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Leadership Lessons from The Iditarod

Many years ago, when travel was routine for me, I was reading an inflight magazine about a sled dog race called the Iditarod. It was started in 1973 to preserve the culture of the sled dog as well as the historical Iditarod Trail between Seward and Nome in Alaska. I was hooked by a competition where neither gender nor age mattered, it was how you cared for, listened to, and lead your team that won the race.

This year was the 50th Iditarod race and what I love about this competition, not only is it about the happiest dogs ever, but also about leadership, grit, trust, and courage – from both dog and musher.

During this year’s race, it occurred to me that there were lessons to be learned from the relationship between Musher and their dog team. Although their challenges look vastly different from most of ours (I’ve never had to bang pots to see if that might be the solution to move a herd of Moose from my path), I still felt as though I could relate (what tools do I have that might be the solution to bring an incongruent team into alignment?). As I share the below learnings from the Iditarod Mushers, let us hear from you… Which lessons could you apply in the way you develop or engage in “team” with your organization, community, or family?

  • Many mushers start the race with a plan. Some, several plans. Then when called for, they scrap the plan and adapt to the weather, trail conditions, and what the dogs need.
  • Veteran dogs combined with younger dogs make a strong team while also preparing for the future.
  • Attention and focus are paramount to success – and ensure the sled remains upright. (The stories of mushers falling asleep while leading never end well – literally and figuratively falling asleep!)
  • Resting is a game-winning strategy of the race.
  • For much of the race, the mushers eat and sleep on the trail alongside their dog team.
  • The team will conquer 1,000 miles in the vast Alaskan Wilderness; the musher and the dogs celebrate their arrival at each checkpoint along the way.
  • A musher can only race as fast as the slowest dog. Sometimes they carry that dog in the sled to recuperate and other times they leave the dog safely behind at a checkpoint.
  • Speed is the name of the game. But never, ever, at the cost of a dog’s health. The dog’s well-being will always, forever, and in every circumstance come before the win.
  • Mushers know that their dogs will give everything they have when the team can rely on their leader to demonstrate love, protection, and a clear direction.
  • Each dog is fueled to run by its own intrinsic motivation and a good musher knows how to identify, foster, and develop that which will ignite the passion of each dog.
  • The musher’s position is in a sled behind their dogs. When the team crosses the finish line, the dogs come through first pulling their leader behind them.

At the finish line, one Musher was asked if one dog stood out: “They are all unique and I love each one; everyone has a different personality, different mark, different attitude… With all of us working together it makes a team.” Perhaps their approach to leadership will inspire you to consider ways that you too can lead powerfully from your heart.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, please reach out: info@interaworks.com

Author – Jennifer Wilmoth

Relationship Lead & Facilitator

About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.