Tennessee Leads

Amanda Ellis

If you’re a local business professional, you’ve probably heard of Leadership Chattanooga. But you may not know about Leadership Tennessee, a competitive 10-month leadership development program for high-level executives.

An initiative of the College of Leadership & Public Service at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Leadership Tennessee aims for collaborative learning and nonpartisan dialogue about statewide issues. The four-year-old program spans Tennessee’s three grand divisions, pushing past traditional boundaries of industry and location.

Each 40-person Leadership Tennessee class convenes prominent thought leaders from business, government, education and nonprofit sectors for two retreats and five sessions held across the state.

The 2017 Leadership Tennessee class focused much of their Chattanooga session on initiatives in the public education and workforce development space. Highlights included sessions on Chattanooga 2.0 and the wide range of public-private collaborations taking place in Hamilton County, as well as a tour of Volkswagen's Mechatronics Akademie.

Both (Leadership Chattanooga and Leadership Tennessee) were extraordinary. In Leadership Tennessee, I met people from across the state, and they are friends now. The same was true for Leadership Chattanooga. I still meet with the people who were in my class, and feel close to them – it provides a local network of support as we all take on challenging things.

– Sarah Morgan, President, Benwood Foundation, graduate of both Leadership Chattanooga and Leadership Tennessee 

Education also emerged as a priority for last year’s Leadership Tennessee class of 2016, along with healthcare and economic prosperity.

“One of the education issues that stood out to many of our class members is a statistic that is fairly constant statewide: only about 43 percent of kids in Tennessee are reading at grade level by third grade,” says Scott Broyles, President and CEO of the National Safe Skies Alliance and a 2016 Leadership Tennessee graduate.

It’s a statistic that sparked the Governor’s Books from Birth program offering free books to children under five, and a statistic echoed by local education initiative Chattanooga 2.0.
2.0 highlights third-grade foundations, particularly reading, as a crucial focus area for improving academic excellence and, later, career credentials.

Broyles speaks about the transition for students from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” which takes place around this time in a child’s education.

“If kids can’t make that transition because their literacy skills aren’t where they need to be, it’s difficult to catch up, and many kids just don’t,” Broyles says.

Programs like Tennessee Promise, a last-dollar scholarship covering community college costs for any student, and the Drive to 55, the effort to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential, encourage postsecondary learning in our state. Yet strong reading skills and other basics position students for success long before they’re thinking about higher education.  

“It happened that first lady Chrissy Haslam was in our Leadership Tennessee class, and she’s passionate about early childhood education, specifically literacy,” Broyles says. “We noticed that things are happening across the state, but we aren’t really communicating or sharing best practices statewide.”

To that end, Broyles, Haslam and others are working to identify literacy improvement efforts from across the state and make this information available to everyone at no cost.

Part of that effort is a May 4 Knoxville event representing a partnership between Leadership Tennessee and Leadership Knoxville. First lady Crissy Haslam will speak on childhood literacy, and an expert panel representing education, healthcare and economic development will facilitate audience discussion on the impact of improving the literacy rate — as well as the impact of not improving it.

Event outcomes will be available to everyone, with the intention of replicating the event across the state.

“This call to awareness came out of Leadership Tennessee,” Broyles says. “And I’m convinced that as servant leaders become more aware, we’ll all be passionate about getting our young readers where they need to be. It’s important to work together, and that’s a tenet of the Leadership Tennessee program.”

For more about Leadership Tennessee, visit

Chattanooga 2016-17 Class Members:

Steve Angle, Chancellor, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
Valoria Armstrong, President, Tennessee American Water
Alexis Bogo, Executive Director, Hamico, Inc.
Bruce Hartmann, President, Chattanooga Times Free Press
JD Hickey, CEO, BlueCross BlueShield of TN
Jill Levine, Chief Academic Officer, Hamilton County Department of Education
Maura Sullivan, COO, City of Chattanooga
Miller Welborn, Chairman, Smart Financial Banking (parent of SmartBank)

Chattanooga Alumni:           


Charlie Brock, CEO, Launch Tennessee
Dan Challener, President, Public Education Foundation
Bill Kilbride, President & CEO, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
Gerald McCormick, House Majority Leader, TN Legislature


Calvin Anderson, Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (now retired)
Sarah Morgan, President, Benwood Foundation


Jim Hobson, President and CEO, True North Custom
Todd Womack, Chief of Staff, Senator Bob Corker
Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, TN Department of Human Resources

Leadership Chattanooga is a 10-month leadership development program that pinpoints promising local professionals in their early to mid-careers. The program uses the exploration of community issues to develop leadership skills that prepare graduates to succeed in prominent business, cultural and political roles.

Chattanooga's leadership program is one of the oldest and most-respected in the state and now boasts a robust alumni network and a thriving alumni association.

“We are very proud of the program and excited about its future,” says David Steele, the Chamber's Vice President of Policy and Education.

Leadership Chattanooga offers participants what Steele describes as “a behind-the-scenes view of the systems that make Hamilton County tick — and, of course, that also means providing insight into the challenges our region faces and the opportunities to make a difference.”

In addition to hands-on exposure to those systems and resources, the program also includes leadership skills training and abundant opportunities to network with other community leaders.

“At the end of the day,” says Steele, “our goal is provide our graduates with the knowledge, relationships and opportunities to lead.” 

Sponsored by the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation, Leadership Chattanooga provides comprehensive leadership training through:

  •  Monthly meetings exploring various aspects of leadership and challenges facing our community
  •  Experiential learning opportunities including a police ride along 
  •  Interaction with the community’s top leadership, including meeting with state leaders in Nashville
  •  Community service projects 

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