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Midwest Leadership Institute

Helping professional local government managers navigate a complex world in a time of disruptive change.


Successful professional local government leadership requires knowledge and a skill set centered on the ability to understand individual and organizational behavior. The Midwest Leadership Institute was developed to equip participants with the leadership skills needed to drive for results in the increasingly complex world of local government.

The Institute is an intensive six-day program with an internal self focus and one with external organizational focus.  The Institute provides the fundamental requirements for leading people in a world with many personalities, competing personal interests, endless news cycles, social media, "gotcha" blogs and few things that are black and white. The Institute customizes learning to individual needs. Participants will leave the Institute having developed essential leadership skills and will have a greater understanding of when and how to use those skills. Participants will learn how to apply psychiatric concepts to real world problems. 

Who Should Attend

Local government professionals including chief administrative officers, assistants, and department heads interested in advancing their career who would like to:
• Thrive in an increasingly complex world with multiple personalities, competing self-interests, questionable ethics and the prominence of the information age.
• Function in a complex world with challenges facing local government professionals that can make leaders feel like the healthiest person in the emergency room.
• Implement sound judgment, an important concept of the Institute, which will help guard against blind pathology and acting without the proper analysis.

The Institute customizes learning to the needs of the participants. Learning in teams focusing on real world local government scenarios is a critical component of the Institute.

Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page


Getting wins, big and small, in the public sector requires a deep understanding of interpersonal leadership. The Chinese proverb and curse, "May you live in interesting times", has never been more true. We have entered what Nicolo Machiavelli called "A New Order of Things" which requires leaders to know: 

How to manage others by: 

  • Strengthening one’s ability to manage uncivil discourse
  • Resolving conflict
  • Building a working alliance
  • Leading with character and be a source of inspiration
  • Mastering the judgment triangle
  • Understanding power and influence

How to manage yourself by:

  • Understanding emotions and build exceptional emotional and psychological stability
  • Developing brain speed and flexibility of mind, the ability to think faster and more efficiently and thus act more decisively at the proper time
  • Self reflecting
  • Managing challenges to balancing work, family, and self 

View complete course overview here.


The program is presented by a cross-disciplinary team of leading local government practitioners and experts in executive coaching and leadership development.

David MorrisonDavid E. Morrison,
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David Limardi David M. Limardi,
Midwest Regional Director, ICMA, MPA, ICMA-CM
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Daven MorrisonDaven Morrison,
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Robert KeilyRobert R. Kiely, Jr.,
City Manager, Lake Forest, MPA,
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“I recently accepted an invitation to be a speaker at the Midwest Leadership Institute sponsored by NIU's Center for Governmental Studies. After reviewing the program and listening in on a portion of one of the sessions, I came away most impressed. The program dealt with a subject which most public administration professors are ill suited to cover: interpersonal relations and related behavioral strategies for maximizing success under conditions of leadership stress. The course helps the participants develop and apply interpersonal behavior skills in ways that should enhance any manager's ability to manage more successfully the interpersonal dynamics that so often mean the difference between success and blunder. I only wish I had had such a course during my time as a public administrator!" -  James M. Banovetz Professor & Director Emeritus, NIU MPA Program and Past Institute Speaker


“The Institute helps you tap into new ways of thinking and addressing the changing environment of local government and the stressful situations that can arise. The course helps you understand the underlying causes of those stresses and how to better deal with them. The concepts help empower leaders and strengthen their interpersonal relations with Village Boards, peers, staff, family and their view of themselves. The Institute delves into leadership development, change management, team building, useful strategies and emotional conflicts. You come away with an introspective thinking and a better ability to look from the balcony instead of from the ground level interspersed in the crowd. You learn that sometimes you need to lean into conflict and it can strengthen your leadership. There were also situations given to help develop critical thinking and problem solving on your own and with a team to gain confidence in your new skills. Overall, the program gives you a toolbox to think and deal with situations in management in a new way with a new understanding." -  Deborah Freischlag, Finance Director, Alsip, IL and Past Institute Participant


“Managers must be collaborative with their Board members, staff, and the citizens and businesses in their communities. Not that we haven't been collaborative in the past, but in order to stay employed and perform our jobs well, we increasingly must understand underlying reasons and emotional causes for people's behavior whether as individuals or in groups. This seems like a no brainer. I assure you, after taking this course, gaining and practicing these skills is no easy task.

Success doesn't come from having an easy smile, a quick handshake and an engaging personality, nor is it good enough to just have the technical skills to run a city. We work as leaders in, 'The People's Business' and need to be adept at navigating a difficult and ever changing course. The people we work with and for are under increasing pressure to navigate their own lives and those around them. Volatile economic conditions, social networking and its requisite need to be "on", the increasing breakdown and reshaping of family and cultural norms all contribute to stress. Understanding why people are reacting as they are and, in turn, why and how you react to others is essential. The class does not teach you to be a therapist. That would be wrong on many levels. Instead you come away with knowledge, perspective, and a sense of measure to better manage relationships. We managers already understand the core technical skills such as building budgets, and planning and financing our capital improvement projects. At the end of the day however, there remains a need to provide more cost effective and adaptive public services as our local worlds become more global. Innovation in the People's Business is made possible through a meaningful understanding of how to align individuals and groups to be successful. In other words, our success begins and ends with our understanding of people. This program sheds an important light to keep us from stumbling through the dark." -  Rich Nahrstadt, Village Manager, Northbrook,  IL and Past Institute Participant


“The Institute helped me by expanding my skill set as a leader and a manager, so I could have essentially more tools on my belt.  As a result, I can better address the challenges that are becoming more frequent or severe as the years go by — especially working with elected officials.

The concepts of leadership, judgment, power and power of the leader, organizational alignment, resistance to change, and self-awareness are especially relevant in today’s fractured political environment.  Developing an understanding of and applying these concepts are necessary to effectively manage and work with people in our organizations.

Now I’m managing internally and I’m managing externally — or managing up or down.  With the Village Council, it’s applying the concepts of alignment presented in the Academy. Helping the Council to understand alignment with the community, each other and staff is the first step towards improving community trust and organizational effectiveness.

With respect to applying the concepts of judgment, I actually used the judgment triangle in my council orientation last spring; explained how it not only applies to individuals, but how it also applies to the council as an organization. 

I found the Academy extremely beneficial as I was able to take some of the concepts and apply them directly to my council, directly to my staff, and importantly, apply them to myself." - Rob Bahan, Village Manager, Winnetka, IL and Past Institute Participant

Past Participants' Testimonials to the Benefits of Attending MLI

  • Offers leaders a chance to look their own and others motivations, abilities and limits from an unconventional view.
  • People need to be able understand themselves and their organization so that as different situations present themselves, they have the tools to handle them. If you are willing to work and learn, MLI can help.
  • It will set them apart. It is the only place I know of that gives you this perspective. The Institute is unique and unlike any other conference or training, it will re-energize you and motivate you to be better. It reminds you why you chose this profession.
  • Sometimes people don't realize what they are, and are not, doing as a leader and could use a step back and peer evaluation in a non-threatening environment. This program gives you that opportunity to self-reflect and gain insight.
  • To develop soft skills and learn from seasoned professionals.
  • No matter where they are in their careers, every participant will benefit from the practical information shared within the MLI. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to encouraging members of our team to attend.