ESP Project Leader Profile: Robert Connor

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this TESOL Blog post, you will read about Dr. Robert T. Connor, who is the current chair of the TESOL ESP Interest Section. (Before becoming the ESPIS chair, he had been coeditor of ESP News, the ESPIS newsletter.) Outside of TESOL International Association, Robert is an EAP professor and program director and has continuing projects in academic English in Rwanda and Panama. His academic accomplishments include a Bachelor of Engineering from Vanderbilt University, a Master of TESOL from American University, and a PhD in linguistics and educational research methodology from Louisiana State University, where his dissertation focused on pronouns in scientific discourse. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso and taught at university in Japan and the Caribbean. He currently directs Tulane’s English for Academic and Professional Purposes Program.  In his responses to the questions below, you will read about an online collaboration with a university in Rwanda.

Robert Connor, Director

Dr. Robert T. Connor, Director
English for Academic & Professional Purposes Program, Tulane University

How would you define leadership?

Leadership in our context is making connections between colleagues in order to advance the field. In the ESPIS, we seek connections to refine our practice and develop greater coherence as we encounter changing situations. In our interactions in the professional realm, we seek to converge our paradigms with those of other disciplines, such as engineering or law. ESP is always liminal, on the cusps between multiple understandings.

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

Recently, we developed an online collaboration with a Rwandan university to prepare African students take American university classes in English. There were numerous challenges, including the lack of resources for the students, time zone differences between trainers and students, cultural expectations for “real” classes, and different views on the purpose of education. As a leader, I had to make the connections between all the stakeholders’ views in order to advance the projects.

My mantra is incremental progress, always improving. Putting something in place is the first step. In fact, it is a giant step to move from nothing to something, but it is not the end. Refining the process is essential because so many complications and opportunities cannot be foreseen. Our training modules have evolved each semester to adapt to the rapid changes in online education. We moved from American trainers acting as teachers to a more peer-to-peer project-oriented module, which truly made the students and teachers team members to accomplish specific tasks.

When I reflect on this project and the field of ESP, I am struck by how many differing perspectives we have to accommodate.  Examining our own perspective and seeing the overlaps with our clients is the first step, but the more difficult step is closely examining where these views differ so that everyone can be brought to an understanding of how to resolve these differences in a specific situation.  The question is: In this case, at this time, what is the most useful way to first proceed?

When I read the responses above, I see Robert working with stakeholders to create and to implement a shared vision. In addition, I can appreciate his focus on incremental progress in acting to achieve the vision. When I think of incremental progress, I am reminded of Anthony Robbins and CANI (constant and never-ending improvement), W. Edwards Deming and kaizen in Japan, and Christopher N. Candlin’s advice to me of festina lente (make haste slowly).

Jim Kouzes (coauthor of The Leadership Challenge) describes leadership in Liu (2010) as “something that everyone can do.” Kouzes explains:

After the first edition of The Leadership Challenge we expanded our study to include student leaders, as well as others outside of formal organizations. We asked: What is it that you are doing when you are performing at your best as a leader? (p. 30)

In our book, we define leadership as the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations. And each of those words is chosen carefully. (p. 31)

In connection with the ESP project leader profiles, I see the definitions of leadership and the related stories of the project leaders as being contextually bound. We should always keep in mind that the ESP project leaders are being asked to share a success story (for a TESOL International Association Blog post featuring the project leader) that connects a leadership definition and communication in a leadership role with an ESP-related achievement. From this perspective, I believe that one of the many things that ESP practitioners can learn from these ESP project leader profiles is how to present ourselves to a global audience online effectively.

My advice is to take advantage of the global network of ESP project leaders that is being created through these ESP project leader profiles! Do you have comments or questions for Robert? Please post those below! Thank you!

All the best,



Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (1987). The leadership challenge. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Liu, L. (2010). Conversations on leadership: Wisdom from global management gurus. Singapore: Jossey-Bass.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.