Signature Program

Leadership Tennessee brings leaders from across the state to Nashville

Connecting leaders from across Tennessee, creating awareness and building networks are hallmarks of Leadership Tennessee, a leadership education program designed to cultivate a network of business, nonprofit, education and government leaders who are committed to addressing the state’s challenges and opportunities.

The innovative program, a leadership education initiative of Lipscomb University’s Nelson & Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership housed in the College of Leadership & Public Service, recently launched its third cohort and made a stop in Nashville for participants to learn more about the city and its culture.

Though the third cohort of Leadership Tennessee began with a retreat in August, members of the class, which includes 34 business, government, education and nonprofit leaders from across the state, say the program is already having an impact.

“This program is about having a chance to meet people from all corners of this great state who are interested in education, improving the state of our economic development, finding partnerships across Tennessee and getting to know the leaders in other communities is already making a difference in the way I view the world,” says Ron Samuels, chairman, founder and CEO of Avenue Bank in Nashville. “Our class also has a great diversity is age, culture, industry and background which also helps give me new perspective.”

Steve Joiner, dean of the College of Leadership & Public Service, welcomed the group to the Lipscomb campus on Sept. 20 as part of their Nashville visit.

“We want to facilitate conversations about issues facing Tennessee as we travel across the state this year,” he told the group of assembled leaders. “Among the key issues are education, health care and economic development. We hope to create a greater awareness of what is important to various communities and to equip those who will be the problem-solvers in those areas with the knowledge and network to help them be more effective leaders.”

Leadership Tennessee, which earlier this year received a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand the program’s offerings, scope and impact on the state, is expanding the perspective of its class members.

“Leadership Tennessee is giving us access to talk to other leaders in the state and to hear other leaders share their challenges, successes and perspectives on what is important to their part of the state and how they are impacted by what happens in other parts of the state,” says Agenia Clark, president and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee. “The conversations that we are having makes me realize what a large state we are, but that we all want answers to the same questions.”

Participant Thomas Zacharia agrees.

“This program is providing a tremendous opportunity to interact with colleagues from different walks of life, from different communities and industries who have different challenges and successes,” says Zacharia, deputy director for science and technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville. “We have a diversity of ideas and approaches and opportunities to contribute to the success of our state.”

Although participant Crissy Haslam may be more familiar with issues and opportunities facing Tennessee in her role as First Lady, she expects to learn a lot from her fellow classmates and from the program.

“I am looking forward to what we will see and learn this year,” she says. “It is a definite benefit for those who are making an impact on our state to get to know each other and to get to know the state better as we travel to a variety of cities and learn about other communities first-hand.”

Jason Little, president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Healthcare in Memphis, says he is “honored to be selected to participate in Leadership Tennessee and to get to come together with others throughout the state to make improvements to a place we all love.”

While in Nashville, the group met with Gov. Bill Haslam; visited Brick Church College Prep School, where Chris Reynolds, CEO of LEAD Public Schools, discussed the charter school initiative; and participated in an overview discussion about state standards with former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.

A discussion the Tennessee K-12 education landscape featured a panel of experts including moderator Dan Challener (current class member?), president of the Public Education Foundation; Chris Barbic, superintendent of the Achievement School District; Ron Woodard, principal of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Maplewood High School; Rep. Brenda Gilmore, 54th District, Tennessee House of Representatives; and Lucia Folk (current class member), vice president for public affairs at Country Music Television.

The group also examined the Insure Tennessee plan, a two-year pilot program proposal? that introduces market principles to Medicaid, provides coverage to more than

200,000 low-income Tennesseans at no additional cost to taxpayers and leverages a payment reform initiative that is working to control health care costs and improve the quality of care.

Leading the discussion was a panel of experts that included moderator Rick Johnson, president and CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness (past Leadership Tennessee participant); Lindsay Boyd, director of policy at the Beacon Center of Tennessee; Vaughn Frigon, physician and TennCare chief medical officer; and Mark Cate, president and principal of the Stones River Group and former Haslam administration chief of staff (past Leadership Tennessee participant).

Activities also included visiting several Nashville eateries along with a visit to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, where participants heard from the organization’s president and CEO Jaynee Day (past Leadership Tennessee participant) and had lunch at the Second Harvest Culinary Arts Center.

The next stop for the 2015-16 Leadership Tennessee class will be in Knoxville Nov. 8-9.

Leadership Tennessee, which launched in February 2013, has already had an impact in its first two years of existence as more than 60 business, government, education and nonprofit leaders from across Tennessee have participated in the program’s first two classes. For more information about Leadership Tennessee visit or contact Leadership Tennessee executive director Cathy Cate at 615.966.5180

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