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:




Bravery + EMERGE Workshop = Integrated, Collaborative Design Center Opening December 5, 2014.

I was past gleeful this past Saturday when the opening of the Leading Force Energy & Design Center (Center) was announced as part of a presentation at the Guild’s Green Building Slam. The Yakima-based Center was the subject of a case study team exercise during the December 2013 EMERGE Leadership Islandwood Residency. Woohoo, I say!

LFEDC BG class (2)The Center’s grand opening is scheduled for December 5th, 2014 just a short 364 days from the date of the original exercise, a time-line that defies gravity. And this is no ordinary showroom. Says Steve Weise, EMERGE Alumni and the project’s author, “The idea is to offer a collaborative space that provides integrated consulting and training to contractors, subcontractors, and the public. The goal is to help budget-minded owners develop healthy, energy efficient projects.” (Apparently they aren’t waiting for the grand opening. The photo shows a group of local contractors after a Built Green training held at the storefront.)

The case study team exercise is a key component of the EMERGE Leadership workshop experience. Based on pre-workshop surveys, I create a set of 4-5 scenarios that workshop participants can then choose from. The self-selected teams then address their scenario using a set of questions as a framework for their process, while applying emergent leadership principles presented by EMERGE faculty. The scenarios can be a blend of conditions and leadership issues presented by various participants in their surveys, but key is that the scenario as a whole is both realistic and challenging. Sometimes a participant offers an idea for a sustainable business venture, as Steve did in this case.

In the case study “Cooperative Business Making” the group was tasked with creating a strategic plan for an “investor that has an idea for a business that promotes sustainable building in her region through a cooperative venture. She is not a practitioner, but wants to create a self-supporting environment that would help make practitioners be successful.” The team was asked to address several conditions, including the investor’s desire to achieve the mission while earning a “reasonable return on the investment.”

Workshop participants began work late on the first day, and completed their work early on the second, when they were primarily preparing a 20-minute presentation on the results of their work. (I provide lots of props and art supplies and these usually show up in one form or another in the presentation.) After the presentation I led a 10-minute critique, with other workshop participants and faculty chiming in and asking questions.

WeiseGroup1I’m always impressed at what the teams deliver, and the “Cooperative Business Making” team was no exception. A substantive reporting of how such a business could be developed using emergent leadership principles, it was amusing to boot – because I’d used a “she” in the scenario write-up, investor Steve wore a head scarf for the presentation. (See photo.)

Case studies have run the gamut from issues with clients, to community organizing, to sustainable business management. The intent of the case study exercise is to learn through doing, and since the case study is based on real life scenarios, to provide participants facing those particular conditions with a tool to help them achieve their leadership goals. In Steve’s case, he’d had “various meetings and written some thoughts down, but it took the EMERGE team, with like-minded passion and a great knowledge base, including business experience to add logic to the passion and come up with a strategy.” With his team’s permission, Steve took the flip charts from his team’s planning sessions and presentation and used them to plan the project with his network back home in Yakima.

And today, that Center is located at 17 North Third Street #101, Yakima, WA 98901. On opening day December 5th, a public open house is scheduled from 10am – 4pm, with a grand opening for professionals scheduled from 4pm – 8pm. Sounds like lots of fun, with a combination of classes, refreshments, and live music. Terry Phelan, another EMERGE Alumni, and member of the same case study team, is a founding member and will open up a satellite office of her firm Living Shelter Design in the Center. Woohoo again, I say!

Other realized examples of EMERGE workshop case studies that I know about it include a statewide energy policy initiative, a contractors’ company-wide adoption of sustainable operations, and a sustainable design firm start-up. If you have an idea you’d like to take the lead on, bring it to the next EMERGE Leadership Workshop. We’ve got two this winter, January 9-11 (Islandwood), and January 14-15 (Southern California Gas Company’s ERC). In a recent call, Steve said, “All it took was the bravery to put it forward.” Just so.

