“Leadership often sucks,” say Don Schmincke and Chris Warner (see interview p. 28). “It’s a risky, lonely role possessing unbearable lows and fleeting highs.”

Don is a scientist who became fascinated with how humans behave and perform in groups. After discovering that most management theories fail during implementation due to biological factors, he developed effective methods for overcoming biological conditioning and producing exceptional organizational performance.

Chris learned leadership a different way: he is one of only nine American climbers to have summitted both of the world’s two tallest mountains, Mount Everest and K2, and he has led over 150 international mountaineering expeditions. Today he runs his own company, Earth Treks, successfully applying the high altitude leadership principles to a thriving business that serves tens of thousands of customers every year.

When Don and Chris met on a climbing expedition, it became clear there was synergy in their leadership experiences. “As we explored ideas,” says Don, “we kept stumbling on the links between validated biological leadership insights and death zone mountaineering experiences.” Conversations on remote mountains grew into experiments with business organizations, and eventually grew into this book, High Altitude Leadership.

The authors define high altitude leaders as “those who lead themselves and their teams to produce peak performance in the face of extreme challenges by overcoming the dangers not foreseen or addressed by current pop leadership theory.”

Whether you are leading a team, a company or your own career, this book teaches you how to handle the eight dangers that leaders regularly face: fear of death, selfishness, tool seduction, arrogance, lone heroism, cowardice, comfort and gravity.

Each chapter starts with a true story—a day in the life of mountain climbers in death zone, with temperatures of twenty-five degrees below zero at altitudes over 25,000 feet above sea level. In each story, one of the eight dangers shows up in the most extreme conditions, followed by survival tips gleaned from the story and how to apply them to business. For example:

How do you tame your fear of death—death of a project, death of an organization?

Survival tip: Take decisive action. Embracing death unleashes freedom from personal agendas and power for innovative action.

How do you overcome selfishness on your team?

Survival tip: Provide a compelling saga. Human selfishness can only be unhooked when a greater passion overwhelms the selfish agenda.

The last leadership lesson of the book is, “Don’t Conquer the Peak; Conquer Yourself.”

“Don’t lose yourself in the process,” say the authors. “As a leader, you owe it to yourself, your team and your company to be ever vigilant so that all may summit—and then make it safely back to base camp.”

Want to become a fearless leader and excel in the most challenging business environments? This compelling book will show you how.

Hardcover, 210 pages, $27.95;
Jossey-Bass, 2008