Your Deep Calling. Let’s Talk About It.

IMG_9861Recently, I had the gift of being asked to facilitate a dinner conversation using what’s been come to be known as the Jeffersonian technique. Based on Thomas Jefferson’s penchant for dinner conversations revolving around a particular question or set of questions, the technique includes providing a safe structure for sharing and the result is an intimacy that can be quite profound. As you might expect, no one gets to hog the conversation; at the same time only one person gets to speak at a time (no sidebars with your next door neighbor at the table, no cross-talk or remarks directed to the person speaking, no interruptions). All eyes and ears are on the person speaking.  The questions are intended to inspire honest and thoughtful discussion.

In my new book, EMERGE: A Strategic Leadership Model for the Sustainable Building Community, I remind the reader that leadership is a “we” activity.   The paradox is, that to be an effective leader, one must rely on others.  Emergent leaders create themselves through intimate engagement with others with whom they interact.

Let me encourage you to take the opportunity to try out this technique with your work team, your family, and/or community group.  The questions my client and I recently posed at the above-mentioned dinner were incredibly evocative. I’ve rephrased them slightly for this article, but based on my recent experience with similar questions, there will be tears, there will be laughter, there will be “intimate engagement,” and there will be a basis for shared leadership and personal growth. I suggest you try them out:

  • What is your deep calling and what was the moment you knew it was your deep calling?
  • How do you live that deep calling today? What does it look like?
  • How can we (around the table) support each other in living this deep calling?

Now, it does work best with a designated facilitator who can keep the conversation on track, but if one is not available (or the situation makes it inappropriate), having the guidelines and discussion questions posted in a prominent place can help, as well as giving any and all involved permission (and responsibility) to refer to those guidelines if the conversation gets off track.

Emerge Front Cover OnlyEMERGE: 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 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.

EMERGE Poses Key Questions at Living Future 2015

The EMERGE Leadership Project (ELP), as Community Partner with ILFI for the third year in a row, is mounting an interactive exhibit at the upcoming Living Future 2015 UnConference. LF2015 focuses on “Place and Community.” photo 3In keeping with that theme ELP’s Exhibit will ask LF participants to answer three questions on the emergent leadership spiral: What is Community? What is Place? How do you Build Community through Place? O’Brien & Company, a major sponsor of the non-profit, helped design the exhibit, and will help install it. In the photo Donna Trost, an EMERGE Alumni, and Operations Director for O’Brien & Company, contributes her answers to the exhibit, to help “prime the pump.” Come join us at Living Future. ELP’s Executive Director, Kathleen O’Brien will be there to answer any questions you may have about EMERGE. And you’ll be able to contribute to the conversation about Community & Place. (See us at Booth #12)

Laughter & Leadership Go Hand in (Clapping) Hand

Islandwood workshop 4

Earlier this month, at the EMERGE Leadership Residency in Islandwood, we “learned” to laugh. I’d asked attendee Sue Z. Hart, to introduce us to laughter as therapy as part of our opening session on Friday night.  In addition to being Marketing Specialist for the Trades Division of Green River Community College, and Founder of the mission-based Building Beyond the Walls, Sue is a certified laughter therapist.

Sue shared her personal story of using laughter to help her heal from the serious effects of a car accident years ago, some of the science related to the benefits of laughter, and then led us in a serious of truly outrageous exercises that had us, yes, laughing.

Because I’m not miked at our workshops, we’ve developed “whoo-hoo!” as the emergent call back to attention after breaks, group work, etc.  Now you’ll find us “Ho Ho HaHaHa Whee-ing” too!

I exported the simplest exercise (clapping and sing-songing Ho Ho HaHaHa with a rousing Halleluah-style Whee) to our workshop in Los Angeles. I shared it as a remedy for long hours in a technologically state of the art but windowless interior classroom and was delighted when participants began asking for us to do it again. What an energy boost!

Leaders can’t afford to be stuffy – at least not Emergent leaders. Besides the fact that laughter helps keep us going when the going gets rough (now that’s original!) it is known to be a type of social “glue”.  Laughter can build connections among individuals and forge a sense of community.  Thus laughter is an important tool in the toolbox for Emergent leaders.   As part of the third primary component of the Emerge Leadership Model, community Emergent leaders rely on community, both to attain results and to provide moral support for leaderly work.

We’ll be (seriously) polishing this “tool” at the first annual EMERGE Summit this February 28th.  The theme is “Building a Beloved Community.” If you have participated in one of the EMERGE Leadership workshops in California, Oregon, Washington, or Hawaii, you are welcome to attend, and can register at:

(If you are not an alumni, let’s make you one! Sign up for our newsletter to learn of future workshops as they are scheduled.)

(The EMERGE Leadership scenario presentations have always been incredible, but the laughter session may have added a special something. The photo shows one team acting out the “ready, fire, aim!” leadership technique. Not!)

