The Leadership Project: Judgment & Decision-Making


Aug 10, 2020

NOLS Instructor Andy Blair introduces us to judgment & decision making. Subscribe to the NOLSie News to follow along our series exploring the 7 NOLS leadership skills.

There are a variety of different decision-making styles—which one is your go-to?

I definitely default to the consensus model of leadership whenever possible, because I think more brains are able to come up with really good ideas together. On a NOLS course, in bringing students into that decision-making, I think that is where some really cool magic can happen because they have ownership over the direction in which the course is going and they buy into the process. It's harder to get that buy-in when we're being directed.

Also, I think directive decision-making is often where I am more fraught with error than I am with consensus, because if everybody agrees then we're all bought in, we’re moving together.

Certainly there are situations when you are more directive in your decision-making, primarily around risk management—that is when I am more likely to reach inside for that inner drill sergeant.

What are some methods you use to teach teaching judgment and decision-making?

A technique I've heard more of recently on courses is to prompt the students at the beginning of the day.

Say something like, “Hey, we’re going to focus on judgment and decision-making during the hiking like today, and when we get to the debrief at the end, we’re going to chat about that particular skill.”

At the end of the day, try and identify times during the day when they’re using their judgement, they’re making a decision, and then bring that back around to help deepen the experience and help set it in their minds.

How can you see students learning judgment and decision-making?

My favorite section for leadership of any sort has been the longer canyon sections of our semester courses. Often on those courses, the students have already had one section in a different wilderness area, a few weeks when they’ve been exposed to most of the leadership curriculum. 

When I taught more frequently, I would really enjoy sections in the canyons that were long enough, so we could do two rounds of leadership, where each student got to be the designated leader at least twice.

During the first round, I’d say to students, ask me one question, and I’ll give you an honest answer. If you want to know about camp sites, if I think there will be water there, if I think there's a good progression of classes that could be taught in that location—I’ll answer the question.

On the second round, you can still ask me those questions, but I'm not going to answer; I’m going to say, I don't know. And if we end up at a spot and there's no water there, well, then I’m going to look to you to figure out what we’re going to do next. Those are great chances for learning, and doing it in real time with a situation that actually matters for you and the group.

Subscribe to the NOLSie News to follow along our series exploring the 7 NOLS leadership skills.

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NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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