The following materials are compiled from the excellent and recommended texts: Don't Die on the Mountain by Dan H. Allen and Outdoor Leadership by John Graham. Please consult these texts for proper development of these authors thoughts.


The making of cautious, responsible decisions involving optimum use of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the winnowing of information to select the facts, particularly cause and effect relationships, relevant to the issue at hand.

  • Decisions can make the difference between life and death. 
  • Decision making is a major part of leadership. 
  • Decision making is a part of risk management.

Decision’s Three Keys:

  1. Systematic thinking
  2. Common sense
  3. Intuition

Make decisions based on reality, not hope or faith:

  • Anticipate decisions before you have to make them.
  • Manage the time you have in which to make your decision. (Avoid too soon and too late.)
  • Use a strategy.
  • Have no regrets.

Decision Making Strategy:

  • Start by stopping.
  • Make a preliminary scan of options.
  • Look for unconventional options.
  • Get the best info on each option.
  • Use info to define the risks and benefits of each option.
  • Assign a relative weight to each risk and benefit.
  • Pick the option whose benefits most outweigh the risks (but note the swing factors.)
  • Implement the decision.
  • Adjust your decision to reflect new information.

Decision-making involves 4 basic steps:

  1. Recognizing a problem or question.
  2. Recognizing all the possible solutions or answers and their associated risks.
  3. Selecting a possible solution.
  4. Initiating the selected course of action.

What is your speed in processing decisions?

Is your processing speed appropriate for your group's rate of movement, weather systems, and sea conditions? (you often can't just stop and think in a foggy tidal stream)

To recognize the significant problems that may arise in the field, one must:

  • Be alert,
  • Recognize problematic or potentially dangerous situations,
  • Look for unforeseen problems, which result from the selected course.
  • Strategic decisions: those made around the strategy to be employed.
  • Pedestrian decisions: decisions about ordinary, repetitive behavior.
  • Impotent decisions: failure to act.
  • Absent decision making: avoiding.
  • Delayed decision making: waiting.
  • Cognitive fatigue: a lack of alertness, a numb-ness, daydreaming, less refined decisions.
  • Authoritarian. Leader makes private decisions, and announces the results to the group. Is autocratic. For good group relations, avoid when not needed, use when there's no time to waste.
  • Laissez-faire. Leader is not distinguishable from other members.The group's progress takes its own natural course without intervention. Be wary of absent decision-making.
  • Democratic. Leader mediates the discussion leading to a decision made by majority vote or consensus. (Note this important difference.) Decisions can tend to be better decisions, but takes much time. Members more likely to buy into the decision.
  • Consulting. A leader consults with members before announcing a decision.

What Mode do you use/rely upon? How would you change your approach? What are its strengths and limitations?


As the Pucker Factor rises, the consensus processes cease to work well. Related to the gravity of the situation and competence of the group. 


    egotistical                           PRESENCE IN THE WORLD           self-effacing

    tunnel vision                      FOCUS                                                   distractable

    rigid                                     FLEXIBILITY                                        waffling

    belligerent                          DEALING WITH CONFLICT             peace at any price

    isolated                                INCLUSIVENESS                                 overly solicitious


"The Objective: The essential quality of a leader is his or her clear, well-defined objective coupled with the energy and determination needed to continue working toward the objective while convincing others that it should be their objective as well.”    Dan Allen

"Leadership is the capacity to move others toward goals shared with you, with a focus and competency they would not achieve on their own."   John Graham

Know why you want to lead or guide.

Characteristics of a good leader:

Intelligence, knowledge, appropriate physical skills, alertness, critical thinking ability, listening ability, communication skills, self-effacement, self-sacrifice, willingness to make decisions, humor, team building skills, willingness to give credit where due, equanimity in accepting input, organization, emotional control, body language skills, salesmanship, physical attractiveness, concise writing style, effective speaking style, able to inspire, counsel, teach, assist, entertain, comfort, communicate, maintain morale…

People expect good leaders to:

  • Be good at planning & organizing.
  • Be self confident.
  • Be technically competent.
  • Care for others.
  • Make good decisions.
  • Be trustworthy.
  • Communicate well.
  • Inspire others to be their best.
  • Build & maintain morale.
  • Be good teachers & coaches.
  • Be able to deal with difficult people and handle conflicts.
  • Be able to build and guide teams.
  • Anticipate problems and deal with them proactively.

Confidence: A leader relies upon a broad base of experience and learning to communicate confidence to her group. 

  • Can you share more than your part of the load all day in rough and windy conditions and still have sufficient energy to meet an emergency?
  • Can you deal with medical emergencies such as hypothermia, dislocations, seizures, compound fractures?
  • Can you make a fire in the howling rain when morale or survival depends on it?
  • Can you deal patiently with unprepared people all day?
  • Can you lead a party back to a take out at night in stormy conditions?
  • Can you navigate with your group in pea soup foggy conditions?
  • Can you rescue your group wherever they may get into trouble?

Resolution of the many agendas, both open and hidden, through compromise while selling the trip goals that brought the group together.

Role of Humor: It can save the day or be viewed as sarcasm or in poor taste.


Good leaders genuinely care for those they lead.

Caring leadership is:

  • Putting yourself in another's shoes.
  • Being vulnerable, sharing your experiences.
  • Active, nonjudgmental listening.
  • Putting caring into action.
  • Following through.
  • Letting go of judgments.
  • Caring for beginners.
  • Correcting with caring.
  • Acknowledging others for their strengths and contributions.
  • Caring for yourself.

Distinguish Planning and Guiding

  • Get yourself ready.
  • Get your equipment ready.
  • Get organized. Research trip, make a plan, use management tools.
  • Establish requirements and assess qualifications.
  • Build relationships.
  • Determine special needs.
  • Double-check key factors.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Anything about sex, race, religion or body parts.
  • “I can't do that.” Remember, you're a guide, so you can and do everything.
  • “No,” at the beginning of any sentence. Conveys rejection; look to the positive.
  • Hang on, I'll be right back.” Instead: “Give me a minute to check on ____ and I'll be right back.”
  • “We can't do that.” Find an alternative that someone can do.
  • “You'll have to …” The only thing they have to do are die and pay taxes.

First Aid for the Victim and the Group

Have an Emergency Response Plan

Information Needed: 

  • A: Available resources at the accident scene - number of people, adequacy of gear.
  • M: Medical information of injury, illness and an assessment, including vital signs &      pre-existing medical condition.
  • P: Personal information about the victim - name, H, W, age, address, phone, contact.
  • L:  Location - weather & terrain conditions.
  • E:  Equipment needed for victim and group.
Additional Suggested Reading:

• Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

• Shackelton's Boat Journey by Frank Worsley.