EMERGE: Learn and connect to improve your career effectiveness

“Thanks again for…(the) amazing Emerge Leadership program.  I’m still benefiting from its wisdom and the connections I’ve made through it to the larger green building community,” says Bronwyn Barry, Co-President North American Passive House Network, and Director of OneSky. Bronwyn is one of the super dedicated green building professionals in the private and public sector that have participated in the EMERGE Leadership Project’s programs, including its centerpiece, the two-day EMERGE Leadership Workshop.

And SBAers should take credit! The EMERGE Leadership Project is a direct result of SBA grads asking for help taking the comprehensive technical learning they received in the Seattle area SBA program and implementing it in their projects, workplaces, and communities.

Learn and connect with like-minded professionals at upcoming EMERGE Leadership Workshops, with Faculty Kathleen O’Brien & David Eisenberg. Says Jana Chamales, Former Director & Instructor SBA-San Francisco “Kathleen O’Brien is a visionary leader and teaches from an authentic understanding of the green building industry. As the founder of the Sustainable Building Advisor Program, her new EMERGE training is design to give CSBAs an opportunity to gain stronger leadership skills and take green building to the next level.”

Winter Schedule

Islandwood Environmental Education Center, Bainbridge Island, WA. January 8-10, 2015. This retreat setting residency offers on-site lodging and a more relaxed schedule. Earlybird deadline November 18th! More details: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/islandwood-emerge-leadership-weekend-residency/

Southern California Company Gas ERC, Downey, CA. January 14-15, 2015. This two-day workshop offers commuter convenience & economy pricing. Earlybird deadline November 30th! More details:  http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/la-emerge-leadership-workshop/

Two options, with the same purpose in mind: Amplifying your capability & your will to lead toward the change we all know is a must: adoption of sustainable building & development as the norm, not the exception.   Contact Kathleen at 206-200-1864, or Kathleen@emergeleadershipproject.org.

SPECIAL PRICING for SBA Grads as a thankyou for your inspiration: The EMERGE Leadership Project offers a “local champion” discount and that includes SBA grads! Combine the Earlybird and Local Champion discount for the lowest possible rate. Affordable, and “Life-Altering.”  (so said Alexandra Ramsden, Sustainability consultant, SBA grad, and EMERGE Alumni)


What is YOUR Why?

NOAA-NDBC-discus-buoyEvery once in a while I have a need to revisit the question of…why. “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”  When asked how I got to where I am, I often respond with “I saw a buoy, and I swam to it…I saw another, and I swam to that one…and so forth.”  But of course, there’s a reason I “saw” that particular buoy, and why I chose to swim to it, even if the water was cold and filled with the dreaded unknown! (Cue: Jaws theme) So why is what I’m doing so important to me?

Windmill-SculptureWalking along The Way last month, and encouraged by my Spiritual Director, I determined it was time to clarify my “why” – my purpose. What gets me up in the morning? Why do I choose to spend my time and energy on the EMERGE Leadership Project? In a nutshell, here’s what I got:


