September 6, 2022

Leadership Lessons from Skagway, Alaska


When you hear about individuals completing an incredible feat, do you wonder how they did it? Well, I do, and I am always amazed. For example, during our vacation trip to Alaska, my husband and I visited Skagway, Alaska, where prospectors made a dangerous journey to find gold during the Klondike Gold rush.

Skagway is a quaint town in southeast Alaska on the panhandle. It is home to the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. As you stroll downtown streets, you will experience gold-rush-era buildings from the Klondike Gold rush.

The town was founded in 1887 by Captain William Moore, who came to Skagway to survey the area as a member of the Canadian survey team. The team went to the territory to determine the exact position of the 141st meridian, which separated Alaska Territory from the Yukon Territory.

The town’s name Skagway is a Tlingit idiom, referring to the Taiya Inlet’s rough seas. While the population of Skagway is about 1,200 people, during the summer tourist season, it doubles.

One significant activity in Skagway is riding the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad. The railroad is a part of the rich mining history of Skagway. Before the railroad, prospectors journey 500 miles through the mountainous territory to the gold fields in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Skagway became the launch point for over 30,000 gold prospectors when gold was discovered in the Klondike region. The journey from Skagway to the Yukon Territory required prospectors to climb the mountains over the White Pass. To enter Canada, prospectors were required to carry one ton of supplies with them.

To help prosecutors on their journey, construction on The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad began in 1898 to connect Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon. Unfortunately, while the railroad did help prospectors, who could afford it, it wasn’t complete until 1900, when the gold rush was nearly over.

As the number of prospectors diminished, the railroad became the primary transport to the interior of the Yukon. Today it is a great tourist experience to travel from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon.

As my husband and I boarded the vintage railcar, I was excited to learn more about the prospector’s life. As we traveled up the steep mountain, I wondered how they could have completed the journey without the railroad.

Although the scenery was spectacular, I was in awe of the individuals who completed the journey on foot. I struggled to imagine making multiple trips on the mountain to stage one ton of supplies before entering the Yukon Territory.

What would drive someone to leave everything they know to pursue a dream? Of course, the initial thought of wealth could be the draw. But what does it take to continue when the odds are not in your favor? Like anyone who gives up everything to pursue their dream, the prospectors who reached the gold fields had four traits we all need to be successful.

  • Passion
  • Commitment
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience

Today we would say the prospectors had grit.

“Grit is having the courage to push through, no matter what the obstacles are, because it’s worth it.”

– Chris Morris

What are the lessons leaders can learn from the prospectors? First, a leader must be passionate and committed. They have to persevere in the face of obstacles. And, when the going gets tough, they know how to bounce back.

How do you demonstrate grit?



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Dr. Kim Moore

About the author

Hi, I'm Kim, Your Leadership Guide. I equip aspiring leaders to lead with confidence, emerging leaders to expand their influence, and accomplished leaders to achieve significance!