NLC University Leaders Lab


Now accepting applications!

Launching at the 2018 Congressional City Conference, NLC University will pilot the Leaders Lab cohorts for mayors and chiefs of staff. Each cohort of six 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
Application process
  1. Complete and submit your application by January 5.
  2. NLC University will notify all applicants of its cohort-selection decisions via email on January 22, 2018.
  3. If selected, plan to attend NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC | March 11-14, 2018. Additionally, please make your flight and hotel reservations.
Apply here


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 in order 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

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

The cohort is free to apply. Additionally, participant 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 of the cohort?

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

What is 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 be 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 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 for this program? How are we measuring 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 for being a part of cohort?

  • free conference registration
  • Connection to national experts
  • Access to a cohort 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 tackling 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 own unique leadership challenge.  However, refer to the Creating your Leadership Challenge tab for a potential example.

2018 Leaders Lab calendar

Friday, January 5: Deadline for applications 

Monday, January 8 - Friday, January 19: NLCU will review applications and make final decisions.

Friday, January 22: NLCU will notify all applicants of its cohort-selection decisions via email.

Thursday, February 22 at 2PM EST: Cohorts’ 1st quarterly call/webinar

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

Thursday, May 24 at 2PM EST: Cohorts’ 2nd quarterly call/webinar

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

Thursday, September 20 at 2PM EST: Cohorts’ 3rd quarterly call/webinar

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 2PM EST: Cohorts’ 4th (final) wrap-up quarterly call/webinar