers. And when I was on stage I added the hot necklace and shoes and it was to make myself more relatable to that audience. Do you find that you do the same when you are on stage as it is affecting your mood and you kind of bring them in based on your appearance?
Alison Levine: Absolutely, and it’s funny because I always have the agency that represents me as a speaker ask about the attire because I don’t want to stand up there in a fancy suit when the audience is in jeans and flip-flops(which doesn’t happen often – occasionally for a tech company people are just casual).
Or if it’s resort casual where people are holding the meeting in somewhere in Florida. I always want to know how the audience is going to be dressed because I want to know that they can relate to me and know that I can relate to them.
Sharon Haver: Let me go back for a minute because if you go to FocusOnStyle.com and search Alison Levine, she did a really cool interview with us a few years ago about her packing tips as this girl zig-zags around the country like nobody’s business.
One of the funny response Tweets that you came back with was, and what makes me think you are so cool is that you said ‘I forgot my hairbrush, I had to use a fork!’
Alison Levine: You learn to improvise, you really do! I could be on the road for 17 days in literally a different city each day. Monday San Diego, Tuesday Scottsdale, Wednesday Atlanta. You know, back and forth like that for 17 days and I will only have one carry-on bag. So I had to learn to be really efficient and you learn to improvise.
And that’s something I learned in the mountains too because when you are climbing a big peak you can only take the stuff that will fit in your backpack. And the more stuff you pack, the heavier it will be and the more slow you will go and how difficult that will be. So you learn to take the things that are really necessary and that’s what forces you to improvise, when you don’t have something you think you need, you just learn how to get by without it.
Sharon Haver: I honestly have to say if I had to do that kind of stuff I would be like Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin. Because even still my the airline ruined my carry-on bag and I have yet to replace it so I think ‘a few items won’t be too heavy in my big suitcase instead.’ I could certainly use some pairing down.
Alison Levine: I can’t check a bag as I am in a different city everyday and the bag would never catch up to me if it got lost so I basically just have that one carry-on bag. Now, the thing that works in my favor is that because I am seeing different people everyday, I can wear the same things for multiple days. I’ll put my nice outfit on for the one hour that I am on stage and then I’ll take it off again as soon as I get off stage. So I can literally get away with the same outfit for 17 days.
I know it sounds gross but it’s just the same as you wearing one outfit all day long.
Sharon Haver: It really is, and as a keynote you aren’t really sitting there as people who do more speak-to-sell as they are sitting in the back of the room all day so you have to look ready and prepared. And you’re sitting there for three days listening to other offers or what they are doing, but as a keynote you can pretty much get them out/get them in rawhide and pack your bag and go.
Alison Levine: Exactly…
Sharon Haver: So tell me, how did you get into this? How did you go from the girl who decided to climb Everest? Where you a little girl who decided ‘that mountain is just not high enough for me, I need to go bigger?’
Alison Levine: Great question! When I was younger for whatever reason I was always intrigued by the early antarctic and arctic explorers and early mountaineers. I would these books and watch documentaries. I was also side-note, born with a hole in my heart that got bigger as I got older so I had my second heart surgery when I turned 30 and at that point this lightbulb went off in my head.
I thought that now that I am in better health and physically stronger, if I want to know what it is like to be Reinhold Messner and pull a 150 lb sled over 600 miles of antarctic ice than I should get out there and do it instead of just reading about it. If I want to know what it is like to be these explorers and adventurers and what it is like to go to these far away mountains, then I should go to these far away mountains instead of just watching documentary films about them.
If these other people are doing these things why can’t I? What is stopping me? And that’s how I got to I got to start. I didn’t even climb my first mountain until I was 32 years old.
Sharon Haver: Wow! I know when I am at my place in Jackson Hole, WY my favorite place to shop is Teton Mountaineering and it’s not because I am buying my ice picks or anything, maybe just in my dreams I am, but it’s because they have really great outdoor clothes for the crazy cold winter there. A normal winter clothes. I am amazed at what people climb there and my husband once climbed the Tetons. He had the same problem and didn’t make it to the top, he missed it by a couple of hundred feet and he pulled his knee and it was getting dark, and couldn’t do it. It was his first climb, and maybe his last although I know he wants to do it again. We were pretty nervous and I know the first time you didn’t make it to the top of Everest. You almost got to the tip, you almost got to the peak. How does that feel to almost reach your goal when it’s like that amount?
