Effective and impactful leaders are characterized by their ability to inspire action through active engagement and maintaining a long-term perspective. The importance of these leadership capabilities was reinforced recently during my first ULI Advisory Services Panel experience. Members from across the country and I were charged with recommending a redevelopment strategy for a public housing project, which ultimately embraced a long-term vision for the site and surrounding community. The experience highlighted the value of facilitating open communications and engaging a diverse group of stakeholders who support a long-term vision and drive investment and engagement.
Throughout the process, competing interests and visions emerged within the panel and the community. Although these forces were difficult to resolve, they became integral components of the panel’s recommendation.
As leaders with our own respective specializations, we often engage and work in environments that offer limited engagement with other professionals, public officials, and the communities we shape. The panel experience offered me the unique experience of engaging diverse groups and using that collective knowledge to develop a recommendation with other real estate and land use professionals. The presence of such diversity, though necessary, can lead to competing ideologies and perspectives that have the potential to cause dysfunction and conflict. During my panel, there were several instances where a unified vision seemed unlikely to emerge. However, the resolving factor was a shared desire to advise our sponsors and benefit the residents of the site and larger community.
Much like during my experience, diverse interests and perspectives can support a shared vision and stimulate increased investment among stakeholders. Although sponsored by the local housing authority, school district, downtown association, and the city itself, the panel quickly learned of the extensive network of influential stakeholders. These entities, including residents of the site, community activists, and historic preservationists, were equipped with perspectives and visions that were often in conflict. In addition, the community was emotionally charged due to a previous redevelopment deal that involved a public housing project. The situation seemed impossible, with some stakeholders calling for the complete razing of the site and others lobbying for its restoration and preservation. The demands and opinions were difficult to resolve, but the panel learned that they resulted from leaders’ limited communication and transparency with the community.
Flexibility and respect are integral to the success of the panel experience. Despite the panel’s internal and external dynamics, we were able to develop a plan that met the needs of the community and one that was inclusive of each panelist’s insights. Our recommendation was a long-term vision for the site that called for the development of the site in phases to increase its value. The panel attempted to protect the legacy of the site by offering principles that should drive the redevelopment of the site.
The panel was dedicated to delivering a polished recommendation, but leaving the community with something that would have a lasting and positive impact on the community took precedence. Collaboration between stakeholders, developing a bold vision for the area, and ensuring the equitable treatment of all parties involved were important to the recommendation, but most importantly the panel focused on also developing a positive legacy for the site and its redevelopment. The principle-based proposal included a clear call to action that focused heavily on leadership and the residents of the property who charged the leaders of this redevelopment effort to embrace transparency, accountability, and cohesiveness.
The presence of these stakeholders forced the panel to evaluate the site with a keen sensitivity to the individual and organization that might be affected. The knowledge and insight possessed by panelists, sponsors, and the community members proved invaluable and reinforced the need for long-term vision. The stakeholders held one theme in common: action should be taken immediately. Ultimately, we delivered a recommendation that the community received well. Many from the community even thanked us for hearing them out and ensuring that their voices were not only heard, but also evident in our plans for the site.
The panel’s success was achieved by our willingness to accept that we could simply provide recommendations and that the fate of this site would be cemented by the local leaders who will execute the redevelopment. Long-term perspectives, open communications, a diverse group of stakeholders, and engaged leadership that moves the project forward were integral components of the recommendation. The experience was a reminder of the value of evaluating future implications and that leadership lessons can arrive through any experience. Leaders not only are charged with inspiring action, but also must embrace and maintain a long-term perspective as we have an impact on the world and our communities.