4 Daily Actions to Get Your Team and Followers to Thrive

Transformative Leadership will help urban planners, designers, and advocates to build powerful coalitions and teams that create great places. A transformative leader helps teams or communities identify needed change, create an inspiring vision to guide the change, and empowers the team or community to execute the change.

A review study by the University of Oklahoma found transformational leadership will empower your followers to take more personal initiative, increase job satisfaction, increase cooperation, and result in followers experiencing more positive emotions. The below graphic shows what transformational leaders do.

by Verywell / Emily Roberts

How does a transformative leader do this on a daily basis?

Deprioritize Email. The study found that daily email demand decreases a leader’s transformative behavior and goal progress. Email is a great tool for communication, however, it can take control of our day. Schedule a time during the day (afternoons are usually better) to review and respond to email.

Prioritize Brainstorming, Information Sharing, and Planning. These cognitive activities increase a leader’s action to exhibit transformational behaviors.

Have a High Collective Identity. What? This means that you identify yourself within a team, not as an individual. Whatever problem you are working to solve is done through a team effort. More innovative and effective solutions are developed in teams than individually.

Actively Communicate Your Vision. The study found that when leaders focus on the vision of the organization (or its why) in the morning, he or she is more likely to continue communicating the vision throughout the rest of the day. The more we are connected to our vision, the more likely actions and decisions will be aligned to the vision.

Wrap Up

Although I’m not a leader by authority, I still implement these behaviors while I’m in my day-to-day work. It’s not your position of authority, but your daily behaviors and actions that make you an urban planning leader.

11 Differences between a Project Manager and Project Leader

In our fast-changing world that creates unpredictable outcomes and greater uncertainty, Herminia Ibarra and Anne Soular argue that leaders must now become coaches, rather than command and control managers. The difference can create vastly different outcomes for your city, organization, or business.

National, State, Regional, City, and Town planning projects need project leaders for better decision-making, development of their teams, and to cultivate and execute creative ideas. Here are 11 differences between a common project manager vs. a project leader.

Are there others? Comment below!

Thank you LinkedIn Learning for the top image

7 Questions Every Planner Must Ask

Photo provided by Flicker

You may think you need to know the answers all the time, but in reality, knowing the right questions to ask is more important. There is so much information and knowledge in the world right now, that in order to filter it to get the information you need, you must ask the right questions. Here are 7 questions that are critical for urban planners.

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.

-Tony Robbins

Who are we Serving?

This question is straight forward to begin to understand who you are serving and who the stakeholders are in the planning process. Your belief in who you are serving is critical in planning because it shapes who you will engage with in the public process. If you believe you’re serving motorists on a transportation project, you will ignore the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists. This question can be followed by who am I missing?

What’s the Community’s Story/History?

Understanding a community’s past experiences and their history is essential in understanding their perception of life and bias. Better understanding your community will lead to better outcomes to serve them. This question is particularly important when you have a different background and experiences compared to the community. For example, I grew up in a middle-income privileged family. I am half Hispanic and half White and if I work in a poor, African American community, I will have different experiences and perceptions about government.

What are my Biases and Perceptions about this Community and project?

This question has us look inward and become aware of what our belief of the community or project. For example, do I think this community is crime-ridden and too poor function on its own? Or that it’s a lower-income community that has survived many past bad planning decisions? The two different mindsets will lead to drastic differences in how you treat the residents and the decisions you make.

How do my Biases and Perceptions conflict with those of the Community?

Once you’re aware of the community’s story/history and your own biases and perceptions, take it a step further to see how they may conflict. This will bring you clarity as to why conflict arises during a public engagement process by understanding how you think differently than the community or stakeholders you are working with. This clarity sets you up to mitigate those conflicts and turn them into productive conversations.

That’s an interesting thought/argument, what process did you go through to reach that conclusion?

Planners work with diverse groups of people: engineers, architects, elected officials, citizens, etc, and therefore, work with different opinions and ways of thinking. This diversity can create great outcomes if conflict of those opinions and ways of thinking are managed effectively. This question sparks curiosity and seeks to understand where the other person is coming from, rather than argue why they are wrong. They may have different information or knowledge than you do. It’s important your attitude reflects curiosity and not to prove the other person wrong because otherwise, they will become defensive and uncooperative.

What are we missing?

