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 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!