Listening as Leadership
By Laura Bloomberg, Dean
This fall, I was invited to serve as the vice chair of the University of Minnesota’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee. This committee of 23 members is tasked with aiding the Board of Regents by recommending lead candidates to become the 17th president of the University of Minnesota. Together we are Regents, faculty, staff, students, alumni and concerned citizens, all coming together to help find the next inspiring leader who will shape a vision for the University system and guide it to greater excellence.
This process has taken us all over the state, as we are visiting every University campus to hear what people are looking for in the next president and their hopes and dreams for this great institution.
I am honored to serve on this committee, especially working alongside Dr. Abdul Omari, a Regent and graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Regent Omari is leading a committee process that reminds us of an important skill our nation mightily needs right now: the ability to listen to each other.
At the Humphrey School, we prepare our students to be the next generation of leaders. Students enroll here because they believe in making a difference. Our alumni hold leadership roles throughout Minnesota and across the world. They are mayors, legislators, nonprofit directors, grassroots organizers, and corporate executives. Their work affects people and communities across the globe.
And to borrow a line from Winston Churchill, where there is great power, there is great responsibility.
As part of a community dedicated to public affairs, our responsibility to really listen is imperative. We cannot change the world for the better if we do not make time to understand the root of complex issues. At the Humphrey School we ensure our students graduate with the tools to establish respectful and safe contexts for people to speak about contested issues with intention and listen with attention.
Too often we observe leaders hearing only themselves, or people who hold similar views; yet history has repeatedly shown us that the greatest leaders are those who can consider all sides. These leaders are adept at cultivating conversations, letting the words of the community inform their actions, and continuing to engage with the people they serve over time. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wisely made this the core premise of Team of Rivals, her bestselling biography of Abraham Lincoln. Now there was a leader who really knew how to listen!
The art of listening is not lost, but it is challenged in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. By the time people have started to engage in meaningful discourse, the topic du jour changes and political priorities shift. The Humphrey School must seize this moment to educate our students about the necessity of building listening into their work.
Our students have the power to shift the national landscape. Their passion for tackling important issues here and abroad is an inspiration to me. I am in awe of the brilliant minds walking through our doors every day.
When I announced our Leading Together campaign last spring, I did so because I believe in this school. A successful campaign will provide our students and faculty more opportunities to do ground-breaking work and the resources necessary to make a lasting impact on our planet. We can show the world the Humphrey School is listening.
I look forward to seeing who the next president of our great University will be. I am eager to tell him or her about all the ways our small-but-mighty school is expanding the University’s global impact. And I am thrilled that the next president will have been selected through a process that included all who wanted to be heard.