Soon after completing the 9-month Emerging Leaders Program at UMass Boston, Michelle Landers was named as the executive director of the Urban Land Institute Boston / New England (ULI). Landers was one of 41 fellows in the 2015 cohort of the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) who were nominated by their senior leaders to participate in the program. She wrote in her application essay, “As I progress in my career, I look forward to focusing on big-picture goals of an organization rather than solely the organizational work that is required to accomplish those goals.”
Now, in the promotion from director to the executive director of ULI Boston / New England, she is well poised to serve as the visionary leader who will grow the organization to the next level. Her goals are to make the organization the premiere land use resource in New England, and use the organization to attract the best and brightest to shape the next generation of leaders in the field of real estate.
Achieving large goals with limited resources has been the case throughout Landers’ career. ULI Boston / New England is a small but mighty membership-based nonprofit organization that brings together leaders from across the fields of real estate and land use policy to serve community needs. The organization has four staff members, including Landers, to provide leadership in the responsible use of land in the New England region. As such, Landers has learned that communicating clearly and valuing the contributions of each member of the team is the way to accomplish big goals with limited means.
One of the most valuable skills she took away from her time in the Emerging Leaders Program is appreciative inquiry, a strength-based approach to strategic planning. “With a small team, it is easy to get lost in looking at our weaknesses. I use the StrengthsFinder assessment as a way to manage staff and say, what are you good at doing, and how can we use those strengths to grow the organization and have staff enjoy what they are doing.”
Amy Latimer, president of the TD Garden also served as an inspiration to Landers, especially as a female leader in a male dominated industry. Through the ELP, Landers had the opportunity to hear from Latimer in what is termed as a “Path to Leadership” session. Landers could relate to her path of working hard as well as working her way up the ladder, as she herself puts in many hours as the manager of ULI Boston from 2008 to 2012 and then director from 2012 to October of 2015 before being named as the executive director.
Landers does credit the ELP for even being asked to serve as ED. The former executive director and now executive vice president at ULI, Stephanie Wasser, states, “Her extensive experience at ULI, along with her personal and professional development through the ELP, positioned her perfectly when the promotion to executive director became available. Definitively, she was the clear first choice. It was very exciting and rewarding for me personally, to see how much Michelle had advanced her leadership skills as a result of the ELP.”
As Landers puts it, “Without the ELP, I wouldn’t have necessarily put myself out there to grow professionally. I needed that push to do it, and I’m very glad it did. There are so many examples of talent being overlooked for certain opportunities. The ELP gave me the confidence to advocate for myself, and to let people know, I’m ready.”