The True Genius of EMERGE: Collaboration

Working in groups can be frustrating, messy and sometimes simply downright annoying, especially when the results disappoint. Other times work by committee can be fabulously productive and invigorating. Unfortunately, we’re never assured of a positive experience. More often than not, we focus on the silos of our individual goals and priorities, or we’ve been driven from collaboration by a negative ‘committee’ experience. Since we are rarely taught how to work well in groups, it’s typically a ‘hit or miss’ experience. This is, until the EMERGE Leadership workshops.

Collaboration is key to emergent leadership, a systems-based approach to leadership that combines leadership competencies, change technologies and practice, and the collective impact of community. So it was no surprise that at most recent EMERGE training, participants spent a good deal of time applying the emergent leadership concepts to their own organizational and community challenges, and in particular learning how to foster integrated (and more lasting) solutions via collaboration.

The EMERGE workshop held at the beautiful Marin Headlands earlier this month trained over thirty local green building leaders to use and grow their innate leadership abilities. Participants, many of them long time Bay Area green building advocates, were joined by colleagues as far away as Tucson, San Diego, and Mexico City and combined literally hundreds of years of experience and dedication to the sustainable building movement.

The faculty for the workshop mirrored the attendees’ mix of local and “imported” provenance. Local green building author and expert Ann Edminster joined David Eisenberg, John Cunningham and workshop leader Kathleen O’Brien in leading the class through the various aspects of emergent leadership, sharing their own experiences and specific tools in candid, heartfelt sessions. Teaching was a thorough a mix of presentations, active participation, and outdoor exercise, culminating in a problem-solving assignment where the participants worked in teams, actively employing all the tools we had just been taught and presenting recommendations back to the entire group.

One point of levity was the certitude by many that the scenarios offered for the team exercise were written for them individually! That was certainly the case for me, where my group focused on making a green building non-profit work more effectively. It became clear that some leadership issues, suffered in silence by we green building advocates, are actually quite universal.

The EMERGE trainings have been developed to help people within the “Green Building Movement” develop and hone leadership and collaboration tools, and in particular to lead from “any chair.” Feedback from this and prior EMERGE trainings shows that one of the most valued experiences of the workshops is creating an ambiance of acceptance and respect, and providing an opportunity for like-minded green industry leaders to gather together in the same room.

As a self-proclaimed green building “pragmatist,” Kathleen noted that many of our shared goals could be more easily achieved if the isolated components of this disparate movement learned how to work together. Teaching cooperation by creating an opportunity to cooperate is the true genius at the core of this training. I’m sure I speak for everyone who attended by wishing I had attended this workshop years ago – I feel re-activated, re-invigorated and ready to roar!

Bronwyn Barry,
Director One Sky Homes, Co-Chair, Passive House California, and EMERGE Alumni

Emerge Leadership Project Takes Workshop to California

In economically and politically uncertain times like these, we need all the help we can get. Even seasoned green building advocates can get burned out and lose their direction. That’s why long time green building advocate, leader, and author Kathleen O’Brien has launched the “Emerge Leadership Project” to help those working in the trenches to promote green building development and enabling policies and activism. “It’s easy to lose focus and effectiveness when you are fatigued,” O’Brien notes, “and that’s what happens when you are trying to take transformative action without tools and support. Emerge is exactly about providing those tools and support.”

Emergence is a systemic approach of leadership forged from multiple elements — servant leadership philosophy, change technology and practice, and community impact — that is drawn from scholarship as well as the nearly 30 years experience O’Brien has in the green building and sustainable development field.

“With so much at risk, environmentally, economically, and socially, we really don’t have time for quick fixes or conventional approaches that don’t work,” she says. “Things are going to change, it’s just a matter of directing that transformation in a way that results in a more sustainable society for all.”  With her in this work are friends and authors, and emergent leaders in their own right: David Eisenberg, Executive Director of the non-profit DCAT, the Development Center for Appropriate Technology based in Tucson, AZ, Ann Edminster, LEED AP, principal of Design Avenues in Pacifica, CA, and Kathleen’s partner, John Cunningham, MA Org.L., a conflict resolution expert.

O’Brien has designed a two-day intensive for community, business, and industry green building advocates convinced that a sustainable transformation is needed and called to help create it. It will debut for the first time in California this October 6-7 at NatureBridge (Marin Headlands).

As part of this debut, she and Ann Edminster will offer introductory sessions around the region that will provide an overview of the concept, and a taste of learning modalities provided in the two-day intensive.”We are very lucky to be partnered with local chapters of the Green Building Council for this work, as well as the Bay Area Sustainable Building Advisor Program. These organizations are so important to nurturing the kind of leadership we need.” Introductory Sessions will be held in Pleasanton in conjunction with the Diablo East Bay Branch of the Northern California Green Building Council and in Yountville, Santa Rosa, and San Rafael, in conjunction with the Redwood Empire Green Building Council. In addition to a presentation on emergent leadership, both Kathleen and Ann will be available to autograph books for sale.

Both the workshop and introductory sessions offer CE hours through the Green Building Certification Institute allied with the US Green Building Council.

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)