News & Events

The Listening Tour: A Key to Understanding Context in a Leadership Role

Mar 23, 2016

Sitting at the recent opening of The University of Akron’s new EX[L] Center, it was encouraging to know that the Center’s Director, Jeff Hoffman, spent months on a “listening tour” of the Akron area to inform the design of the Center. That stands to reason—after all, the Center is intended to create “win-win’s” among the University and the community. It would be hard to know how to create those victories without a deep understanding of the community’s assets and resources. And Hoffman has a knack for listening – as a founder of Priceline, he had to observe carefully the needs of customers and the dynamics of markets to launch a game-changing Internet start-up.

For its part, our political system creates the same dynamic – building in “listening tours” of one’s constituency as part of the electoral process. Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan used the recent election to get a pulse on citizens’ concerns to inform his first-term agenda. This spring sees our Leadership Akron class focusing on the civic sphere and on the justice system, which brings with it interactions with elected officials in government and the judiciary. Ask them about running for office, and of course the inconveniences of being under the microscope and raising money come up; yet almost to a person, they report that they learned something that surprised them from listening to voters during the campaign. 

So goes the value of the listening tour to any leader working to adapt their vision to the context of their community. It’s why understanding context is one of the core components of the Collaborative Leadership framework we’re integrating into our learning experiences. Too often, leaders are tempted to cast a vision and get after it, often stopping all too briefly, if at all, to understand the context that must inform and receive their vision-casting. Whether it’s a new mayor conducting neighborhood meetings or a new CEO “managing by walking around,” conducting a listening tour is a key success factor for any leader in a new role. And, because our environment is constantly changing, it’s a healthy habit for leaders at any stage of their current role. Listening tours can surface surprising new insights in at least three ways:

  1. Leaders see issues through different sets of lenses as they connect people at different levels or in different situations; 
  2. They discover assets and resources that might have gone overlooked, and can be connected to others in new ways;
  3. They check their assumptions against the realities of community life.

One of the most valuable ways to do a listening tour is to participate in our foremost learning experience, and now is the perfect time to consider an application to Leadership Akron Class 33. In fact, many of our nation's leadership programs are currently accepting applications and you can find one close to you at interactive map at the bottom of Association of Leadership Programs' home page. With over three decades and 1,000+ graduates under its belt, our Signature Program is the ultimate listening tour of the Akron area, a must-have for anyone looking to lead at a community level. Class 33 promises to be a listening tour that transforms participants’ perspectives on the Akron area, and in the process, they will find they themselves are changed. 

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