Alison Levine: That was very much a defining moment for me for many reasons. I was the team captain of the first women’s Everest expedition. The first team of American women climbing Everest together back in 2002. We were sponsored by Ford and we had this big corporate sponsor and all of this media attention. Again, we were the first women’s team on the expedition and we had 450 media outlets following us. CNN was doing live coverage on the mountain and we missed the top by 200 ft. because of bad weather. So it was a very public, let’s call it a failure, and you have all of this media attention, the talk shows, the evening news anchors were interviewing us, and we didn’t make it.
So you have to come back and do the whole talk show circuit again and talk about what happened. And you go from being this celebrated figure who was the team captain of the first American women’s Everest expedition and hearing all of these people and you come back you know, being the butt of Jay Leno’s opening monologue joke. You go back to the Today show and Ann Curry is like ‘welcome back — awwww’ – sad face… You know it’s very hard to try something that is so far out of your comfort zone, such a big challenge, and it’s hard to not achieve this goal.
It took me 8 years to go back to Everest to get enough courage to pick it up again. And when I made it the second time, my second attempt, what I realized that standing on top of that mountain wasn’t what was really important. What was important was the lessons you learn along the way, fighting like hell to get up there, and using that information going forward.
That for me was a defining moment because it taught me about the importance of not letting the failure define you, but letting the experience lend itself to help you do better going forward.
Sharon Haver: Absolutely, the mountain, after reading your book On The Edge, the mountain really is a metaphor for life. It’s there and at the same time, my Jewish upbringing would say ‘oh you almost made it, it was 200 ft.!’
Alison Levine: What people need to realize is that when you are up at that elevation, you know 28,000 ft, 28,700 ft, you have to take 5-10 breaths for every step in order to catch your breath again. Because it is so hard at that elevation and people look at these photos that I have where I am 200 ft. from the summit and they say ‘oh, why didn’t you just run and then run back down?’
What people don’t realize is that you can’t just run up there when you are taking 10 breaths for every step. It is very slow going at that elevation.
Sharon Haver: How long does it take you to get up there? How many base camps do you go through and I know you have to stop, and unfortunately you see some people who didn’t make it along the way. Can you describe a little bit of the experience of getting up there?
Alison Levine: The entire experience of climbing Everest takes about 2 months, and it takes about 10 days just to hike to base camp. Then once you get to base camp you have to spend a few days there because it is going to take you awhile to get used to the altitude at just over 17,000 ft. just at your base camp. So you’ve got base camp and then about 4 camps above base camp to get to before you make an attempt at the summit. You actually climb up part way up the mountain and then you have to come back down and be lower again. Then you climb back higher and then you climb back lower again. People are always confused when they hear that description of how you climb because they think that you go straight up the mountain, but you have to keep coming back down in between each successful camp because like I said, your body has to get used to the altitude very slowly but also when you get up to elevations above 18,000 ft. your body is actually deteriorating so you want to come back down just so you can eat, sleep, hydrate and regain some strength. It’s interesting because you don’t just climb straight up the mountain, you climb up & down, higher and down again. And even high again, and then back down. So in order to make progress on the mountain, you aren’t just climbing in one direction, you are climbing up and you actually have to backtrack quite a bit in order to eventually get to the top.
Sharon Haver: I know from Jackson Hole, it’s pretty high elevation, I want to say it’s 11,000 ft, but my husband would be the one to actually get it down to the millimeter. I even know for myself that with normal living out there, it takes time just to get used to the altitude. Just to breath better. And this is a house, I’ve been there I think this year will be my 70 something trip to get there and I know for myself just living there, it takes me a couple of days. So I can’t even imagine what your body would go through going up & down the mountain everyday, and what you have to do to prepare yourself so that your body can live up to the experience.
Alison Levine: There are a lot of frustrating aspects about climbing a big mountain like Everest but I think one of the biggest things not just physically but psychologically is that you’ve got to come back down to a lower elevation before you can go back up. And I think that’s a really good metaphor for anything in life. To realize that in order to make progress, sometimes you have to go in a different direction than what you initially anticipated. When you feel like you are going backwards and you aren’t moving towards your goal, don’t look at that as any type of defeat.
