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Emerge: What’s the Difference?

KathleenOBrien-webWith the closing registration date only a week away for the upcoming Emerge workshop scheduled at Islandwood, I thought I'd respond to some of the more popular questions I'm getting from individuals thinking of participating.

What makes the Emerge workshop different from conventional leadership training?

Emerge: Leadership for a more sustainable society is specifically designed for individuals who are already convinced sustainable building is the right thing to do, and is committed to taking a leadership role in their communities and organizations to advancing sustainable building as part of their practice and personal lives. The agreed-upon destination for everyone participating in the workshop is a sustainably built environment. We start from that premise, wasting no energy on arguing with naysayers.

Since a society where a sustainably built environment is not the norm, we are talking about a leadership that fosters a dramatic shift in thinking and practice — a radical, permanent change. It's not about being successful, it's about being effective.

A key ingredient of emergent leadership is a desire to serve the greater good intelligently and compassionately, and to instill that desire in others. What this workshop is not, is a lesson in how to beat out your competition in the sustainable building field. In fact, because it draws from a single area of focus, the Emerge workshop naturally appeals to individuals and organizations that have business relationships with each other (including competitive ones). This only makes the Emerge experience richer for everyone involved.

While the basic principles of emergent leadership stay constant, what it looks like when implemented will be as unique as those implementing it. Think snowflake, an example of emergence in nature. It is only natural that the Emerge workshop experience incorporate this organic sensibility. Teams will work together, applying their collective intelligence to scenarios addressing challenges identified by individual participants in pre-workshop surveys. While the problems may be predictable, the solutions teams have come with are not!

What makes Emerge leadership training different from other educational events in the sustainable building field?

EMG_AvatarEmergent leadership is premised on the idea that there is no one right answer, but many next right answers. Thus, Emerge training does not focus on a particular green building standard, building policy, or technology. Instead participants learn about the science of change, the significance of collaborative community as a context for sustained, permanent change, and real life examples of effective emergent leadership in the green building field.

There has been a tendency in sustainable building education to rely on celebrities or larger than life heroic figures to inspire those of us in the trenches. Keynote speakers go home. Epic heroes  fall off their pedestals. We need ordinary heroes. The kernel for emergent leadership is servant leadership, a concept formulated in the 70s by Robert Greenleaf, and which I adopted for O'Brien & Company's underlying management philosophy nearly a dozen years ago. The servant leader puts people first, collaboratively and compassionately works with others to better a given situation, using foresight, systems thinking, and skilled communication. All of these skills can be learned and applied if one is dedicated enough. Each Emerge workshop participant leaves with a personal development plan that identifies the unique leadership challenges they hope to address, and have the option of free follow-up mentoring sessions.

Scenario Teams8Transformational work, although inspiring to think about, can be draining day-to-day. The Emerge workshop is designed to be restorative, with a good mix of dialogue, presentation, and quiet reflection, integrating the outdoors and physical exercise, and healthy food. Since Emerge workshops are held in green buildings, participants get to enjoy the kind of environment they are devoted to bringing to the world.

How does Emerge address the urgency of our situation?

We no longer have time for quick fixes that do not work. What we need  is more long term, intergenerational thinking and sharing that allows for the truth to be told, now. True integrative design requires an honest appraisal of the options — those we are thinking of, and those we've applied. The research on completed green building projects show, building performance of certified projects are all over the map, as are the costs of building them. That means that it is not the checklist that determines those things, but the people using them! A green building checklist is a tool, and as good as the team using it. Emphasis on TEAM. That is, on Teamwork.

As a panelist at the Living Future Conference a few years ago, I was asked how we could speed up adoption of living building principles. The fact is, and this is how I responded, this change could be instantaneous, if we surrendered our positions. No more posturing on standards or technologies. No more keeping solutions close to the chest. No more standing behind the idea that "we've always been green" (not!) Emerge is intended to bring this transformation about. But no one person can do it. Please join us for what one participant has called a "life-altering experience."

Kathleen O'Brien, LEED AP, CSBA is the Founder of O'Brien & Company, the Founder of the Emerge Leadership Project, and Editor of Building Capacity Blog. She is a long time green building advocate, and a Cascadia Fellow. Sponsors of the Emerge Leadership Project include AIA 2030, Cascadia Green Building Council, the Sustainable Building Advisor Institute, O'Brien & Company, and Eco-Maven. Kathleen was recently interviewed by Eco-Logical Radio Host Terry Phelan on the Emerge project, and has been invited to speak at TEDX Tacoma Transformation, this April 17, 2012. Register now for the only Seattle area workshop scheduled for this year at Islandwood, March 17-18, 2012.

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