Planners deal with challenging and complex problems. Affordable housing, homelessness, poor transportation infrastructure, and many more. We often choose a solution to a problem when we don’t have a firm understanding of the problem itself. We rely on handbooks, guidelines, and case studies to fit our problems in a box. This rarely results in excellent results. So ask “What am I missing?” when you are stuck, and unsure how to solve a problem, and ask it when you develop a solution too quickly, without really understanding the problem.

Why does this problem exist? (repeat 5 times)

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, developed the “5 Why” technique that asks “why” 5 times to find the root of a problem, to avoid only fixing symptoms. “This elementary and often effective approach to problem-solving promotes deep thinking through questioning, and can be adapted quickly and applied to most problems.”

Wrap up

Don’t let your ego think you need to know the answers all the time. This leads to mistrust, poor relationships, and bad plans. Ask questions to find the answers and for self-reflection. Start with these:

1.Who are we serving?

2. What’s the community’s story/history?

3. What are my biases and perceptions about this community and project?

4. How do my biases and perceptions conflict with those of the community?

5. That’s an interesting thought/argument, what process did you go through to reach that conclusion?

6. What are we missing?

7. Why does this problem exist? (repeat 5 times)

5 Leadership Development Programs for City Leaders

The best athletes and performers put significant time into practice and preparation for their execution. However, most city leaders are expected to execute, execute, execute, without being given time for practice or learning from that execution.

Anybody looking to be a leader in urban planning, urban design, rural planning, city government, and regional planning must practice and learn to improve your decision-making, technical skills, and collaboration ability.
Below are leadership programs that will set you up for success. Hurry and check these out soon before the application deadlines!

Next City Vanguard Conference

“The Vanguard conference is an experiential urban leadership gathering of rising urban leaders working to improve cities across sectors, including urban planning, community development, entrepreneurship, government, transportation, sustainability, design, art, and media.” Click here for more info.

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.

-Carl Friedrich Gauss

Leadership NACTO

“Leadership NACTO offers promising leaders in city transportation the opportunity for in-depth, targeted professional development and training, as well as sustained connections with a cohort of other emerging leaders. Throughout the program, the Fellows participate in curated workshops, learn from proven leaders in the field, build meaningful connections with peers in other cities, basing their learning on a personalized 360-review process. ” Click here for more info.

Urban Leaders Fellowship

If you want to focus more on community development, check out the Urban Leaders Fellowship. It’s “a paid summer fellowship for early- to mid-career professionals who are already leaders in their own right and are looking to accelerate their leadership through a seven-week fellowship with a focus on policy and practice. In ten premier cities across the country, fellows work in partnership with other ambitious, mission-driven individuals, organizations, and elected officials with the aim of empowering fellows to bring about real and lasting change in the community in which they work.” Fellows have opportunities to work on policy advancement, community impact, and people development. Click here for more info.

Experience is the key to learning. Reflecting on experience is the key to transformation.


This training is put on by the Institute of Transportation Engineers that focuses on leaders in transportation. ITE is a great organization I’ve been a part of as a planner. It’s an excellent opportunity to interact with our favorite colleagues, transportation engineers. “Participants will explore current issues in transportation; develop and hone leadership competencies; and build the professional network required to excel as leaders…” Click here for more info.

Eno’s Future Leaders Development Conference

If you are in graduate school with a transportation-related discipline, this program is for you! ” Each year, the Eno Future Leaders Development Conference (LDC) gives 20 of the nation’s top graduate students in transportation a first-hand look at how national transportation policies are developed. Students apply to the program early in the year, and those selected as ‘Eno Fellows’ come to Washington, DC for a week in the spring of meetings with federal officials and leaders of business and non-profit organizations. ” Click here for more details.

The Infinite Mindset: Lessons from Simon Sinek

As I rolled into the final week of my first semester in the Urban and Regional Planning Masters program at CU Denver, I felt unmotivated, uninspired, and dispassionate. The show ‘Goliath’ was more appealing to me than working to finish this semester with good grades. Even washing dishes was an adequate distraction.

This bothered me. So, I took time to reflect on why I was unmotivated and I learned two valuable lessons that apply to city leaders, planners, designers, and advocates:

  1. I was playing with a finite mindset in an infinite game, and

  2. I was disconnected and unaligned to my higher purpose.

Finite Mindset in an Infinite Game

In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek describes a “finite mindset in an infinite game” as trying to “win” in a game where there are no agreed upon rules, players, time, or metrics that define what “winning” means. Finite games, like football, have a specified time, agreed upon rules, specified teams, and clarity that whoever has the most points at the end of regulation (the agreed upon time), wins. “There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.” However, planning and design is an infinite game because “the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint.

