Archives for December 2014

Are you in Q2?

In the late 90s I had the opportunity to attend an executive leadership breakfast keynoted by the late (and great) Steven Covey. I’d read several of his books, including the classic, Seven Habits of a Highly Effective  People, as well as First Things First and had had good experience applying them to running my sole proprietorship.  Covey’s talk centered on creating effective teams within an existing structure.  I had primarily been hoping for an injection of positive energy – and Covey certainly provided that. But it also turned out to be an important and very practical turning point for my business.  Although not exactly what Covey was talking about, I was inspired to come up with a new framework for my company.  I was so excited I couldn’t even leave the parking garage.  I sat in my car, sketching out an entirely new team-based structure for O’Brien & Company.  In 2011 I transferred ownership of O’Brien & Company to three employee-principals, and although the framework is more sophisticated, and team definitions have evolved, the team structure is still intact and works well for the company.

The point of this post, however, is not really to discuss team-based structure, but to encourage use of a planning tool Covey promoted in his writing, and that I had adopted by the time the above event occurred.  This was the important/urgent matrix (see below):

Q1 Urgent, Not Important Q2 Urgent, Important
Q3 Not Urgent, Not Important Q4 Not Urgent, Not Important

Spending most of my time in Quadrant 2 (that is handling important matters that were not urgent) became my goal – and it became a mantra around the office…”Are you in Q2?”

New hires quickly picked up on the lingo, and we all learned that practice makes perfect!   Like anyone else I could easily “relapse” into Q1 behavior, but the more I practiced Q2 behavior (you might say “recovery”) the more I was able to practice it, and benefit from it.  What is Q2 behavior? In our office shorthand, it was interpreted as prep and planning. If we were acting on something important (it mattered to our values, our bottom line, our brand) without prep and planning, then we there was a good chance we were in Q1 (or about to be!).

Spending time on personal development (which is one way to interpret my attendance at the Covey event) and then taking advantage of the privacy of my car to sketch out an idea for improving my company’s performance (rather than quickly returning to the office and diving into my in-box) are two examples of Q2 behavior…both of which have had lasting, positive effects.

With practice, it’s become easier and easier to detect when I am on the slippery slope into Q1 (or even Q3). If I feel the least bit agitated, I know it is NOT time to act, but time to PAUSE.  This pause helps me identify whether I am  about to take action on something that matters and whether there is some planning or prep I could be doing to make that action more effective.  So a four-step routine for acting more effectively: 1) Stop the action when agitated, and 2) Ask yourself, “Am I in Q2?” 3) If not, imagine what Q2 behavior would look like in that particular situation (which of course IS Q2 behavior) and 4) Act in accord.  For anyone hoping to take a leadership role, developing this routine is essential to success.

Emergent Leaders Look in the Mirror First

OntheWayHow many of us in leadership positions have run into a snag, either with a client, a colleague, a Board Director, or other figure in our sphere of influence, and used a “tried and true” communication technique to get back on track — and the results were less than stellar?

I certainly have my share of such experiences.  It’s not because those techniques are faulty.  It’s because I skipped a step — actually two steps. I needed to impartially review what happened and discern my role in what happened.  In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley says “We would benefit from knowing how much interpretation we do.”  An impartial review, where I ask myself what happened first – factually –  then what, then what, and so forth, makes it much more likely that I will realistically see my role in what happened. This is because I’ll be less defensive as I describe the situation to myself.

Once I have personally completed this exercise, it will be much easier for me to approach the person with whom I’m experiencing the problem calmly. And thus, more likely to resolve the situation creatively.

Once you are clear about your role (and we always have one) in the original mis-fire, it may be possible to go through the “what happened” exercise with the individual you hope to work things out with. This can be particularly important for long term relationships. I found this exercise helpful with employees, where we were not just resolving the situation, but practicing a kind of discernment that would come in handy for the employee as he or she grew in professional responsibility.