  1. Connecting people really turns me on. Even though an introvert, I do love to be fostering relationships, connections that serve. In fact because I am an introvert, the structure of teaching is a way for me to touch, connect, and love you in a way that is comfortable. And because life has me swimming with the green building community “pod”, you’re the ones I’m busy connecting with and about. Simply put, you are my people, and I want to serve you ‘cause it fills me up.
  2. I have a strong current of social justice running through me (you might blame that on a dozen years of Catholic schooling, but it didn’t help that I went to college in the ‘60s). And there were signs early on that I had a thing about protecting the environment. When my nursery school took us to a pond to go fishing, I made a stink (yes, literally stamped my feet) about how fishing with hooks was cruel, and refused to participate (even though, honestly, it looked like everyone was having fun.)
  3. I’m a practical pig. While I have participated in demonstrations, marches, and letters to the editor, I generally prefer actualization over advocacy. I like the idea that by building and developing more resourcefully and generatively we are, in a very concrete way, making the world a fairer place for generations to come, and for sister societies that have been harmed through overconsumption. Sustainable building is a practical way to address the spiritual anxiety I feel about the way the world is. And emergent leadership is the means to accelerate its adoption.
  4. I’m a grandmother (several times over). If you’ve seen me teach, you’ve heard about a trip to China I made in 1997 to visit my granddaughter Ellie. At that point, I was a bit burned out on the swimming gig, and I wasn’t seeing any buoys. But here was my granddaughter living in Shanghai, a City polluted primarily by a driving need to develop and build multiple “Manhattans” overnight. Even if I’m sometimes disappointed at how hard it can be to be the person the universe seems to think I am (based on the assignments I get), I am moved to address my generational responsibility in some way, and this seems to be the way.
  5. Finally, I like success. No, I actually LOVE success. And I can honestly say that our green building efforts have paid off. I’m about to keynote an event – the EcoBuilding’s annual Green Building Slam – that highlights this fact in a big way. The projects are remarkable and the folks putting them together just as remarkable. We’ve come such a long way since the days when I gave a talk on green building at a builders’ conference in Portland attended by two people — one thought I was going to talk about building green houses, the other thought I was going to talk about issues relevant to builders new to the field of contracting! I need affirmation just like anyone else, and its events like the Slam, and emails I continue to receive announcing the successful completion of projects I was involved with in my consulting days that give me a boost. I got word this week that the West Hawaii Explorations Academy met its goal to build a school designed with the motto “no child left indoors” and meet the LEED for Schools Platinum Standard. And from time to time, EMERGE Alumni share their leadership success stories. (Here are some.) These make me very happy.

To be truly effective, a leader needs a clear purpose in mind. Mine is to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and development, and today that takes the form of teaching, mentoring, and writing about an approach to leadership that I believe will help us get there. Driving this purpose is my personal why.  What is yours? Think about it, share your thoughts with friends (and me if you like, at kathleen@emergeleadershipproject.org). And if you desire a boost in achieving your why, please check out the EMERGE Leadership programs coming up at: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/.

Leadership & Innovation Go Hand in Hand at Upcoming Slam

GBS 10x10x10 LogoIn late summer, when Peter Locke extended an invitation to me to keynote the NW EcoBuilding Guild’s 2015 “Green Building Slam (GBS)” I didn’t hesitate. As an old-timer in the Guild, I have found Guild members never overpromise. So I promised I’d be there on November 15th at University of Washington’s Kane Hall, and dear readers, I invite you to join me for this once-a-year, intentional and mind-blowing event.

I recently met over dinner with Peter and other GBS planners to learn a bit about the remarkable projects and presenters that will be featured.  What I can report is that the mix of projects, which vary in scale (community vs. single building), market sector (residential vs. commercial), project type (restoration vs. new construction), and location (dry vs. wet side of the mountains) all have one thing in common…they are awesome examples of leadership in action.

These are not “shy” or pale green projects, but consciously, even aggressively, innovative. This follows, as the team that selected the projects featured shared their dream with me that this event will “help define the next stage,” and “show that the “next” stage is attainable, now!”  “Although certification is important, it should be the minimum, the base for our work; and these projects show it’s possible,” enthused emcee and experienced contractor Lucas Johnson. Capable project coordinator Sheena Hewett added that she wants the event to “celebrate the idea of the world as laboratory, as a place to experiment.”

In the fast-paced event (10 presenters have 10 slides and 10 minutes to share their story), you’ll hear about technical innovations used in the projects, but more importantly you’ll witness stories of the willingness to stretch, to share information, to expand the definition of “green” building to include social equity, and more. It’s going to informative; it’s going to be inspiring; it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait.

(Oh, and I wasn’t too surprised that two of the presenting projects – Mighty House’s “Sustainable Makeover” and Living Shelter’s “Net Positive Home in Yakima” are the work of EMERGE alumni! Right on EMERGErs!)

The slam’s only two weeks away, you can learn more details and register at: http://www.ecobuilding.org/seattle/gbs. See you there!

On “The Way” Again!