This misalignment results in planners, designers, city leaders, and advocates to focus on short-term thinking, playing as if they need to “win” the bid, or “beat” congestion. An infinite mindset works towards a vision where people have equal access to where they need to go and financial opportunity to live their best lives.

I was too focused on the short-term outcome of receiving a 4.0 gpa, rather than learning how to best serve communities. This led to a drastic decrease in my motivation and passion, leaving me wondering why I am working this hard.

A finite mindset causes us to compare ourselves to others, rather than being better than who we were yesterday and focus on a mission to serve others. I wanted to receive a 4.0 gpa because my younger sister did in her graduate program. This led me astray to why I was putting my time, energy, and money into my graduate program: to improve our cities to be sustainable and livable places.

If we believe trust, cooperation and innovation matter to the long-term prospects of our organizations, then we have only one choice–to learn how to play with an infinite mindset.

-Simon Sinek

Many cities replicate what other cities have because they believe they need the same thing. For example, many city leaders wanted to copy Portland’s light rail system because they thought the systems would magically boost their economy, reduce congestion, or create a “livable place”. Cincinatti did just that, but with drastic differences in success compared to Portland. Cincinatti’s finite mindset led to half the predicted ridership, operational issues, and budget deficits. With an infinite mindset, Cincinatti would have focused on providing affordable access to desitinations, and realized that light rail wasn’t the best solution to reach that goal.

Cincinnati light rail. Source: DilemmaX.com

Planning and Design are an infinite game because planners and designers are never quite done making our communities a better place. There will always be change in business, culture, government, and the physical spaces we live in. The sooner planners, designers, city leaders, and planning advocates realize they are in an infinite game, the better prepared they are for any situation.

Connect to a Higher Purpose

My intention to receiving all A’s in my classes was a worthy goal, but it lacked the intent to learn and grow for a purpose larger than myself. This intention led to dispassionate work, working to only get a surface level high, rather than deep emotions such as joy and passion in what I’m learning and working on. That’s why I have changed my mission to reflect the values Simon Sinek decribes in The Infinite Game.

Cities and planning organizations also have this problem. Most city websites have no mission, purpose, or vision statement they are working towards. It’s also rare for planning departments to have an inspiring mission. For example, the Los Angeles Planning Department’s “About Me” page starts with: “Los Angeles City Planning reviews project applications, processing entitlements, and approvals to ensure that future decisions about development are aligned with the City’s land use policies and proposed land use regulations.” This sounds more like a task, not a purpose to live by or a mission to work towards.

Connection to a higher purpose, mission, or “just cause” as Simon Sinek describes, is critical to living with an infinite mindset. It must be “for something, inclusive, service oriented, resilient, and idealistic.” Once you have a higher purpose, don’t let it only be for show. Align your actions, words, and thoughts to that higher purpose because otherwise, it’s an empty jumble of words put together nicely. Make it your foundation!

Breaking it Down

My experience in my final week of my first semester taught me how my previous mindset was incapable of leading a fulfilling life worth living. Therefore, I must:

1. Live with an infinite mindset because city planning and design is an infinite game.

2. Align my thoughts, actions, and words with my higher purpose.

And I leave you with this call to action:

Connect to a higher purpose and align your actions, words, and thoughts to that purpose.

Success! You're on the list.

6 Musts to Be a Great Teammate

Teamwork is the lifeblood in creating innovative planning and design solutions that make the world a better place, yet, so many people fail at it. If you want to improve your community, you must learn much more than how to get along with others. You must learn how to use teamwork to accomplish what no other individual can by himself.

So, what must you do to be a great teammate?

Take Ownership

When you make a mistake, take ownership of it and refrain from blaming others. Blaming quickly erodes trust with your team. Before you blame that other person, ask yourself: what is my part?

Take ownership of your biases, perceptions, and feelings. No one makes you feel or believe a certain way, they just trigger it within you. So take responsibility.

Taking ownership gives you a sense of control because now you are focusing on yourself, the only thing you can control. That builds confidence and trust with yourself and your team.

