Dr. Robert Leonard: marketing and communications director, bandleader, professor
Management and Decision Sciences professor Dr. Robert Leonard joined the doctoral faculty at Capitol Technology University in Fall 2016. With thirty years of experience as a corporate marketing and communications professional in addition to degrees from three colleges, Leonard aims to build synergy in the classroom by drawing from both his business experience and academic interests.
Leonard has also dedicated significant time in his life to one of his great passions: music. As leader of the Blue Moon Big Band, he and his bandmates have toured the country, appeared on TV and radio, and even landed time on the big screen with the likes of Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger.
In the following interview, Leonard shared his thoughts on the management and decision sciences field, his approach to teaching, and the experiences he has gained during a rich and varied career.
What career and academic experience are you bringing to the program at Capitol?
I earned my BA in Communications from Loyola College, now Loyola University of Maryland, and followed that with an MBA at the University of Baltimore. Fifteen years later, I decided I wanted to move into teaching, so I went back to school and earned my doctorate in Applied Management and Decision Sciences from Walden University in 2014.
I’ve had a thirty-year career in corporate communications, marketing management, and public relations – a variety of disciplines that I think are intertwined and synthesize very well together, and are transferable from industry to industry. For the most part, wherever you go, marketing is marketing and PR is PR, and your job is to apply these skills to the specific industry and need. I’ve been in health care, I’ve been in tourism, I’ve been in the legal profession – all doing marketing and communications.
My biggest role was as director of communications with the International Oncology Network -- I really enjoyed the work, loved the company, and appreciated working with physicians and the staff. I left after the company relocated to Texas. Later, I worked for a winery in Pennsylvania for four years, doing business development and public relations. The perks were nice – my wife didn’t mind me bringing home the leftover sample bottles every weekend!
What are your primary academic and research interests?
I’m interested in understanding workflows better, and in how and why companies decide to undertake major organizational changes. It’s been my experience, working in the corporate world, that serious organizational issues often catch management off-guard – and I’ve long been curious as to why this is the case.
When I was at Walden, I worked with the noted methodologist Dr. Walter McCollum. He was on my dissertation committee. McCollum got me very interested in the chicken and egg conundrum of what comes first: strong leaders or good followers. For me, this question is closely bound up with organizational change. The dynamics within an organization affect its ability to anticipate and respond to change.
What advice do you have for incoming students in the PhD program?
I’ve had new students come to me and express worry because they don’t yet know what their dissertation projects will be. They’re still trying to identify a topic. What I tell them is to narrow it down. Don’t try to take on all the problems of the world; find a specific problem to research and come up with a solution for that. You can go on and fix the world later.
How do you define “management and decision sciences”? What does the field encompass?
It isn’t a tightly defined field; to a certain extent it’s what you choose to make of it. For some thinkers in the field it’s simply about analysis and synthesis of a workflow – that’s what the science of management and decision-making boils down to. Others, though, would define it more broadly.
Part of what we do, both as educators and students, is contribute to defining and redefining the field to respond to changing needs. Because organizational needs change, the field isn’t static. Although there are major theorists, such as Maslow, whose work continues to exert a profound influence, there’s never going to be a single governing consensus as to what you do as an academic specializing in management and decision sciences. There isn’t one single thing we can point to and say, definitively, “this is it!”
The field is continuing to evolve. If we define it too tightly, we might be restricting our future thought leaders – essentially telling them they have to stay in this or that box.
What is your approach to teaching?
I see myself as a scholar-practitioner. I’ve had a longstanding and deep involvement in corporate marketing and communications management, and my hope is that I can draw that experience into the classroom to benefit students.
I’m not a fan of lectures and I don’t present myself as a lecturer. I prefer to take the approach of being a facilitator – someone who collaborates with the students in the learning process – as opposed to talking at them for three hours, or telling them “here’s what you should know, take copious notes, and when I test you on it I expect you to spit it back.”
I want to be around people who are ready to think, who will take the concepts we cover in class and build their own management theories. The next Frederick Taylor might be sitting in my classroom, waiting to be discovered. I encourage students to fill in the blanks on their own – that’s where discovery begins. It’s more beneficial for students to learn their way through, rather than being told.
What activities and pursuits do you enjoy outside of academia and professional work?