In Eleanor Gorski’s job as Chicago’s first deputy commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, her days are spent working with multiple stakeholders on citywide planning for huge development projects like Lincoln Yards, the Obama Presidential Center, and Wrigley Field. With so much happening, it can be hard to pause to reflect and learn — which is why Gorski is grateful for her experience as a 2018 UChicago Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) fellow.
CLA is a six-month interdisciplinary program based at the Harris School of Public Policy – led by William Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Harris Public Policy, and Sadia Sindhu, Executive Director of the Center for Effective Government. The program includes valuable insights from faculty from the University’s professional schools and practitioners from around the city, county, and beyond. CLA aims to strengthen the capacity within Chicago nonprofits and government agencies by bringing together their emerging leaders to learn critical skills, connect with one another, and explore new ways to find solutions to institutional challenges. CLA is the flagship program of the new Center for Effective Government at Harris, which is committed to solving major systemic challenges in our institutions.
“CLA allowed me to think about things a little more deeply and in a different way than I get to in my day-to-day work,” Gorski says, “and to explore topics with leading academics and practitioners in management. It had a great influence on me.”
One example Gorski cites is a concept from the “Discovering Leadership Capacity” class taught by Harry Davis, the Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management at the Booth School of Business. “The lesson about how we need to present different personas with different groups of people really resonated,” she says. “A good leader can switch gears depending on the audience — like a community meeting in a neighbor’s home versus a meeting with a civic group downtown. It’s not just how you present, but also how you listen and interact.”
“Limits on discretionary funding and support mean that it can be especially tough to get leadership training in the public and nonprofit sectors. The CLA experience — particularly exposure to some of the teachers from Booth — helped me tremendously in building skills and seeing new perspectives.”
Gorski says that the CLA also connected her with a collaborative group of peers across the city whom she likely would not have met otherwise. “We still have an active WhatsApp group chat where people are posting all the time,” she says. “There’s something in the news every week that affects one of us, so we share that, and if someone has a question or is looking for help or talent or advice, we use it for that too. We’ve become really tight.”