When we don’t understand ourselves, we are more likely to succumb to the fundamental attribution error of believing that the behaviors of others are the result of negative intent or character (“he was late because he does not care”) and believing that our own behaviors are caused by circumstance (“I was late because of traffic”).

-Jennifer Porter


In order to take ownership, you must have self-awareness of who you are and how you affect other people. Jennifer Porter explains how there are two types of self-awareness: Internal and External.

Internal self-awareness involves understanding your emotions, values, and perceptions. Ah jeez, I have to be in tune with my emotions? Well, “when we don’t understand ourselves, we are more likely to succumb to the fundamental attribution error of believing that the behaviors of others are the result of negative intent or character (“he was late because he does not care”) and believing that our own behaviors are caused by circumstance (“I was late because of traffic”).”

External self-awareness is understanding how your behavior and words affect others. When you become aware of how you affect others, you can change how you communicate and behave to leverage your team’s strengths and collaborate more effectively.

For example, one of my employees would often not speak much when we would talk about her projects and I thought it was because she was just shy. I realized that I avoided silent pauses in our conversations because I thought they were awkward (internal self-awareness) and wouldn’t give her space to think and then speak (external awareness). Once I allowed silent pauses, she began speaking up and asking questions.

Use Conflict Productively

“Teams are complex systems of individuals with different preferences, skills, experiences, perspectives, and habits,” creating conflict within teams.

Conflict is not a barrier, it is an opportunity. I’ll say that again, conflict is not a barrier, it is an opportunity.

Address conflict upfront and quickly with your teammates to increase productivity and trust. The best solutions to planning problems start from conflicting views and perceptions.

We avoid conflict because it sucks and it’s painful. But avoiding conflict creates greater pain and mediocre solutions. Ignoring the weeds in your garden, doesn’t make them go away and the longer you wait to pull them out, the worse they get.

Provide Value Without Expecting Anything in Return

Help your teammates without thinking about how they are going to help you in the future. Teach an inexperienced colleague about a subject they are struggling with, or help a colleague complete their part of a project or plan because they are swamped.

Giving value to your teammates without the expectation of receiving anything in return makes you reliable, and it also just feels good!

You might be thinking, so I should do all the work for them? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You’ll be doing them a disservice by being the “hero” and helping them out all the time without giving them the tools to help themselves.

Crucial Accountability

A great teammate is not always nice. They are candid and give feedback that may temporarily hurt another, but helps the team in the end. You must confront your teammates when they are not completing their end of the project and being destructive to the team.

It’s excruciating to confront others. So, how do you begin this type of conversation?

Check out the book Crucial Accountability. It lays out concrete guidelines and tools about how to begin, continue, and end a conversation with a teammate, employee, or boss about holding them accountable.

Remember this:

When we approach an accountability discussion, it’s important to know that we must work on ourselves first. We can’t go in determine to ‘fix everyone else’ and expect to get the results we’re really after. We can only actually ever change ourselves.

-Crucial Accountability

Engage Your Team

Teams waste time, energy, and talent when the brains around the table are disengaged.

Ask engaging questions to get your teammates’ opinions, thoughts, and perceptions. It doesn’t end at the question. You must listen, reflect back, and ensure you understand what they’re saying.

For more info on listening, check out Strategies to Engage in Tough Conversations!

Engaging with your team outside of work is also very important in building trust. When I first began working as an environmental planner, a colleague told me that if I only go up and talk to people about work, they will begin to avoid me and distrust me.

I took this to heart, and began having “small talk” with my teammates about their weekends, families, hobbies, and sometimes personal problems. The key was being truly curious about who these people were, and what experiences they were having.

This helped me relate to my teammates on a personal level which built trust and often created better outcomes when we worked together. We were better able to give feedback and hold a dialogue when we had differing opinions.

Breaking it Down

A great teammate must:

1. Take Ownership of your mistakes, feelings, perceptions, and biases

2. Be Self-Aware of your feelings, behaviors, and words; and how they affect others.

3. Help your Team without expecting anything in return

4. Hold your team Accountable through effective feedback

5. Engage with your team

I want to hear from you! What you believe is most important to be a great teammate? Comment below!

Developing Questions for Your Next Informational Interview

One essential method to grow your skills, knowledge, and experience as an urban planner is to speak and learn from other leaders in your field or specialty. This is why I have dedicated to interview urban planning leaders and share it with you on this site.

