The 3 E’s of Rapid Decision-Making Skills in Outdoor Leadership

A Recipe for Developing Rapid Decision Making Skills

Most leaders start out as slow decision makers. This is natural because they don’t have the well of experience to draw from, and haven’t had enough exposure to scenarios which demand a decision. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the same is true for outdoor leaders. Wilderness experiences are a catalyst for developing rapid decision-making skills because the outdoor environment is out of our control and constantly poses problems for us to solve.

photo by Thomas Haines

I remember early in my guiding career a girl broke her femur right before my eyes. The group freaked out and went into chaos. Thanks to the wilderness first aid training I had from NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, I knew what to do. We worked very quickly and were able to get her to a hospital. This scenario demanded rapid decision-making skills. Many of the lessons I have learned about decision-making were learned in the untamed environment of the wilderness.

A classic Biblical example of this rapid decision-making skill is in the life of young David who was responsible to care for his father’s sheep. When David was sent to the front lines of battle to replenish his brothers with supplies he faced the prospect of battle against a formidable giant. Yet David did not even wince. Why was he able to rapidly decide to jump into the battle? The Scripture tells us why:

David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

David had already been in a variety of scenarios where he had to jump into action quickly… when lions and bears attacked his flock he didn’t sit around and weigh the options. No, he made a decision and took care of business right then and there.

Decision Making vs. Rapid Decision Making

There is a difference between decision-making and rapid decision-making. In most leadership scenarios, a rapid decision is not required. We usually have some time to research, ask our team for input, and seek consensus on a decision. But the more advanced your leadership becomes, the more you will face situations where rapid decisions are needed. Why is this? One of the main reasons is because advanced leaders are called to lead through times of crisis. And scenarios that are laden with crisis or conflict demand efficiency to avoid the chasm of chaos.

The 3 E’s of Rapid Decision Making Skills

The wilderness is just dripping with opportunities to learn how to be a rapid decision maker. I have a half-baked formula for how to develop rapid decision-making skills. It’s a combination between 1) experiences, 2) efficiency, and 3) exposure.

In my next post entitled, “Experience + Efficiency + Exposure = Rapid Decision-Making Skills,” we will look at each of these 3 E’s which are the building blocks for developing rapid decision-making skills.

Take Action

  • Spend a few minutes thinking about how you make decisions. Are you a slow or rapid decision maker? What experiences have affected your ability to make decisions?
  • Think about a time in the wilderness where you or another leader had to make a rapid decision. What do you think helped them make that rapid decision? Did you agree with their decision? How did the scenario turn out?
  • In what ways would you are you like David (mentioned above)? How are you unlike him? What is stopping you from developing the kind of rapid decision making skills that David had?


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3 thoughts on “The 3 E’s of Rapid Decision-Making Skills in Outdoor Leadership

  1. I’d love to hear from folks about any decision-making scenarios you have experienced in the wilderness. What was the scenario? How did it turn out?

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