NLC University Leaders Lab


2018 cohort applications are now closed.

Launching at the 2018 Congressional City Conference, NLC University will pilot the Leaders Lab cohorts for mayors and chiefs of staff. Each cohort of five to ten participants will tackle a leadership challenge over the course of one (1) year. NLC University Leaders Lab will identify a yearly topic area of focus based on the current and future needs of cities. The 2018 topic is Creating an Inclusive Community.

Cohort benefits:

  • Access national experts in local government directly
  • Connect with local leaders with shared goals
  • Receive personalized support from seasoned local officials
  • Get national recognition for tackling critical issues at the local level
Creating your leadership challenge

Benchmarks of an ideal leadership challenge

A proposed leadership challenge should be:

  • City-Based
  • Realistic in being addressed in 1 year
  • Focused on the predetermined yearly topic
  • Demonstrated impact on city function

Below is an example of a potential leadership challenge.

Example: Brooklyn Park, MN wanted to improve communication with the local Hmong population to reduce unnecessary city ordinance violations and fees. Under the Mayor Jeffrey Lunde’s leadership, the city was able to create a unique communication strategy that went beyond translating city ordinances into Hmong.  The city conducted a door-to-door survey and awareness campaign using pictures to communicate city ordinances to the Hmong population.

Who can apply?


  • Elected within the last 24 months
  • Committed to attending 3 in-person meetings and participating in 4 call/webinar cohort meetings during the year
  • Identified a leadership challenge that focuses on creating an inclusive community

Chief of Staff

  • Chief of Staff to a NLC-member city Mayor, City Councilmember, Alderman, etc.
  • Employed with the city for 1+ years
  • Committed to attending 3 in-person meetings and participating in 4 call/webinar cohort meetings during the year
  • Identified a leadership challenge that focuses on creating an inclusive community
2018 Coaches

Mayor Betsy Hodges

Mayor Betsy Hodges (Mayor Cohort Coach)

Betsy Hodges was the 47th mayor of Minneapolis. In her role as mayor, she focused on three clear goals: running the city well, growing a great city and increasing equity. Her priorities were ensuring the City works well for everyone and that all people can contribute to – and benefit from – the growth and prosperity of Minneapolis.

Some of Mayor Hodges' key initiatives included: her Cradle to K Cabinet, creating a Zero Waste Minneapolis, improving police-community relations and helping small businesses thrive.

Prior to becoming mayor, Betsy Hodges served on the Minneapolis City Council for eight years as the council member from Ward 13. On the Council, she served as chair of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. One of her major accomplishments was leading the fight to reform a broken closed-pension system that served neither the pensioners nor taxpayers well, which helped avert a $20-million increase in the property tax levy in 2012.

In her spare time, Mayor Hodges works on staying physically fit, writes, reads poetry and enjoys seasonal viewings of “Die Hard,” her favorite movie. She is known for her extensive collection of Wonder Woman memorabilia. She is an occasional karaoke singer with a very limited vocal range.

A Minnesota native, Mayor Hodges is married to Gary Cunningham, CEO and President of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association and a member of the Metropolitan Council. They have two children, four grandchildren and two cats.

Judy Reese Morse

Judy Reese Morse (Chief of Staff Cohort Coach)

Judy Reese Morse is Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Orleans. Morse is also the Deputy Mayor for Citywide Initiatives for the City of New Orleans. Deputy Mayor Morse oversees Equity New Orleans, the city’s first formal strategy to practice racial equity throughout city government. 

She also oversees two other mayoral priority initiatives: NOLA FOR LIFE, the City's nationally recognized comprehensive strategy to reduce murder among young, African American men; and Welcome Table New Orleans, a three year initiative on race, reconciliation and community building. During Mayor Landrieu’s first term in office from 2010-2014, Morse served as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff.

Before joining the Mayor’s Office, Morse served as Co-Chair of Transition New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu’s transition team, and as Chief of Staff in the State of Louisiana Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Prior to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Morse worked at National Public Radio in Washington, DC. There, she served as director of corporate communications, focusing primarily on attracting new audiences as public radio listeners.

Morse has worked on Capitol Hill in the office of former congresswoman Lindy Boggs on special projects. She was also a Presidential Management Fellow, serving at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Resolution Trust Corporation. Morse has an undergraduate degree in Communications from Loyola University New Orleans and a Master's Degree in Public Administration from American University in Washington, DC.


What are the fees associated with being a part of the cohort?  