I often struggled in reaching out to leaders because of my limiting belief that I wouldn’t be able to effectively engage in a conversation worth their time. To help me overcome this barrier, I developed strong, engaging questions that I felt confident would create a deep, engaging conversation. To become an urban planning leader, asking deep, engaging questions is a key skill to learn.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

-Claude Levi-Strauss

In the interviews I have held myself, I developed my own questions that were unique to what I wanted to learn. Here’s how I did it:

Ask: What do I want to learn from this urban planning leader? I start by asking myself this question to determine my goal for the informational interview and how the person can help me grow. The answer is a guide to what questions you must ask for you to learn. For example, my answer may be, “I want to some advice on how to shift my career”, or “I want to learn more about Transit-Oriented Development”. Knowing this, helps me determine the focus of my questions such as, “in your experience, what is the biggest hurdle in changing your career path?” or “What case study should I research that you believe is a great example of TOD?”

Use example questions online and make them authentic to you. There are plenty of blogs that provide good example questions for informational interviews. Pick the ones that interest you the most, and put your own twist on them that align with what you want to learn.

Do your homework. Look up the person and the organization they work for to better understand what they do on a daily basis. This leads to more informative questions and better answers. Also, these leaders will respect your preparation and be more open to engaging with you. This will also avoid answers such as, “check my website, there’s information there.”

Start with simple questions. I like to ask very simple questions first to get the juices going in the conversation. Such as, “what are you working on currently?”, rather than leading with, “what’s the biggest mistake you made and wish you could go back and change it”. As the dialogue and energy picks up, ask more in depth questions to receive a better result. 

Provide context. If I ask someone, “why has transit mode share declined?” One, they may ask, has it? or why do you think so? Instead, use context as to where you derived the information and then ask the question: “After reviewing your Quality of Life study I noticed the percentage of transit mode share has decreased the last two years, why do you think that is occurring?” This gives the leader a better idea what you are asking and can provide a more informed answer.

Ask follow-up questions during the conversation. When the leader answers your question, ask follow up questions for three reasons. First, it shows you are listening and increases engagement. Second, it gives the opportunity to dive deeper into what the leader is saying. Third, it lets the conversation flow naturally. A prepared list of questions is your starting point and you may not get through all your questions within the time you have with the leader. That’s okay, the goal is not to get all your questions answered, the goal is to learn and grow.


Jim Chappell: An Urban Planning Leader Continuing to Stretch the Boundaries of Knowledge through Listening and Humility

I had the honor to connect with Jim Chappell and learn about his leadership qualities and how he has been successful. Jim is an urban development expert, strategic thinker, community opinion leader, and the previous President and Executive Director of SPUR.

Jim built SPUR to become one of the nation’s leading community development organizations and led the opening of the Urban Center in May 2009. During his time at SPUR he provided community leadership and government relations on projects such as reorganizing Muni management structure; development of the Presidio Trust; development of a comprehensive strategic city parks plan; design and financing of Doyle Drive; conception of the Transbay redevelopment area; the community strategy for the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

He continues his work today by providing strategic assistance to the development community, public agencies, and community organizations, including the Fort Mason Center.

What do you believe are the characteristics and actions that you used to get to where you are today?

1. Diligence. Do my best. If you don’t do your best all the time there is no point in doing it at all because someone else will be doing their best and they will succeed and you won’t.

2. Rigorous honesty. Tell everyone the same thing.

3. Never attribute blame to anyone; do not characterize or name people by their beliefs (e.g., NIMBY, greedy developer, etc.)

4. Do not attribute motives to others’ actions. You can never know another person’s motivations, nor is it helpful.

Ask, probe, guide, lead by example, but don’t dictate.

What are you doing to ensure you grow and develop as a leader?

I try to stretch the boundaries of my knowledge… especially talking with youth …who bring a whole experience and knowledge base that I don’t have. I am having a ball talking with young people in India…they are anxious to talk with Americans and it is absolutely fascinating how they see the world…Indian politics, American politics, marriage and the all-important family, education and careers, etc. How do I know that it isn’t better to have your more experienced family pick your life partner? How can I possibly tell people in the chain of a 7000 year culture that I am right and they are wrong?

Sometimes leadership is listening. Ask, probe, guide, lead by example, but don’t dictate. At any rate, this is how I am trying to continue to develop.

What drives you to be successful?

I subscribe to the campground rule: leave the world a better place than you found it.