OntheWayBuenas Dias, mis amigos and la communidad de EMERGE! After a two-year hiatus due to physical challenges, John and I are embarking on our third “leg” of The Way, starting tomorrow, September 22,2014!  On our last trip we managed to cross over the Pyrenees from France into Spain after having completed the French Chemin de St. Jacques. This time our plan is fairly modest – the 100 miles between Pamplona and Burgos.  It will be an opportunity for both of us to clear our minds and ready ourselves for our respective, and very busy fall/winter schedules.

As some of you know I’ve been writing a book on EMERGE Leadership. I managed to wrap up the first (very rough) draft and get that out to a few wonderful volunteer readers this week, just in time to pack! When I return in October my first priority will be to take the book to the next level. My (not so secret) desire is to have advanced copies on hand for the EMERGE workshops in January…but we shall see!  The Camino de Santiago has been a wonderful exercise in practicing patience and experiencing the joy of really seeing!  I am hopeful it will once again provide perspective on our leadership initiative. Have a wonderful several weeks; I will be back in the saddle by October 20, 2014.

For those with questions about the EMERGE events coming up, several EMERGE alumni have stepped up to provide coverage. Just check out the events page for the specific event you are interested in and you’ll see who is acting as a resource for that event until I return. If you have difficulty with website functionality, please contact donna@obrienandco.com.

Buen Camino! – Kathleen O’Brien

EMERGE Leadership School Bells Ring!

SchoolhouseThis weekend, the change in the air that says “school” was palpable, even here on beautiful and (still sunny) Bainbridge Island, Washington.  Berry’s are going by, the marine air has a “Fall” weight to it, and the book I’ve been writing on EMERGE Leadership this summer is nearly written!  (Three more chapters. So….close.)

So it’s timely to post this winter’s workshop schedule and launch registration.  Take advantage of Earlybird registration options and nail down your commitment to yourself now before the year gets away from you!  And double down your savings with the special “Local Champion” discount which rewards SBA grads and/or active members in local green building and sustainability non-profits.

We have three unique learning events planned for green building practitioners and activists this upcoming “school” year:

January 8-10, 2015:  Islandwood EMERGE Leadership Weekend Residency.  This year, we’ll be opening the Islandwood workshop on Friday night, offering more opportunity to retreat and relax in a beautiful LEED Gold Educational Center set on 250-plus acres.  On-Site lodging included. More information at: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/islandwood-emerge-leadership-weekend-residency/

January 14-15, 2015: Los Angeles EMERGE Leadership Workshop.  We’re partnering with the LA Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council to hold this two-day intensive at the Southern California Gas Energy Resource Center.  More information at: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/la-emerge-leadership-workshop/

February 28, 2015: First Annual EMERGE Alumni Summit: The theme for this summit is “Building the Beloved Community. This one-day event is intended to refresh, restore, and re-ignite our EMERGE Alumni community.  We’ll convene at a beautiful private retreat location on Bainbridge Island. More information at: http://emergeleadershipproject.org/emerge/events/emerge-alumni-summit-building-a-beloved-community/

EMERGE in Canada: Alumni Dawn Smith carries EMERGE message to peers in Ontario


Dawn Marie SmithIn early March I had the pleasure of bringing Emerge to the conference of the Ontario Natural Building Coalition (ONBC). The ONBC had expressed interest in the work of Emerge, and I had accepted David Eisenberg’s invitation to present a two-hour distilled version of the full two-day workshop with him, attempting to relate the highlights of the material to a room full of builders, teachers, and interested locals. I had attended Emerge as a participant for the first time only a few months before, but had quickly realized the applicability of the material and its incredible interconnection with so much of my own avid reading and experience. Now I was attending with my shoe on the other proverbial foot: as a co-presenter instead of a student.

Co-presenting also challenged me as a young woman working in green building to bring my voice forward and speak honestly to my colleagues about the leader I want to be, the kind of leaders I call on them to become, and the shared bright future I hope we will walk into together. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to present the material with David to our colleagues in Ontario, and to understand myself within the movement we share on a deeper level.

ED Note: Dawn Smith attended the December, 2013 Islandwood EMERGE Residency. Sign up for the next Island Residency now! Photo credit: David Eisenberg.