Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Russ Rogers

Q: How long have you been on the faculty at SNL?         

I joined the SNL faculty in 1993. So it’s been 18 years.

Q: What’s your academic area? 

If you’re asking about my degrees, my doctoral and post-doctoral study was in Organizational Behavior/Psychology—which I came to through prior graduate study in Applied Behavioral Science/Human Resource Development after even earlier degrees (undergraduate and graduate) in English Literature and Philosophy.

Q: How did you get from English Literature to Organizational Behavior?

The bridge for me was (and still is) in the nature of “story.” Through literature and poetry, I found a world of language that both helped me make sense of my world and helped me give expression to feelings and awarenesses heretofore trapped in silence. My dream—back then—was to be the next Great American Poet!! Meanwhile, my adulthood started to emerge and my experience of working. Here, I noted a troubling phenomenon in myself and so many of my friends: our energy and excitement was being dampened down and the culprit seemed to be “work.” I recall H.L. Lindsay’s line, “It’s the world’s great crime. Its babes grow dull.” Indeed, we were. We were becoming dull—dulled by work.

Then, one day, sitting outside the building where I worked, I saw the building/organization as itself a “story.” All of my training in literary criticism now began to morph from application to written stories (e.g., King Lear, Ulysses, The Brothers Karamazov, etc.)—to the “story” in that building/organization. Soon I was hooked by the idea of organizations-as-stories and started exploring the notions of worker as character-in-story versus worker as author-of-story (or, at least, partial author!).

Q: How did you come to join the faculty at SNL?

By the twists and turns of chance and choice, I discovered SNL soon after moving to Chicago from Los Angeles. Worn out by too-much-travel/too-many-hotels, I had just sold my consulting firm to what was then Arthur Anderson and was in a “non-compete” phase for a few years. While finishing up some remaining corporate projects, I started to re-dabble in the world of higher education—teaching a few grad courses within intensive executive graduate programs here in the Midwest and back in southern California. . .and I liked it!

Through a fluke of networking, the then-director of SNL’s Graduate Programs asked me to teach the Change seminar and, later, the Leadership seminar. I did—and became intrigued by SNL’s philosophy, its willingness to experiment and its mix of entrepreneurial graduate students—not to mention the good hearts and minds of its faculty. The energy was compelling. Consequently, as an opportunity became available to join SNL’s resident faculty, I applied, ran the gauntlet of some tough-yet-fascinating interviews and, as they say, the rest is history.

Q: But why teach?

I understand your question but let me start with—why learn? For me, the growth of capacity has always been high adventure—the capacity to think, to do, to feel, to wonder, to play, to change, to engage, to reengage, to stretch, on and on. Indeed, I simply refuse to believe that we, as adults, are done—that this is a good as it gets. Indeed, I believe adults (and their organizations) deserve to be different than their past patterns and I believe that learning (real learning; not jargon) is the means to get us there—to get us to betterbetter personal lives, better relationships, better professional contributions, better organizations, etc. Such learning, I contend, supports the requisite shifts in imagination (and skill-building) that enable us—eventually—to participate and contribute with greater capacity.

That’s what compels me in teaching—the chance to engage in the dynamics of learning. The quasi-critical taunt is, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I understand the point of this taunt; however, for me, I align more with J. E. King’s statement: “Those who can, do. Those who believe others can too, also teach.”

Q: You make a distinction between “real learning” and “jargon.” What do you mean?

I believe there is a difference between “learning” and merely “ratifying what one already thinks.” Here, I have a profound respect for the authority of systemic observation, suspended judgment, questioned assumptions and evaluated experience. “Real learning” in this sense (i.e., applying such actions/values) involves some deliberate willingness to explore complexity without paralysis of thought and action, to make room in one’s mind for possibility and (dare I say it?) to be willing to unlearn prior follies!

Q: You hang ideas on the walls of your classroom when you teach. Why?  

I think of a classroom as an arena for coming to grips with problems in the presence of ideas. The ideas I hang around the room (aligned to the focus of each session) offer some context for our “thinking together.” They also offer additional data-points (and voices) beyond those in the room and, like the mark of a good research document, they offer “footnotes” (or wallnotes!) from which to deepen analysis. They also offer a vehicle through which to put some color into an otherwise typically drab classroom.

Q: In addition to your work at DePaul, do you still work with corporate organizations?

Every faculty member works to keep his/her knowledge-base current and relevant—both to help the University contribute to the greater society and to better bridge the artificial gulf between ideas and practice in order to help students better learn ideas for practice. I do this by participating in national organizations devoted to organizational effectiveness and performance improvement and by maintaining a few “real-world” consulting engagements each year. Currently, I have some organizational projects cooking (in areas of leadership development, system restructuring, change management, merger/acquisition, performance management, etc.) with CNA, PepsiCo, Chicago Board of Trade, Mechanical Contractors Association, California State Compensation Insurance Fund and Dynamic Aviation/VA.

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