What questions do you often ask yourself?

What am I missing?

Why don’t I see it the way x person does?

How do you ensure Fort Mason’s and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?

Provide gentle guidance. At the beginning of every year, talk to the staff and board about our values, what we are going to accomplish, how we are going to get there, what are the rules of the road. Big picture overview; enunciate higher principles; assure everyone explicitly thinks at least once a year about them.

Banish excuses. And then stand back. 

What is the biggest challenge leaders in urban planning face today?

Distrust of government. Few people trust government like we once did. “Everything thing is a conspiracy. Every politician and bureaucrat is a crook.”

Lack of common knowledge base and source of information. We have limitless sources of information online but no one is editing it. Anyone can say anything and who with knowledge and authority is to contradict? We often empower the least informed among us. And these two factors reinforce each other in negative ways.

What are the most important traits of successful leaders in urban planning today?

Ability to listen and HEAR – take in all viewpoints. 

Understand that your role is to make a considered recommendation to the elected decision maker. You must be able to enunciate all sides of the issue to that decision maker, let go and let the decision maker do as she sees fit, and resist any thought of ever embarrassing him/her. If you can’t do this, go sell shoes, or get yourself elected to public office.

What sacrifices do you make as a leader?

You have to meet the public when and where they are. This means night meetings on their turf. It also means putting yourself out in public for whatever comes down. 

Home life suffers.

This is the first of a series of interviews I am committed to conduct of today’s leaders in urban planning and gain insight in their leadership qualities and how they have been successful.

For more information about Jim, check out his LinkedIn page.

Jedi Mind Tricks for Urban Planning Leaders

This post is not about how to deceive others in getting your new transit line, road widening, or bike lane. This post is how to change YOUR OWN mindset to be more effective in accomplishing your goals and contributing to your community.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

-Marcus Aurelius

Be curious, not furious. When you meet opposition from the public, elected officials, or engineers, be aware of the emotions that come up and switch your mindset from being upset, to genuinely curious about why that person is opposing your initiative, project, or idea. Sometimes you may just be misinterpreting what the other person is saying and clarification can help. You may even find out you both are saying the same thing, just using different language! Other times they may actually be opposing it and it’s critical you understanding why because it is an opportunity for your initiative, project, or plan to evolve and improve. This takes powerful listening skills and thoughtful questions in order to really understand the person’s perception and understanding.

They’re calling your baby ugly. It can be extremely challenging to take critical feedback of our own project, plan, idea, or initiative. As Urban planning leaders, we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into our projects and see it as our baby. We may have created it, put in hours to develop it, refined it, and started all over again to make it “perfect”. We get emotionally tied to its success (or failure) because we know that emotion creates motivation and progress. So when someone gives us critical, yet honest feedback, we may perceive it as a threat to our own ability, lack of understanding, or just downright cruel. Since this project is like our baby, we must protect it at all costs, and defend. However, if you can’t receive feedback in a constructive manner, learn from it, and respond constructively, then you don’t grow and your idea, project, or plan doesn’t improve.

Focus on the message, not the delivery. One strategy to better receive feedback is to focus on the message of the provider rather than the technique they provide it. For example, I was completing a slide deck for a bridge rehabilitation project to be presented to elected officials and I asked my boss for tips on effectively delivering material to elected officials. Instead of giving me general tips (what I was looking for) he dove into the details of the presentation and began providing specific feedback on specific words and content. At first, I was frustrated because he didn’t answer my question in a delivery I wanted, such as “here are the 5 general tips when presenting to elected officials”. However, I remembered to focus on the message he was sending, rather than focus on how he was delivering it, and realized he did gave me a general tip. Remove technical jargon from the presentation! When someone may seem to be upset when providing you feedback, try to really listen to what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it.

Check out my post 5 Tips to Brief Elected Officials on your Project for more info!

Focus on what you can control. I was recently introduced to Stoicism, a philosophy dating back to the 3rd century BC that focuses on self-control and to accept the world around, even if its painful. As a planner, it is difficult to know what will come next, and therefore uncertainty provides a challenging environment to know where to put your resources and time. Therefore, focus on improving and growing yourself, since this is the one thing you can control.

