Never underestimate the power of showing up. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned through my participation in the ULI Atlanta Young Leaders Group (YLG).

The YLG’s mentorship program was a game-changer for me. It gave me the skills and confidence to pursue leadership roles with ULI that put me on the path to career success and personal fulfillment. It also helped me appreciate the value of community.

Sheba Ross is a principal and global director of the Cities and Communities practice for HKS. She sits on ULI Atlanta’s Advisory Board and Technical Assistance Panel Committee. (HKS)

In 2014, YLG Atlanta paired me with mentor Monte Wilson, who is now global market director for the built environment and global vice president for Dallas-based consulting firm Jacobs. When my mentorship began, I had a young child and a newborn at home, and Monte was a division VP in Jacobs’s Atlanta office, launching the firm’s global urban design and planning practice. We decided to get together once a month, no matter what. And we honored that commitment.

Monte provided valuable outside perspective on what I could do to be more impactful at work. What I perceived as limitations, he reframed as opportunities. When I felt overwhelmed, he pointed to my successes. He encouraged me to stop looking for the perfect moment to try new things. “Just put it on the calendar,” he’d say, when I’d despair that there was never enough time to plan.

I took his advice seriously. By holding myself accountable, I learned I could achieve more than I ever imagined—for myself and others.

Through that yearlong YLG mentorship, my confidence grew. I began to understand that my education and professional background had meaning, and people cared about what I had to say. Monte encouraged me to speak up when I was given a seat at the table. He directed me toward opportunities that matched my strengths.

I am, at heart, an introvert. Early in my career, I gave up on attending happy hours and similar networking events because they just aren’t for me. But I do love hosting team-building activities and interacting with people one-on-one. Monte recommended I apply to ULI’s Center for Leadership (CFL) to develop these skills.

In 2017, I was accepted into the Atlanta CFL, where I learned about economic development, infrastructure, capital markets, and the intricacies of how a real estate deal is put together—how to engage the community in a meaningful way and how to influence policy. Just as during my YLG mentorship, I could feel my mind-set shifting: I started to comprehend that the things you do in your daily job can influence multiple generations. I was hooked.

Since graduating from CFL, I’ve held multiple ULI leadership positions, including chair for a mini–technical assistance panel (miniTAP) and technical expert for two full-fledged TAPs, working with multidisciplinary teams and local stakeholders to solve challenging development problems. I’m an Advisory Board member and TAP Committee member and recently chaired the 2021–2022 CFL, leading the very program I benefited from five years ago.

Sheba Ross (second from left) on graduation day for the CFL class of 2022. Ross served as chair of the program. Also pictured with the class are vice chair Alex Demestihas (standing far left) and ULI Atlanta executive director Daphne Bond-Godfrey (standing far right).

Sheba Ross (second from left) on graduation day for the CFL class of 2022. Ross served as chair of the program. Also pictured with the class are vice chair Alex Demestihas (standing far left) and ULI Atlanta executive director Daphne Bond-Godfrey (standing far right).

I’ve received tremendous support from ULI’s Atlanta leadership team and the vast alumni network in taking on these roles, which laid the foundation for my role leading the Cities and Communities practice at HKS, which strives to grow, connect, or revitalize urban areas with vision and purpose.

ULI is deeply ingrained in my life. Nearly every week I’m doing something that involves the organization, whether it’s a speaking engagement, a coaching session, or volunteering to facilitate an event.

I grew up in Chennai, India, and arrived in the United States to study in 2002. I had been in the country roughly 15 years when I entered the CFL and stepped up my volunteer efforts in Atlanta. In a conversation with my mother during this time, she noted I’d just called Atlanta “home” for the first time. Previously, I’d referred only to Chennai that way. Thanks in large part to ULI, Atlanta became more than where I live: it’s where I get to serve, where I can make an impact, where I belong.

Nearly 10 years ago, when I joined the YLG mentorship program, I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunities that I have today by simply doing my homework, by listening, and just by showing up.

I’m grateful to have found a home at ULI.

SHEBA ROSS is a principal and global director of the Cities and Communities practice for HKS. She is the former Center for Leadership chair for ULI Atlanta and currently is a member of both the Advisory Board and Technical Assistance Panel Committee.