Look at that as you are still making progress even though you are going in a different direction.
Sharon Haver: That’s a really good point. And I think so many people tell you to take baby steps to soar and there’s just really no overnight success. Most overnight success takes a decade, most of us take a really long time to get ahead, and then you go back, you get ahead, and go back. And sometimes it takes a really long time and then it just sticks and it looks so easy but it was really a lot of work, success and failures. And that comes in everything we do, particularly in business and in life and it’s important for everyone to keep that in mind.
When you were doing all of this, what was the best single piece of advice you were given on how to continue being in charge and taking charge and leading. What was that one thing, if there was one thing?
Alison Levine: I think it has to do with managing fear. So if you’re climbing a big mountain, or skiing to the North Pole or South Pole, or starting a new business or you get a new job, or new promotion or you are entering into a new relationship – I mean anything in life, you are having kids, getting a dog. Everyone’s got life changing experiences.
For me the best piece of advice has to do with managing fear. You have to realize that fear is a normal human emotion, but you can learn how to use fear to your advantage. That’s what I do, for me, I look at fear as a good thing because fear keeps me alert, aware and on my toes because of everything going on around me.
When fear becomes dangerous is when is paralyzes you. That what you have to think about, that fear is ok, it is a normal human emotion. So if you feel fear, that is good. It is going to keep me aware, awake and able to move quickly.
Complacency is what will kill you.
Like when you are climbing Mount Everest there are all of these scary parts of the mountain, the Khumbu icefall is probably the scariest part. And that’s where a lot of these accidents happen. There’s 2,000 vertical feet of these big huge moving ice chunks. And what happens is that as the sun comes up and everything starts to melt, these huge ice chunks start to shift around so you are constantly in danger of being crushed. It is one of the most terrifying parts of being on the mountain, it is one of the most terrifying things I have ever experienced.
Once I learned how to manage that fear, that fear would keep me moving, and that’s when I knew I was going to be ok. Complacency, failure to move, failure to react to your environment, is really what puts you at risk. That’s the advice I would give to people. Realize that fear is ok, you can use fear to your advantage. Complacency is what will kill you.
Sharon Haver: That is great, And I think it’s true. So many people get stuck in a rut in any way you look at it. They think that they are kind of paddling, they’re paddling and paddling – but, there is no water. They aren’t going anywhere. They are just standing there thinking that while it distracts the fact that they really are in a rut, they’re really not doing anything about it but they are camouflaging themselves with all of this other business but they aren’t realizing that they aren’t taking it to the next level. And it’s sad…
Alison Levine: Fear is really what prevents people from taking risks. And it is usually a fear of failure but what you have to remember is that failure is temporary, failure never defines you. Failure is one of the most incredible learning experiences. The way I look at it is that the more I fail, the better I am going to be the next time around.
So you have to learn how to use fear to your advantage and don’t let it stop you from taking a risk or trying something new or setting a ridiculously high goal for yourself.
Sharon Haver: As you did many, many times! That said, most people cannot achieve what you have done, particularly on your level, but if somebody wanted to make their life a little bit more amazing this week, what do you think we could tell them to do? We’ve already covered fear – just biting the bullet and learning from your past experiences. What do you think would make people even more amazing this week, anything – business, leadership style, climbing, taking a chance, taking a risk.
Alison Levine: I think trying something that you are pretty sure that you can’t do, trying something you’ve always thought about but you’re like ‘oh, I can’t do it, I can’t do that.
Go try it and go fail at it, getting back to that theme again, I think that’s where you learn the most about yourself. People just assume this is something that is out of my reach, or this is something that is too important for me, or this is something I can’t do. I would say find something you are pretty sure that you can’t do and just go try it. Because you might surprise yourself, you might amaze yourself. And you know now is the time to do it.
We are all on this planet for such a limited amount of time, and you never know how many tomorrow’s you are going to have so just tell yourself today is the day. Find the time. Find the motivation. Try something you are pretty sure you can’t do and just go learn from the experience. You’d be surprised at the types of things and opportunities open up to you when you just try something and you fail.
People always think it’s a bad thing but if you only take risks that you know you can do, or you know that you could be good at, you are never going to get out of your comfort zone and you are never going to push yourself that hard.