Successfully Planning for Uncertainty

Envisioning the future for cities and making decisions to help your city thrive in the face of uncertainty is challenging and painful for some. Planners may wonder, at what rate will sea levels rise? Will there be a recession this year? Will Transportation Network Carriers (TNCs) be a dominant force in transportation? Will millenials stay in cities as they grow up and have families, or move to suburbs like their parents? These uncertainties make it challenging for planning organizations to know where to invest their resources, and for planners to know what skills and knowledge they should gain to grow their careers. Uncertainty can cause fear, anxiety, and doubt, which may lead to organizations and people trying to control as much as possible or give up and say, we will wait until the future happens. However, both strategies are barely handling uncertainty and can cause immense costs financially and socially.

The problem isn’t uncertainty itself. The problem is our rejection of it.

From: 5 Tools for Thriving in Uncertainty

There are two types of uncertainty, internal and external. Internal uncertainty is within yourself, or within an organization. Am I doing the right things and making the right decisions? Am I on the right career path? Does the organization have the right skills and resources to help their cities thrive? Can I reach my goal? Basically, it can be doubt about who you are and what you are doing. External uncertainty is how the world is changing and all the possibilities that exist. For example, whether a Republican or Democrat will be elected, or will a devastating earthquake erupt? Will walkability be a norm, or will we continue our autocentric ways?

So how can urban planning leaders successfully plan cities in uncertainty?

Change your mindset. This is the most important. Change what you think about uncertainty. “The problem isn’t uncertainty itself. The problem is our rejection of it.” Certainty may actually deprives us of developing sustainable and livable communities because it oversimplifies the complexity of the world. A sexy light rail system will not be successful everywhere in every situation. Uncertainty brings challenge and pain in our lives, yet it brings the most growth, fulfillment, and joy. Rather than running from the challenge, embrace it. Know that in those uncertain moments, especially the ones that are the most painful, you are growing the most and great opportunities are forthcoming.

Uncertainty brings challenge and pain in our lives, yet it brings the most growth, fulfillment, and joy.

Focus on Internal Uncertainty. There are many things in this world that are out of our control. That’s why I am a big believer in focusing within myself in situations of uncertainty and challenge. Focusing on what we can control (ourselves), rather than what we cannot (the world), brings better decision-making to better our cities and peace within ourselves. This doesn’t mean to not be aware of the outside world, just don’t dwell on what’s wrong with it or try to control it. Prepare for uncertainties by being adaptive, developing skills, and being emotionally intelligent. Focusing on yourself can be very difficult, especially when everything around you feels like chaos. Kyle Eschenroeder, describes the Triad of Control as a tool to help. Where “you simply distinguish, in any given situation, whether you have total control, no control, or some control. Then, focus on what is in your control with your whole being.”

Experiment. Reflect. LEARN. Repeat. Successful businesses and communities are running more low-cost experiments to gain results for learning, rather than develop elaborate plans that may not work and cost a lot of money. For example, Tactical Urbanism has become an international movement that uses flexible, low-cost, and short-term projects to advance long-term goals related to street safety, public space, and multi-modalism. It’s something you can control directly and see if it functions well with the community. Learning is a key ingredient here to understand what works, what doesn’t, and to adapt to situations efficiently and effectively.

Temporary Bus Platform on Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, CA

Learn Emotional Intelligence. This strategy may not seem relevant, however it has really changed my life in being able to handle uncertainties. I have learned how to pinpoint the anger, fear, and/or vulnerability when uncertainty is present. Learning how to deal with emotions helps the brain focus on solutions, rather than focusing on the uncertainty itself. You can actually use those negative emotions as power to find solutions. Our emotions drive our behavior, and sometimes we don’t even realize it!

Develop Scenarios. Organizations are now using scenarios of the future to drive decision-making and be prepared for what could be ahead. MTC, the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, created three scenarios of what the Bay Area future could be. They created regional forecasts in areas of jobs, housing, population, travel needs, and funding for transportation improvements to help drive decision-making for uncertainties.

SPUR, also created a comprehensive future scenarios report that lays out potential futures in the economy, housing, transportation, and physical form. The looked at uncertainties the region does not have control of, and outcomes that will be shaped by choices. “It is a way of understanding choices, chains of events, alternatives and possible outcomes to support better decision-making in the face of a future with great uncertainty.” Check out my links page for more info.

So embrace uncertainty, and see the opportunity it can bring for your city. Prepare for uncertainty by focusing on yourself, experimenting and then learning, gaining emotional intelligence, and using strategic planning scenarios.