Leading on the Edge: Extraordinary Stories and Leadership Insights from the World’s Most Extreme Workplace – Rachel Robertson
Robertson is well-qualified for this type of book – a personal account of what it means to lead and be part of teams in crises or difficult situations. Her personal experiences are apparent throughout this publication.
She holds an MBA from Melbourne Business School, was one of Victoria’s youngest chief rangers, was part of the response team during Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfire tragedy, and has lead an Antarctic expedition.
Her real-life examples are excellent. I loved the story of ‘Mr Scrapey’, who had the annoying habit of scraping his cutlery along his plate. And the situation of the ‘Bacon Wars’ is priceless!
Robertson refused to allow a stop-work meeting for their $20 million program to discuss how to cook the bacon on Monday mornings, but she does admit that you need to take care of the little things. Robertson tells us that ‘Bacon Wars’ are symptoms of deeper issues – usually to do with respect. She insists that you must be patient and attentive as a leader in order to build a respectful team.
Building a team
The best part of this book is the (too) brief appendix, which addresses ‘building team work with no triangles’. This is a concept that Robertson explores earlier in the book.
A triangle exists if someone wants to tell you something about someone else, when you are miffed at another person and tell a third party, or you hear what so-and-so thinks about you. In a harsh environment where it gets to 40-degrees below zero, there’s nowhere to hide and you have to rely upon others to survive, such triangles can ruin a team.
Robertson provides guidelines on how to have a difficult conversation: choose the right time and place; don’t email; anticipate that you might not be on the same page; rehearse; ask questions; identify your role in what is happening; maintain eye contact and stay in control; clarify what is being said; don’t interrupt; use LADAR = ‘language radar’, and listen for ‘ping’ words like always, never, everyone, no one, can’t, won’t; and follow up and move on.
The book has lots of diary entries, which show Robertson’s lived experience of Antarctica and there are some great colour photos of the expedition and this marvellous place. It is a rich, personal story.
Overall, I recommend this book as a compelling narrative in being a team member and a team leader. It might lack some scholarship and an integrating model or framework for teamwork or leadership, but Robertson’s many ‘learnings’ and suggestions are indeed useful.