And I always remind people about Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay, the first people that ever climbed the Everest summit. There were dozens of climbers who tried and failed before those two made it to the summit. Granted, nobody knows their names, but those two had the benefit of the 411 and information from the previous climbers and maybe if those guys had never tried and failed, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay would have never made it to the summit and that’s why our personal failures are important not only for us, but for the people who may follow in our footsteps because they can learn a lot from our failures as well.
Sharon Haver: Legacy, absolutely. That’s just brilliant because I think so many people are afraid of themselves. And we need to push ourselves everyday and keep the thread going…
Alison Levine: The other thing I really want people to remember is that you don’t have to be the best, the strongest, the fastest. I am 5’4 and a heavy backpack weighs me down much more than it would for somebody who is 6’2 and 230 lbs. I am never very fast, I am never very strong. But what I really people to remember is that you don’t have to be the fastest, the strongest, you just have to be absolutely relentless about putting one foot in front of the other, and that’s how you get to the top of the mountain. You get to the top by being relentless. Forget about needing to be the best, the fastest and the most skilled – not important. Being relentless is the most important thing when it comes to climbing a mountain.
Sharon Haver: That’s great, and very Tweetable! Which brings us back to where we met! Before we leave, I want everybody to know that they should pick up your book On The Edge which is fantastic and has been out a couple of years now. It is wonderful, it’s funny and it’s a fantastic read.
Alison Levine: You can get it on Amazon or wherever and I think my favorite Amazon review said ‘all of the suspense of Into Thin Air, but without the depression’ because I did try to keep it kind of funny.
Sharon Haver: It is kind of funny! You have this one line where you were waiting because there was a protest and you were stuck in a Sizzler but at least you are stuck where there is an all you can eat dessert bar. You gotta get down to reality. So I know you have been working on The Glass Ceiling so talk with us about that before we go as it is such a fascinating story as well.
Alison Levine: Sure, I actually just got back from climbing a mountain in Nepal a few weeks ago working on this film called The Glass Ceiling. It’s an amazing story about this Nepali woman Pasang Sherpa who was the first woman to climb Everest and she was literally not allowed to climb Mount Everest because she was a woman and they didn’t let Nepali women climb.
And although she was born into a family that was dirt poor, she couldn’t read, she couldn’t write, she had no formal education. She had the courage to come forward and fight for the right to climb for herself and all other Nepali women and she literally to fight the government of Nepal, the ministry of tourism, for the right to climb and she said look you guys let women from 23 other countries come here and climb our mountain yet you will not allow me. And she was the one who fought for the right to climb and she made three unsuccessful attempts to reach the summit of Everest and she finally made the summit on her own on her fourth try in 1993 but she died on the way down. So she never lived to understand the amazing legacy she left and she left three children behind and became this legend in Nepal.
There’s a statue of her, a museum about her, all of the children learn about her in school and she is considered the Rosa Parks of Nepal and outside of Nepal it is so incredible that nobody knows her story and her determination to fight things and change things for social justice. So we are making this film about her life story and we are still in the process of fundraising so if anyone wants to contribute you can donate on our website, it’s TheGlassCeilingMovie.com. You can check out our trailer but we are hoping to actually get the movie out sometime in 2017.
Sharon Haver: Fantastic, so that’s TheGlassCeiling.com and if you want to get in touch with Alison you can find her at AlisonLevine.com. We’ve got the On The Edge book available at major bookstores and Barnes & Noble and for those of you who are listening on iTunes, hop on over search Alison on FocusOnStyle.com where you not only get to see photos of Alison climbing, but you get to see her looking gorgeous on the red carpet. How many people can say oh the climbing outfit, the red carpet outfit, the speaking from the stage outfit? The grand trifecta of style! Anyways, thank you so much!
Alison Levine: Thank you so much again for the opportunity of being here and it’s so fun to reconnect.
Sharon Haver: AlisonLevine.com and see you on the next episode of 7 Days to Amazing!
Announcer: That’s a wrap, well not so fast. Don’t forget to hop over to focusonstyle.com for exclusive content to help you live your most amazing life with style and success. For even more great stuff that Sharon only shares by email, subscribe to her in-the-know list at www.focusonstyle.com/insiders.
See you next time!
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