EMERGE Leadership Workshop Lands in Pittsburgh September 11, 2018

Want to launch a policy initiative, a commercial enterprise, a professional career transition or community project? Hoping to lead successfully on a deep green project? The EMERGE Leadership Workshop has for some time been a popular addition to the quiver of sustainable building professionals and activists…but ‘til now you’ve had to travel to the West Coast to take advantage of the program.  That’s about to change! As part of the Living Products Expo this Fall, the workshop that has been seen as “life altering” and inspiring by leaders in the field is coming to Pittsburgh.  Led by EMERGE Founder Kathleen O’Brien, the workshop introduces the EMERGE Leadership model, showcases examples of the emergent leadership approach in action, while providing ample opportunity to discuss what this means for workshop participants in their professional and personal lives. An in-depth scenario activity will prepare participants to apply emergent collaboration. Participants who register will receive a FREE copy of “EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community.”  This program garnered high praise and 100% positive evaluations at Living Future 2018 (See survey graphic).  Learn more and register for the event at https://productexpo.living-future.org/schedule/

Okapi’s Take on EMERGE Leadership…the Book

Since my book EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community is written expressly for practitioners focused on sustainability, it is extremely gratifying that Okapi Architecture, a design firm located in Los Angeles, has reviewed the book and found it helpful.  Okapi was established by Ying Wang in 2010, with the passion to bridge the gap between conventional architectural design, sustainability, and energy efficiency. In the firm’s March, 2017 newsletter, Lance Williams (the firm’s program manager) says: “EMERGE is an advanced training manual that will benefit many people seeking to understand the ever-evolving profession…it is a primer in how to take the breakthroughs of green building technology and merge them with a big picture approach. The primary goal is to…have an organized framework by which individuals have a set of tools to work collaboratively, plan effectively and communicate through a common language.”  For the full review:

For an in-depth dive into the EMERGE Leadership Model, consider attending the workshop “EMERGE: Leadership for a Living Future” May 16th, 2017 as part of the week-long Living Future Conference and workshops.    I’ll be teaching along with Daniel Huard, of Greenview Global.  If you register by April 16th, you’ll get a FREE copy of my book.  Learn more and register…


Opportunities to EMERGE at Living Future this May! Lead with Genius & Courage

The Living Future Conference is the leading event for regenerative design, with a week of workshops and a full conference offering high-test education and inspiration.  Because the event is finely tuned to the needs of professionals and activists committed to leadership, EMERGE is a natural fit.  If you are interested in shaping the future for good, and the courage to persist, here’s what you do:

Register  for EMERGE Leadership for a Living Future, May 16th 1-4pm: This action-packed half-day workshop will introduce the EMERGE Leadership Model to practitioners and activists working for a Living Future. Kathleen O’Brien, Founder of the EMERGE Leadership  Project will be joined by EMERGE Faculty Daniel Huard from Greenview Global.  This is a “shoulder” event scheduled the afternoon before the full 2017 Living Future Conference. EMERGE Leadership workshops have been considered “life-altering!” Attendees registering by April 16th will receive a FREE copy of EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community.

Register for the Living Future Conference Wednesday May 17-18, 2017 . This year’s theme is “Genius and Courage” and there’s a terrific program including keynotes Van Jones and Kirsti LukeAnd check out this session: “Deep Genious: How to Address Mindset and Create Conditions for Change Through Conversation.”  Jenna Cramer, Cara Rude, Nicole Isle, Patricia Culley, Lorraine Doo, and Bungane Meholmakulu will be joining EMERGE Founder Kathleen O’Brien in a demonstration of a conversation technique that is especially conducive to creating connections and emergent solutions.  Come join us 3:45pm, Thursday, May 18th.

And don’t forget to visit the Conference bookstore where you’ll be able to purchase lots of great resources, including EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community, which captures the concepts, stories, and tips that have been developed over the years by EMERGE Founder Kathleen O’Brien.  The book comes with a bonus… FREE web-based enrichment materials, including videos, exercises, and templates. According to Jason McLennan, this book is “a great gift to the green building community.” (And Kathleen will be happy to autograph any books purchased at the bookstore!)