The point is to foster fact-finding, rather than fault-finding, even when you are the subject of the study! The neat thing about learning this discernment process, is that with enough practice, you can “witness” the action while you are in the middle of it, and even begin to “foresee” how the action might go before it occurs. Both are leadership capabilities of an emergent leader that will help you avoid problems in the first place.  And perhaps more importantly, make the most of every interaction with your colleagues, clients, or employees.

Foresight and witnessing are two important practices of an emergent leader. We’ll be discussing this and more at the upcoming EMERGE Leadership Workshops this January. Learn more at:




Why Scenario at EMERGE?

ob-featured-postScenario planning is a significant component to the EMERGE Leadership Workshop. Why so? If you are like me, you’ve read a ton of books on leadership. (Some of the best are in the Resources Section of this website!) But it was when I practically applied the principles I’d read about, that I began to really “get” how the particular advice worked (and if it worked to my satisfaction) in my world. Scenario planning is a big part of the EMERGE Leadership Workshop to give every participant an opportunity to apply EMERGE Leadership principles and practices to a realistic situation before they leave the workshop environment and re-engage in home and office routines.

There are a variety of techniques adult education can incorporate in order to enhance learning, but scenario planning is particularly appropriate for EMERGE Leadership training. This is because the EMERGE Leadership Model emphasizes collaboration as a means of both identifying and implementing more creative solutions. EMERGE participants are working to help each other learn the material, while they are sorting out how the material can be applied “back at the ranch.” And, they are practicing collaboration in a safe, contained environment.

The scenarios are based on issues of concern reported by participants in a pre-workshop survey, and are only included in the scenario team planning exercise if the individual concerned about it explicitly gives permission to use it. The leadership issue of concern can be a personal one, such as “I’m concerned about how my attempts to introduce sustainability into projects at my company are perceived,” or “I lead a City green building team, and feel I could be more effective.” Or it can be at the broader, organizational level, such “We’re planning our succession, and want to make sure the next generation of owners carry on (perhaps enhance) our sustainability initiatives.” Or it can be even more far-reaching, such as “I’m working on a state-wide energy initiative, and don’t feel I have a strong enough coalition to succeed.”

MikeFowlerFor issues such as these, the exercise assignment identifies a desired deliverable (For example, a plan for building a coalition to achieve a state-wide initiative) and conditions that must be taken into consideration when developing that deliverable. These conditions often act as constraints, but not always. Sometimes they can be re-invented as an asset.

EMERGE Participants choose from the custom scenarios developed for their workshop and then work as a team for 2-3 hours on the scenario, and then on a creative presentation of the results of their work. We provide lots of arts and crafts supplies to make this fun (and therefore more memorable!) Faculty and other attendees constructively critique the presentation, and discuss the implications of the solution envisioned by the group, in particular how it reflects the EMERGE Leadership approach vs. conventional leadership.

For individuals who are “living” the particular scenario back at their workplace or in their community, the scenario team planning process can be very helpful – they often leave with their group’s planning flip charts in hand with every intention to use them. (With the group’s permission, of course.) And their team members get to enjoy when the scenario becomes realized successfully. Some examples:

Bravery + EMERGE Workshop = Integrated Design Center

Emerge Leadership Project Creates Energy for Change

The EMERGE Leadership Workshop is  intentionally designed for application in the real world, to solve real problems and create effective life-sustaining solutions in and through the built environment. Scenario-planning is absolutely key to this intent.



Time, Money, Energy: Why Waste it?

IMG_9861I was recently talking to a prospective attendee for the two-day EMERGE Leadership Workshop scheduled for January 14-15, 2015 at the Southern California Gas Company’s ERC/Classroom. Fantastic guy, a highly motivated, successful entrepreneur. He had recently spent thousands of dollars at a leadership conference led by one of the nation’s famous motivational speakers. I’m sure it was energizing, but frankly, I winced to hear it. There are lots less expensive ways to pick up general leadership tips and showmanship.  Read one of the hundreds of good books on leadership. Practice what they preach. Take a leadership seminar offered by your local chamber of commerce.  Join Toastmasters to polish your own motivational speaking.

