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Emerge: Leadership for a more sustainable society

KathleenOBrien-webAs many of you know I recently celebrated 20 years as founder of O'Brien & Company, and 30 years in the field of sustainable building. For much of this time, I have focused on the practical matter of assisting clients apply sustainable building methods to their building and community projects through education, facilitation, and consultation. Since sustainable building represents a change from business as usual, this assistance has by definition required me to lead others.

I am not what you would call a "born leader" — far from it, I have been diagnosed as an extreme introvert. And yet, driven by concern about the impact of our built environment as well as the promise of sustainable solutions, I've managed to counter my natural insecurities.

Over the years I have discovered a form of leadership that works for me, and is based on the physical process of emergence where simple elements come together to form a beautiful and functional complex system (think snowflake). Emergent leadership does not require celebrity status or title. It does, however, require inspiration, dedication, leadership competencies, and knowledge. The conceptual elements of emergent leadership combine servant leadership philosophy, change psychology, and leadership best practices. It is uniquely appropriate for our field, since it isn't simply about helping individuals or organizations to grow, nor about helping them to change. It's about both.

Indeed, unlike a change agent, which catalyzes change but remains unchanged, an emergent leader is committed to continuously growing and changing herself. I am convinced by my experience that this kind of leadership flourishes when founded in community.

EMG_AvatarCompressedThat's why I've launched "Emerge: Leadership for a More Sustainable Society" — a residential workshop especially designed for those wishing to create the change we need in the realm of the built environment. The two-day workshop's experiential elements combine inspired story, informational lectures, interactive problem solving, physical integration, and community building.

Our guest speakers represent the best of emergent leadership: Since 1995, David Eisenberg, Founder of DCAT has quietly yet firmly led the effort to create a sustainable context for building regulation. Imagine changing the International Building Code! Fiona Douglas-Hamilton, President of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, and Founder of S.E.E.C. has spent the last 20 years building an understanding of the interplay of value(s) and market. And John Cunningham, Assistant Business Manager for IBEW 77 and mediator certified by the Dispute Resolution Program for King County, brings a long history of applying mutual gains bargaining principles in his over 30 years experience successfully negotiating labor agreements and "getting to yes" when they want to say no!

Our first workshop is scheduled for December 10-11th at Islandwood, a LEED Gold Conference Center located in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Whether you have an explicit franchise to lead or not, consider registering if the concept of emergent leadership speaks to you. Hope to see you there!

If you cannot attend, please consider contributing to a needs-based scholarship fund. We are particularly interested in supporting individuals working for affordable housing non-profits and promoting leadership diversity. Contact Kathleen at Put yourself on a mailing list  for future events.The workshop is sponsored by O'Brien & Company and Eco-Maven. Information about the new workshop is being updated regularly at

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