The EMERGE Leadership Project is a Supporting Sponsor of the 2017 Living Future Unconference.

Forget “1984,” Search for Meaning Instead

Around the time when the 45th U.S. President was inaugurated into office, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 took off and have increased almost 10,000 percent.  The sales of his Animal Farm has increased by something like 250%.  In 1984, Orwell illustrated how language can be weaponized by the distortion of the truth. In Animal Farm, alternative facts were the norm; an example being some animals are “more equal than others.”

With “alternative facts” promulgated at the highest levels of government, it’s not altogether surprising that there’s a surge in readers of Orwell’s dystopian novels. And of course, as a writer myself and a chronic book addict I support most forms of reading. However, I’m pretty sure that most of the readers represented in the above-mentioned “surge” have read Orwell before. It’s like we’re seeking confirmation of a cynical reality…getting permission to be in a sarcasm-fueled funk.

I suggest instead, for you to curl yourself up with a copy of Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. That is, if you want to practice emergent leadership.  In its simplest expression, emergent leadership has servant leadership at its core, and love of others at its root.  This is not possible if we are coming from cynicism.

Recognize the problems that exist, but then turn your energy’s and focus onto life-sustaining solutions.  In Frankl’s preface, “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” The first example is the one relevant here.

Frankl experienced the horrors of four concentration camps, and the grief of learning when released that while he had survived, his parents, pregnant wife, and brother had not.  And yet, in 1946 he was able to write: “Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forego the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him.” In a 1962 addendum, he notes that “suffering is (not) necessary to find meaning…meaning is possible…in spite of suffering – provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable” he stresses, “the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological, or political.” And in an even later addendum, he says “the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

Frankl’s incredible story of finding meaning within the most horrible circumstances should inspire us to stay focused on positive solutions. In my book: EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community, I note that being “glum” isn’t ‘attractive’.” If we present a positive, robust, even happy prospect to those whom we hope to influence (i.e. those we are hoping to lead), we are much more likely to enroll them in our efforts. As Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone note in their book Active Hope, “the (environmental) movement needs to grow and the attractiveness of participation grows when it is recognized as a …more satisfying way of life.”

EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It will be available FREE with registration by April 16th for EMERGE: Leadership for a Living Future. The half-day workshop with the author is scheduled for Tuesday May 16th and offered through the International Living Future Institute as part of events leading up to the 2017 Living Future UnConference. Learn more and register at: http://livingfutureunconference.org/program/.

Activism is a Form of “Voluntary” Tithing: What does it look like for you?

Image result for earthAlthough I don’t always experience it this way, Albert Einstein’s famous prodding us to think that the world might be a “friendly” place can be helpful in challenging times, especially when the calls for action are many. (There are so many areas of need announcing themselves on my Facebook feed it feels a little like “whack-a-mole!”)

But I’ve been thinking about how to do this…how to stay responsible to the world I live in. How do I continue to show up and contribute to the good?  To this “friendly universe?”

It is a fact (and there’s nothing alternative about it!) that I am blessed with much good fortune. I live in a beautiful place, I am a free citizen, I never lack for my basic needs and frankly have much much more than that; my only problems are problems of abundance.

So I’ve begun to reflect on “giving” and consider my responses to these calls for action as voluntary “tithing” – dedicating a certain portion of my time, talent, and treasure to causes that don’t directly benefit me, but do benefit others in need. What I like about the idea of tithing (in tradition, it refers to a yearly “tax” equal to 10% of your “treasure” — whether coinage or in-kind) is that it forces me to think about how much I am giving and to whom.  Am I giving enough given what I have? Am I giving a sensible balance of time, talent, and treasure that doesn’t harm my household or my business? ( I’m looking forward to Vicki Robin’s update of “Your Money or Your Life” to come out later this year.) And while some of my giving is to my church or favorite art museum, am I also giving to important causes where I really don’t have a personal benefit?

The truth is, even when I give to causes that don’t directly benefit me, for example by supporting an organization that serves the health care needs of young women, or builds affordable housing units, or feeds pipeline protesters the next state over…I do get at least one benefit. I contribute to my sense that the universe is benevolent.  When I respond with my money, my body, my brains to support calls to action I’m less anxious as a result and can continue on. That makes me more effective in all aspects of my life. And that’s a good thing.

The EMERGE Leadership Project wins big in Las Vegas

Greenview Global (GVG) took a gamble recently, staging a the first full-day workshop in the Las Vegas area at the sustainably designed and themed Springs Preserve.  Team GVG, including Daniel Huard, Dave Ray, and Rick Van Diepen (shown in photo) lasvegas-rickpulled together a program designed for local leaders from government, industry, and non-profits that promised to help them perform more effectively in their respective roles.  GVG’s hope was to offer inspiration and practical leadership guidance that would help in any context, but particularly aligned with creating change within complex systems – the kind of change achieving true sustainability demands.

And it looks like the gamble paid off. Watch Heather Abel, Strategic Partners Manager, Las Vegas Monorail and Bob Morin, Deputy Manager, National Security Technologies, as they share their reactions to the training with Daniel directly after the training. (Apologies for the back ground noise, but unlike typical educational experiences, most of the attendees did not appear anxious to leave…excited, engaged conversations went on for 45 minutes after the training ended!)

lasvegas-perspectiveframingexerciseIn addition to hearing Daniel, Dave, and Rick speak to local sustainability leadership initiatives and case studies and how emergent leadership could be used to enhance such efforts, the group was able to do several interactive exercises focused on leadership skills…such as the ability to “witness” or observe without judgement. While touring the LEED Platinum Springs Preserve facility, participants used “frames” to get a better understanding of  perspective and how different things can look just by how we “frame” it.

Kathleen O’Brien, author of EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community andlas-vegas-kathleenvegenation founder of the non-profit EMERGE Leadership Project was guest speaker for the workshop, sharing personal lessons learned that resulted in the formation of the EMERGE Leadership Model.   O’Brien was also the guest at a community event held at Veggie Nation, a restaurant supporting local sustainability initiatives (photo), as well as a book signing event at the local Barnes & Noble.

More Las Vegas workshops are planned and will be posted at www.emergeleadershipproject.org.

EMERGE Sustenance for the Sustainable Building Community This November

ELP Community - BridgeIn this very noisy “election” season, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s important and right at hand. At our jobs, in our communities, and in our families we can all be more effective in modeling a positive vision, and take steps that make a tangible difference.  For the sustainable building community, this means advancing, on a daily basis, life-sustaining principles of development in the built environment. This is not easy to do, ever, but especially if you feel alone.

This November you have the opportunity to get some collegial sustenance and support from the EMERGE Leadership Project for this work.  Please join Kathleen O’Brien, founder of the non-profit, and author of the guide Jason McLennan calls a “gift”, EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community at the following events.

Sustainable Connections’ Sustainable Design & Development Conference.  (November 2-3, Bellingham Washington): On the opening day, Kathleen O’Brien, founder of EMERGE will lead us in a leadership wisdom exercise and speak to the community building element of the EMERGE Leadership Model.  (Signed copies of her book will be available at the conference bookstore.)

The Northwest EcoBuilding Guild’s Green Building Slam. (November 4, Seattle, Washington): Come be inspired by 10 fast-paced talks about remarkable green building projects.  Kathleen will be rooting along with you in the audience. The Guild will be raffling off a signed copy of her new book.

The Northwest Ecobuilding Guild’s Northwest Green 2016. (November 5, Seattle, Washington): A gathering of deep green practitioners, with keynoters John Abrams of South Mountain Company, and Paul Fallon of Architecture by Moonlight and an expo, including an opportunity for conversation with Kathleen at the EMERGE Leadership Project booth. And yes, signed copies of her new book will be available at a special event price.

EMERGE Leadership Workshop (November 10, Las Vegas, Nevada): A compact, one-day version of the highly respected emerge leadership workshop. Hosted and presented by B-Corp Greenview Global (Daniel Huard, Dave Ray, and Rick Van Diepen). Kathleen will be featured guest. Attendees all receive a signed book as part of registration.


EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In addition to this highly regarded book, all purchasers can access book bonus materials available at www.emergeleadershipthebook.org using a password provided in the Author’s Final Note. Bonus materials include links to exercises, recordings aligned with chapters in the book, as well as templates.

Leadership Training Funded by Community Supports Affordable Housing AND Sustainability

ocfa_hrb_mg_2016With community support provided through One Call for All (OCFA), the EMERGE Leadership Project was able to offer Michael Gorham, Chair of the Housing Resources Bainbridge (HRB) board of directors (see photo), a full scholarship for training and mentoring support this past year. The intent of the scholarship is to help designers be more effective in their efforts to create affordable housing incorporating all three aspects of sustainability: environmental protection, economic vitality, and social equity.

With a full training and mentoring scholarship, Michael was able to attend the EMERGE Leadership Weekend intensive at Islandwood in early 2016, while completing an architectural internship on Bainbridge Island. At the time he was just beginning his tenure as Chair of the HRB board.

“The retreat was just in time,” says Michael, “as when I returned to the office, our Executive Director had stepped down. I had to put my leadership training to work helping find a new Director, and in the meantime figuring out what to delegate and what to do myself. With the help of mentors (something the EMERGE training encourages) I found some creative ways to tap into community resources, people who couldn’t commit to full participation on the board but could offer skills on an ad hoc basis.”  At the same time, Michael has been instrumental in streamlining board processes to ensure time is used most effectively.

While all this was happening, Michael was also putting in 40 hour weeks at Wenzlau Architects, where he is now installed as a licensed architect.  The EMERGE Leadership Workshop helped here too.  “The EMERGE Faculty, all long-time leaders themselves, modeled the self-care aspect of leadership. With communal meals, time to reflect, and even yoga as part of the program, it became clear that my tendency to take on more and more had to be balanced with taking care of myself, or I wouldn’t be doing anyone any good.”

In addition to helping Michael do a better job of leading the HRB board and taking care of himself, participating in EMERGE has other benefits that lend themselves directly to enhancing the sustainability of the built environment in affordable housing on Bainbridge Island. In particular, Michael appreciates the networking opportunities with other EMERGE alumni who can offer a variety of experiences and design skill sets.  For example, he’s partnered with fellow “Emerger” Walker Leiser of Portland (BuildingBlu) on projects that could benefit from Walker’s green infrastructure expertise.

Other aspects of the EMERGE Leadership Workshop that Michael feels will help him with his work for the HRB board and his professional career include “the focus on finding the place where the client’s values and the ideals of sustainability converge. Too often,” Michael says, “sustainability is shot down as a ‘partisan agenda’ when really it’s not.”   EMERGE Leadership training helps Michael see opportunities for finding the common purpose and work towards a principled result rather than get stuck on specific techniques.  This comes in handy in a world where affordable housing is frequently pitted against other social goods.

OCFA_LogoRGB_TM2014OCFA is an umbrella organization providing funding to over 100 essential Bainbridge Island 501c3 non-profits. The organization raises funds through an annual Island-wide mailing marked by the arrival of the OCFA Red Envelope in community mailboxes.  With community support through One Call for All, the EMERGE Leadership Project plans to continue providing leadership development and support to non-profits working for social justice in the built environment. Please consider contributing to the EMERGE Leadership Project a 501c3 charitable project.  HRB is on the OCFA’s giving list as well.

Special event: Kathleen O’Brien will be speaking at the Housing Resources Bainbridge Island Breakfast Fundraiser, Thursday, October 20thLearn more.

