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.

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!

Overwhelmed by All Your Planner Projects? Here’s How to Manage Your Week.

Planners have multiple projects with multiple stakeholders, various tasks, too many meetings, and of course, they are all “high” priority. It’s challenging to manage so many tasks, meetings, people, and priorities.

Sometimes I get a headache of all the projects and things I need to do in the week, get overwhelmed, and then try to work on 5 different things at once. This leads to poor quality work, more of the public screaming at you (even though they may scream at you no matter what), and less learning from our own experiences. So, what can you do?

This is where Michael Hyatt’s pre-weekly planning comes in handy to reflect on the past week and prepare for the week ahead. I usually do this Monday mornings becuase I have the time in the early morning. Whatever day and time works best for you, do that. Here are the 6 steps I adapted from Michael Hyatt’s recent Lead to Win Podcast:

List Last Week’s Previous Accomplishments.

This step is crucial in our development to continue doing the things we’re doing well and celebrate your accomplishments. It puts you in a positive mindset, boosts your confidence, and is a reminder to continue doing what works.

You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Conduct an After-Action Review.

Review and reflect on your progress of your projects, tasks, and goals from the previous week. Did you make progress, or not?  Why? What are some factors that led you to making progress, or not? What can you do to adjust to get a different result? This step helps you think about what lessons you learned from your experience and then use that lesson to be successful in the future.

Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.

Peter Drucker

Complete a Data Dump of All your Previous Unfinished Tasks and Commitments.

Some of us may have multiple lists or notes that say “email Mark” after a networking event or send Susan the latest graphics for the transportation plan. Write all these commitments and promises to ensure you schedule to work on them during the week. If you keep them in your head, try your best to write out what commitments you have made and did not accomplish. Then, put all of them in one list or productivity app you use, whatever method works best for you. This is the transition step from moving from reflection from last week into action planning for the week ahead.

Write out Key Events and/or Meetings of the Week.

These are important meetings that require a bit more preparation for your participation. It could also be a coffee with an important local stakeholder for your neighborhood plan. Writing these down or reviewing them before the week starts helps to remember what’s going on during the week and prioritize. I like to use Google Calendar’s schedule view to see all my major meetings coming up. You can create different calendars to hide the regular, less important meetings like webinars, or staff meetings (don’t tell your boss!).

For great planning events across the nation, check out the events page!

Determine your Big 3 for the Week.

Your Big 3 are your important tasks and/or projects you must work on this week. I really like this strategy because sometimes I don’t feel like I accomplished much in a given day (even though I may have), but when I write out my big 3 and complete those, I immediately feel gratification and have peace of mind.

One challenge you may have is balancing the need for the difficulty of the task. The balance of realistic and challenge can be a tough line to find, and its different for everyone. I like to do this for the day as well. Sometimes emergencies happen during work and take priority, or even personal things are more important. Don’t beat yourself up for failing, its part of the process of learning and growing.

Plan out Self-Care.

This is where I think Michael Hyatt is different than other productivity influencers because he makes it a priority to take care of yourself. You must take care of yourself first, in order to help anyone else. He suggests five categories to consider for self-care: sleep, connection, recreation, diet, and relaxing. I’d also like to add fun.

You must take care of yourself first, in order to help anyone else.

Many of these actions may be new to you. What helped me get started was using Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner because it lists all these steps in your week and makes it very easy to organize your tasks and meetings/events. When I began using the planner, I sometimes didn’t know how to pick my big 3 or what events were important enough to list. Just doing it really helped get me started and I adjusted as I went along.

For more info, check out Michael Hyatt’s podcast that goes further into detail!