A Calling as Public Servants

participants in masks and blindfolds assist each other in completing tasks in a leadership training activity

Story and photos by Susan Robertson

Relationships come and go. But one relationship that has stood the test of time and continued to evolve into some of the state’s top leadership training lies between the Institute for Public Service’s Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership and the Tennessee Department of Human Resources.

In fact, the partnership has now branched into further professional development. This year the Naifeh Center and the state launched the Tennessee Government Professionals Institute to help state employees continue their development and enhance their skills as individual contributors.

“We are happy to call the UT Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership team not only our partners but our friends,” Juan Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Resources, says.

For more than 30 years, IPS has trained state employees at both the manager and executive level. The Naifeh Center took over all the leadership training more than 10 years ago, including the Tennessee Government Executive Institute and the Tennessee Government Management Institute.

“Since 1983, our leadership and staff have made tremendous strides in equipping leaders in state government to optimize their potential as leaders and public servants,” Macel Ely, executive director of the Naifeh Center, says. “Through great programs like the Tennessee Government Executive Institute, we have watched over the decades how both the lessons learned and networks made through this program have positively impacted our state agencies and the services they offer.”

Ely says leaders have heard many stories where government services or programs improved due to collaborations of individuals who met during the executive institute.

“In fact, very often other states and institutes for higher education contact me to get tips on implementing similar programs within their own states,” Ely says.

The Tennessee Government Executive Institute prepares state government leaders for the challenges of public service and stewardship. As state government progresses and continues to see changes, Tennessee’s leaders must meet these challenges with the skill and knowledge to guide the state into the future.

The Tennessee Government Management Institute was created in 2000 for mid-level managers within state government who have program and/or organizational responsibility. The management institute develops and promotes the leadership abilities of middle managers to better serve their employees and, in turn, Tennessee residents.

“I am proud to say the partnership between the Tennessee Department of Human Resources’ Learning and Leadership Development division and the UT Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership is strong and thriving,” Williams says. “We are ‘partners in programming,’ which is designed to provide training and professional development to the state of Tennessee’s leaders of all levels.”

The seed for the new professionals’ institute took root when Human Resources Assistant Commissioner Stephanie Penney and a colleague were on their way back to Nashville after an executive institute session.

“We began tossing around the idea of a professional institute that was centered around competencies for individual contributors,” Penney says. “We needed something for employees who were subject-matter professionals to grow professionally without having to take a leadership role. While I feel that we are all leaders, no matter our title, some individuals would prefer to not lead people but prefer to be a subject matter expert in their field. After much discussion, we proposed the idea to Macel Ely and his team. They immediately began to smile and nod their heads in agreement. We could all see the need and see the potential that a program like this could bring.”

The professionals’ institute will be a two-week program over two months. It will include 60 selected state government subject-matter experts in their respective fields of public service representing almost 40 state government agencies. The institute will see a highly competitive application process, which must include supervisor recommendation and the endorsement of their agency’s commissioner or executive director.

“At the UT Naifeh Center, building positive partnerships and cultivating collaborative relationships isn’t just what we do—it’s who we are,” Ely says. “I believe it’s our calling as public servants.”