If I’m going to spend my precious time, energy, and professional development budget on leadership training, I’d want to know that it is custom designed for me. Since my interest is in accelerating sustainability in the built environment, I’d want the content to be framed with that in mind. I’d want examples to “fit,” and I’d want exercises to help me develop solutions that I can apply in my world. I’d want the connections I make at the workshop to be high value, because I live in a high-stakes world. I’m trying to save the planet. Really.

I’d also want to know that I’m not going to be lectured at, because if that’s the case, I may remember that you moved me, and maybe even informed me, but I’ll be forgetting 95% of what you tell me. I work in the world of design, construction, and planning, so I want to do some of that to really “get” what you’re telling me in words.

Next, I’d want to know that people who have taken the training have ended up doing something really good with it. Like, successfully form a coalition to support a new energy performance policy. Like, open up a design collaborative center providing green building services and training on Main Street. Like, become the “go-to” person for city staff and council for sustainability questions. Like, experiment with an “agile” design-build process on the next residential building project and share lessons learned. Like, start up a new architectural firm focused entirely on sustainable design and operated in a socially responsible manner. Like, create a succession plan for the next generation of owners, ensuring sustainability will not be lost in the transition.

Finally, I’d want the leadership approach to accommodate the fact that although I’m committed to making sustainable building practice the norm, I rarely (if ever?) have the authority to just “make it happen.” I have to collaborate with others to get results.

This is what I’d hope for. Which is why the EMERGE Leadership curriculum is designed the way it is. Come join us this winter at the Islandwood Leadership Residency or the LA Emerge Leadership Workshop.

EMERGE won’t make you a greener building professional

Just a more effective one. Many of you have spent lots of professional development hours, dollars, and energy reading articles, attending conferences, and investing in expert consultants to learn how to build, design, and plan green projects.  Not altogether a bad investment, of course. It’s very important to imbue your passion for sustainable projects with substantive technical skills.  There’s a key ingredient missing in this scenario though, especially if your goal is to move people and their projects beyond “just enough” to earn a plaque, media attention, or even a bonus for project certification.  Effective leadership — with an eye on empowering changed behaviors around investment, design, planning, construction, development — is what’s missing.

Many assume that leadership is a trait (as in charisma), or a bit of good luck (as in celebrity), or granted (as in a title).  Leadership can be learned. This is good, for if we wait for the few with the gift of eloquence to guide us, we’ll be missing too many opportunities to inspire and direct change within the multi-layered systems in which builders, designers, planners, and community advocates operate. Leadership can also be assumed. Also good. We needn’t wait until we’ve landed an upper-management position (although that’s nice!) to lead.

Our built environment reflects the values of our communit(ies). It also shapes them.  As emergent leaders we can use our projects to inspire and conspire, through the brick and mortar and site decisions we make, yes, but more importantly through the process we use to make those decisions. And we can do this from any chair.

The EMERGE Leadership Workshop recognizes that for a green building professional aspiring to lead effective change in the field and in their communities, passion and technical training needs to be supplemented by practical training in leadership principles that recognize the significance of mindset and process.  The workshop presents these principles, and through interactive exercises, including realistic leadership scenarios, gives you a chance to practice them. A complimentary follow-up mentoring session makes sure you aren’t left hanging with some great ideas you can’t seem to apply in real life. In addition the EMERGE Leadership Project makes sure you will remain in contact with your EMERGE peers to support you as you apply your “stretch” leadership goals out in the field.

Kathleen O'BrienDavid EisenbergThis year’s workshops feature nationally recognized green building experts and authors Kathleen O’Brien and David Eisenberg. (Local guest faculty as time permits.)

You’ve got the passion; you’ve got the green building technical skills; now complete your quiver with advanced leadership training designed specifically for green building practitioners with the kind of weight you’d expect from proven green building leaders.

We’re offering the same great content in two distinctive venues. The Islandwood Residency, January 9-11 (Bainbridge Island, Washington) offers a natural setting with a more relaxed schedule and on-site lodging. The SoCal Gas Company’s ERC Classroom January 14-15 (Downey, CA) offers convenience and commuter economy. More details are at: