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: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/




Terry Phelan Interviews Kathleen O’Brien

Why Emerge?

Download the interview with Terry Phelan, owner of Living Shelter Design, in two parts:

Interview Part 1 – 15 minutes

Kathleen O’Brien, founder of O’Brien & Company, shares her perspective on how far we’ve come with green building, some of the issues we are now facing, and how her new project Emerge is intended to address them.

MP3 download (8.5 KB)

Interview Part 2 – 15 minutes

Kathleen O’Brien, founder of the Emerge leadership project and nationally recognized sustainability expert shares why a new approach to leadership is so critical if we are to achieve a sustainable society and describes her commitment to work with those called to create a sustainable built environment as part of that vision.

MP3 download (8.5 KB)


Welcome to the Emerge blog, where we will share stories from alumni who are using their leadership skills to make real change towards a more sustainable built environment.

As the Emerge Leadership Workshops spread throughout the country, the Daily Journal of Commerce highlights the movement with a story about how the program reflects the philosophy of its founder, Kathleen O’Brien.

Read the full story:  Next career for Kathleen O’Brien: teaching others to be green leaders