A Dramatic Lesson in Leadership

On February 19, 1847, the first members of the Donner Party were rescued from their snowbound prison in the icy Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Their story is one of mismanagement and indecisiveness. It vividly contrasts with the story of the Shackleton Expedition and provides a dramatic lesson in leadership. George Donner and his family were part of a wagon train of settlers headed for California. George was elected leader of that train, not because of his experience or his ability to inspire, but because he was the richest man. The settlers set out from the usual jumping-off place of Springfield, Illinois, in April, 1846. Their pace was slow because every time an important decision had to be made, George would order the wagons circled, hold a meeting and determine the wishes of the majority. In spite of the constant delays, by that summer the emigrants reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming. While there they
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