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From the Director of Community and Inclusion: Taking a Listening Tour

Martin Luther King Jr’s mission feels more urgent to me this year than it has in recent years. The divergences of beliefs and perspectives among individuals, communities, and entire nations appear deeper, and effective communication and open dialogue seem less prevalent.

Yale SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society is of critical importance in times like this. Marin Luther King Jr remarked, during a similar period in U.S. history, that “this is a situation that calls for statesmanship and creative leadership.”

When empathetic leaders join an organization, they often embark on “listening tours”— engaging with people across the organization and listening to their thoughts, concerns, and hopes. Such leaders recognize the importance of learning as much as they can about the people within an organization as they shape a motivating and inclusive vision for the organization.

A few weeks ago, I asked Yale SOM students to go on their own listening tours, and I think this is a worthwhile exercise for all of us. Step into environments that you usually don’t enter and listen. This is not an easy task. It is not easy to go into unknown situations with an open mind and an open heart. It is not easy to build the trust and goodwill that are prerequisites to honest and difficult conversations. You may hear things that shock or upset you.

I encourage you to push past that initial discomfort. Ask questions of those around you and seek to understand the context and experiences that have shaped their worldviews.  Be open to hearing the sentiment behind the words and try to avoid quick judgments; we have all said things in inelegant ways that are prone to be misconstrued and we all hope that the listener can see past the words chosen to the sentiment that is meant. And be open to the feedback you might receive. Listening openly can sometimes be difficult, but is always valuable.

I look forward to hearing about these conversations and I am confident that we can all learn from the dynamic and multi-dimensional people who make up our community. I am hopeful too that the members of the Yale SOM community will live up to Martin Luther King Jr’s vision that “leadership and statesmanship will emerge in the places of public office, the press, the business community…” to help reverse polarization, heal the rifts that divide us, and restore the health and growth of our communities.

Tiffany Gooden
Director of Community and Inclusion