Five-word leadership stories, and thoughts on resilience, from Yale deans

Deans Indy Burke, Kerwin Charles, Marvin Chun, Tamar Gendler, and Indy Burke spoke in a panel as part of the Yale Alumni Association Assembly and Convocation.
Peter Salovey, Tamar Gendler, Marvin Chun, Kerwin Charles

Left to right: President Peter Salovey, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, School of Management Dean Kerwin Charles. Not pictured: Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Dean Indy Burke. (Photo credit: Tony Fiorini)

President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. opened the Nov. 21 Dean’s Panel on Leadership at the Alumni Assembly in Sprague Hall by acknowledging Yale’s role in cultivating leaders and stating that such leaders have never been more necessary. “The world needs people who love learning and who believe in using human ingenuity to improve lives,” Salovey said. The discussion was part of the weekend-long Yale Alumni Association Assembly and Yale Alumni Fund Convocation.

He shared with the alumni audience his own five-word leadership story: “Listen; act with emotional intelligence.”

The theme of leadership guided this year’s assembly, which brought around 600 alumni back to campus. The five-word stories provided a window into each panelist’s thinking around leadership throughout the weekend.

The five words chosen by Indy Burke, the Carl W. Knobloch Jr. Dean at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), were “Collaborative visioning, transparency, and energetic follow-through.” Burke explained: “I’m a big believer in collaborative leadership. You are not an effective leader unless you engage with all stakeholders.”

For Kerwin Charles, the Indra K. Nooyi Dean and Frederic D. Wolfe Professor of Economics, Policy, and Management at Yale School of Management (SOM), the five words were “Informed, principled action with empathy.” He explained that action is key to leadership, paired with thoughtfulness about “how the actions I take will impact peoples’ lives.”

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun drew laughs from alumni when he announced his five words: “Be like President Peter Salovey.” He explained: “I’m trying to be the kind of mentor, leader, and collaborator that others have been to me.”

The five-word story for Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy, was “Ideas matter, people matter more.” Gendler said that as a philosopher, “all I needed to do was formulate ideas in a way that made logical sense.” But as a dean, she said, “it was immediately clear that people matter more.”

Many of the deans spoke to their mission of cultivating leaders among Yale students. At F&ES, Burke said a focus on leadership has always guided the school, but the need has never been more urgent. “The most important issues facing society relate to our environment,” Burke said, adding: “We want students to lead us to a sustainable future.” She noted that many F&ES faculty members have held public roles, ranging from working in the White House to service on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that all F&ES students must engage in case studies and internships.

Gendler spoke of the translational research happening across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the ways in which Yale faculty “lead in the generation of ideas and the frontiers of knowledge.” She mentioned the Scholars as Leaders; Scholars as Learners program at Yale, which gives faculty formal leadership training and allows them to participate as students in classes taught by colleagues. 

Faculty and alumni leaders, noted Chun, are what attract students to Yale in the first place. “They see these mentors and they aspire to be like them,” he said.

Salovey, Gendler, Chun, Charles, and Indy Burke
(Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

At SOM, said Charles, the pervasive focus on leadership in business and society is unique among business schools. “Our alumni are as likely to work at an investment bank as they are to lead a museum,” he said, adding: “Much of what goes on at SOM is about the translation of scholarship to making the world a better place.”

One word that received a lot of attention from Salovey and the panelists as key to leadership was “resilience.”  Chun called resilience “one of the most important values a Yale education can instill.” He added that many students come to Yale as first-generation or from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. “By definition these students are tremendously resilient,” he said.

Charles said resilience is nourished at SOM through a standard of excellence that student work must meet, and through the constant challenging of ideas — a “culture where a diversity of views is encouraged.”

Many students at F&ES are currently enrolled in a case study course on the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Students hear from all stakeholders — including Native American residents for and against the mine — and it can be a frustrating experience, said Burke. No matter what happens, somebody loses. “The only thing that can make us feel better,” she said, “is to be surrounded by leaders who are going to make a difference in the long haul.”  

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