The cohort is free to apply. Additionally, participants will be comped registration to all three in-person NLC conferences (Congressional City Conference, City Summit, and Leadership Summit)- a benefit of more than $2,000. Cohort members will only need to pay for their travel and accommodations.       

What is the timeframe for the cohort?

The program will be for 12 months over the course of the calendar year.

What are the time and travel commitments?

Participants will be required to attend three cohort full/half day convenings occurring at the beginning of the NLC/NLC University Conferences (Congressional City Conference, City Summit, Leadership Summit).  Additionally, there will be four webinars/calls that participants will also be required to attend.  During the year there may be other calls, webinars, or in-person meetings that we may offer, but they will be voluntary.

What is the role of the cohort coach and what are their credentials?

The coach for each cohort held the position in the past, which ensures a greater relevance to cohort member’s needs.  NLC University will seek to bring in coaches that have a wide variety of experiences that will increase the successful implementation of the solution to address the leadership challenge.

Who can apply?

Mayors (Elected within the last 24 months)

Chiefs of staff (To mayors/council members)

See specific criteria

What sets the NLC University Leaders Lab cohort apart from the NLCU Seminars held throughout the year?

NLC University Leaders Lab cohort leverages NLC University’s resources to support a select group of city leaders to help build their capacity to address local leadership challenges.  The cohort move from just learning in the classroom setting to real-world application and action.

Explain the course curriculum?

Outside of individuals working on their leadership challenge, cohort members will have the opportunity to take a select number of NLCU courses.  During the three in-person convenings, members will be provided sessions that relate to the yearly theme (i.e., “creating in inclusive communities”).

Is the cohort leadership challenge based on a theme (inclusion, economic development, infrastructure, energy)?

Each year the cohort will have a predetermined annual topic to guide the direction for the leadership challenge.  Our 2018 topic of focus is “Creating an Inclusive Community.”

What is the end goal of this program? How do we measure success? What outcomes will warrant doing another year of the program?)

The goal/purpose of the NLC University Leaders Lab Cohort: to 1) introduce new mayors and current chiefs of staff to NLCU’s resources, innovative ideas, peer networks, and promising practices, and 2) to assist NLC University Leadership Lab Cohort participants in identifying and tackling a leadership challenge locally to support their growth.  At the end of the cohort, participants will have the opportunity to highlight their success and impact locally.

What are the special benefits of being a part of the cohort?

  • free conference registration
  • Connection to national experts
  • Access to a group of peers that work on similar topics in a focused setting
  • Access to NLC University/NLC staff and organizational resources
  • Receive personalized support from former city leader (coach) while tackling the identified leadership challenge
  • Gaining national exposure for addressing local leadership challenges

What could be an example of a leadership challenge?

As this is a pilot and our first launch, we have decided to allow you to develop your unique leadership challenge.  However, refer to the Creating your Leadership Challenge tab for a potential example.

Application process - closed for 2018 cohorts
  1. Complete and submit your application by January 19.
  2. NLC University will notify all applicants of its cohort-selection decisions via email on January 26, 2018.
  3. If selected, plan to attend NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC | March 10-14, 2018. Additionally, please make your flight and hotel reservations.
2018 Leaders Lab calendar

Friday, January 19: Deadline for applications 

Monday, January 22 - Friday, January 26: NLCU will review applications and make final decisions.

Friday, January 26: NLCU will notify all applicants of its cohort-selection decisions via email.

Thursday, February 22 at 2 PM & 4 PM ET: Cohorts’ 1st quarterly call (Mayor, 2pm | Chief of Staff, 4pm)

Saturday, March 10: Cohorts’ 1st full-day session at NLC Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC (March 11-14, 2018)

Thursday, May 24 at 2 PM & 4 PM ET: Cohorts’ 2nd quarterly call (Mayor, 2pm | Chief of Staff, 4pm)

June 25-27 (TBD): Cohorts’ 2nd full-day session at NLC University Leadership Summit (Little Rock, AR)

Thursday, September 20 at 2 PM & 4 PM ET: Cohorts’ 3rd quarterly call (Mayor, 2pm | Chief of Staff, 4pm)

Wednesday, November 7: Cohorts’ 3rd (final) half-day session at NLC City Summit in Los Angeles, CA (November 7-10, 2018) to highlight cohort work

Thursday, December 13 at 2 PM & 4 PM ET: Cohorts’ 4th (final) quarterly call (Mayor, 2pm | Chief of Staff, 4pm)