Model vs. Checklists

Image result for check mark symbolsChecklists can be very useful tools. I’ve been personally involved in the development of lots of them, mostly in relationship to the development of sustainable building certification programs, such as Built Green, LEED for Homes, SeaGreen, and the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol, and others. They often provide a great foundation for ensuring practitioners in the field have covered all the bases. Check!

The challenge in developing checklists and then in applying them is the fact that they are lousy “design” tools. You get the satisfaction (and the plaque) when you check the boxes, but checklists do not lend themselves to the divergent/convergent thinking that is required to create integrated living solutions.  (I do need to applaud the fact that some certification programs now recognize and reward some form of integrative design activity.)

In the same vein, I have over the years become disenchanted with checklists like this: “The Leader’s Checklist” or “9 (or 7 or 10) Leadership Steps for Achieving (fill in the blank)” or “Ten things to do right now to (fill in the blank)”.  Not that I haven’t reviewed such checklists for actions that might make my day or days go a little better.  But those checklists don’t endure over time, and they certainly don’t recognize that I am complicated and live and operate in a complicated system occupied by other complicated beings and evolving all the time.

As I progressed in my own leadership development I recognized certain elements that related to leadership, change, and community. And as I started to articulate my own experience and the interaction between that experience and what researchers and colleagues who also think about these things were telling me, I began to see how the elements of leadership, change, and community worked together to create the opportunity for positive change. What emerged was a framework that would allow individuals to develop and express their leadership uniquely, while working together to achieve a common goal – in this case, a truly sustainable built environment.

I wanted to offer something roomy and non-prescriptive. It was Ann Edminster, during an EMERGE leadership workshop, who drew the EMERGE Leadership Model first.  Ann, I and a group of sustainability practitioners were discusEMG_Leadership Graphic v1_Level 2sing the relationship between all the ideas being presented, when Ann grabbed a sharpie, and quickly sketched it out (see graphic).  It was as if a bucket of ideas suddenly organized themselves into three neat sections of the bucket – a way of looking at the various principles that make up emergent leadership systematically.

As I say in my new book, EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Community, prescriptive leadership formulas are by their very nature un-strategic and therefore limited in their value vis-à-vis addressing systems-based conditions. EMERGE provides a philosophical framework with embedded principles that if applied will help you develop your personal capacity to practice emergent leadership.  Checklists do have their place; but in the case of addressing tough issues innovatively, models offer strategic value checklists cannot provide.

EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In addition to this highly regarded book, all purchasers can access book bonus materials available at www.emergeleadershipthebook.org using a password provided in the Author’s Final Note. Bonus materials include links to exercises, recordings aligned with chapters in the book, as well as templates.

The October EMERGE Community Bulletin is out! Check it out!

Leadership featured at Cascadia’s September Emerging Professionals Event

KOBPhoto-BookRefining our ability to lead effectively is an important aspect of our professional development and important at any time in our career! This September 22 from 5:30 to 7:30pm please join Kathleen O’Brien, author of EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community and founder and retired principal of O’Brien & Company in a free-ranging conversation about an approach to leadership that works regardless of title and position and is specifically designed to bring about positive change in and through our built environment. Kathleen is a Cascadia Fellow with over 30 years instigating, advocating, and consulting on the development of green building policies, programs, buildings and communities.

IMG_0388The event will be hosted by O’Brien & Company at their new offices located in the recently updated (and LEED Gold) Dexter Horton Building.  In addition to a conversational circle with Kathleen, O’Brien & Company staff will lead a scavenger hunt in their new digs with an eye on “(TI) lessons learned.”  Those completing the hunt can participate in a raffle to win an autographed copy of Kathleen’s book. (Print copies of the book will be available for a SPECIAL PRICE: $15 for a single copy; $25 for two.)

Light drinks and snacks will be served. Sign up.

EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In addition to this highly regarded book, all purchases can access book bonus materials available at www.emergeleadershipthebook.org using a password provided in the Author’s Final Note. Bonus materials include links to exercises, recordings aligned with chapters in the book, as well as templates.

The latest EMERGE Bulletin – Sept2016 is available. Check it out!