Breaking Ground 90 - Leadership Academy for Excellence in Disability Services

by Alicia Cone, PhD, Council Grant Program Director
picture of the LAEDS graduating class. It is a large, ethnically diverse group of men and women, posing on bleachers.
LAEDS 1st Graduating Class, 2017

The first year of the Leadership Academy for Excellence in Disability Services (LAEDS) is complete! It was a journey of change for the 29 participants across state government selected to be in the inaugural class. This Academy was a dream come true and is a stellar example of what can be accomplished through the combined efforts of multiple state agencies working in agreement and collaborating on a common goal

To refresh everyone’s memory, LAEDS is a year-long leadership development program for leaders who work in state government programs that serve Tennesseans with disabilities and their families in any capacity. It is designed to ensure that these agency leaders could begin operating from a shared set of values, goals and principles, and to strengthen commitments to cross-agency collaboration.

Our partner in this project, the Tennessee Department of Human Resources (DOHR) and their Strategic Learning Solutions (SLS) office provided the leadership training expertise and template which allowed this first-ever, cross-agency, discipline-specific leadership academy to be built. DOHR hosts a number of leadership development programs and academies for state employees, including LEAD Tennessee, Tennessee Government Executive Institute, Tennessee Government Management Institute and many department-specific leadership academies.

Most importantly, the Academy was developed with input from the 11 agencies that comprise the LAEDS Executive Leadership Council, an advisory group consisting of senior level government leaders.  This team includes Commissioners or high-level leadership from the Departments of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Education, Health, Human Services, Human Resources, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Veteran’s Affairs, the Commission on Aging and Disability, the Council on Developmental Disabilities and others. The Executive Leadership Council chose the competences for participants to study related to managing diversity, process management, organizational agility, innovation management, and other topics linked to skilled, trustworthy and expert leadership.

Each session addressed one to two leadership competencies. Disability and leadership subject matter experts and Commissioners or departmental leaders spoke at each of the six summits held over the course of the 12 months, and leadership training was based on the focus competencies for that particular Summit. One of the most popular speakers was Dr. Herbert Marbury from Vanderbilt University who spoke on managing diversity, and trust and integrity. During the wrap up, attendees noted that his training caused them to look at their motives and decision-making processes to ensure that their beliefs, actions and words were aligned, in order to exercise and interact with integrity.

Another well-received presenter was Dr. Sheli Reynolds of the University of Missouri , Kansas City – Institute for Human Development, one of the national leaders of the Supporting Families Community of Practice, which Tennessee has participated in over the past five years. Dr. Reynolds talked about the competency of decision quality, driving home the idea that decisions we make today as we guide and support people with disabilities and their family members can have a long-term impact on the course of that person’s life. Those decisions can set a person on a positive or negative life trajectory, and, if the decisions are policy-related, they may well be guiding services that impact thousands of people for decades.

When surveyed, the majority of participants believed that the Academy both increased their leadership skills and enhanced their knowledge of the unique leadership competencies required when working with Tennesseans with disabilities and their families.

Beyond learning leadership skills, several reported that the Academy taught them to listen more, and to work on developing staff, rather than just managing them. They also discovered that leadership requires constant and continuous improvement and the acquisition of new strategies. One said, “Leadership starts from within. There is a tendency to focus on others immediately. However, knowing yourself – your skills, abilities, strengths, areas to improve (and acknowledging these and doing something about it) - is the key to leadership.”

Moving forward, there will be two additional components in the next Academy. The first is “Opportunity with a Master”, which will provide participants the chance to hear from industry experts on a variety of different topics that have been identified through a survey of the Academy’s Executive Leadership Council. The second is the addition of small team projects that will allow participants to apply skills they are learning in the Academy to real life issues identified by the Executive Leadership Council.

Continuing to implement this Leadership Academy has required the time, energy, expertise and commitment of many partners across Tennessee state government. This Academy is providing participants with a shared set of consistent values, and teaching participants to work across departmental lines. The Council on Developmental Disabilities strongly believes this will decrease barriers to services, and provide important long-term benefits to Tennesseans with disabilities and their families by improving their experiences with all state services.


2017 Graduates of 1st  TN Leadership Academy for Excellence in Disability Services

  • Anna Lea Cothron - Aging Commission Liaison, Commission on Aging and Disability
  • Lacey Russell - QA and Outreach Coordinator, Commission on Aging and Disability
  • Ondria Stevenson -  Program  Consultant, Commission on Aging and Disability
  • Jerre Maynor - Director of Student Readiness, Dept. of Education
  • Brinn Obermiller - Family Engagement and School Improvement Coordinator, Dept. of Education
  • Gary Smith - IDEA 619 Preschool Coordinator, Dept. of Education
  • Allison Boyd - Director of Accreditation, Dept of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Franklin Dunbar - Director of Middle TN Homes, Dept of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Lisa Guy - Director of West TN Homes, Dept of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Kelly Hyde - Operations Director, Dept of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Margi E. Story - Developmental Services Regional Program Administrator, Dept of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Melissa Fletcher - TennCare Eligibility Director, Bureau of TennCare
  • William Hines - Director of LTSS Policy, Contracts and Compliance, Bureau of TennCare
  • Katie Moss - Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Bureau of TennCare
  • Kelly Newton - LTSS Appeals Manager, Bureau of TennCare
  • Caitlin Wright - Director of Person-Centered Practices, Bureau of TennCare
  • Monica Brown - Social Counselor Supervisor, Dept. of Health
  • Jean Doster - Director of Traumatic Brain Injury Program, Dept. of Health
  • Kim Shaw - Director of Children's Special Services, Dept. of Health
  • Ruth Brock - Program Supervisor for Supported Employment Program, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Dept. of Human Services
  • Renee Bouchillon - APS Program Director, Dept. of Human Services
  • Dan Eason - Field Supervisor, Dept. of Human Services
  • Diane Hague - Field Supervisor, Dept. of Human Services
  • Kim Joseph - Regional Director for Policy & Procedure, Dept. of Human Services
  • Kim Lilley - TN Technology Access Program Executive Director, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Dept. of Human Services
  • Jennifer B. Mitchell - Human Services Program Supervisor, Dept. of Human Services
  • Tiffany Ramsey - Regional Supervisor, Dept. of Human Services
  • Sandra Ray - Elizabethton Training Manager, Dept. of Human Services
  • Michael J. Rogers, Jr. - Attorney III, Dept. of Veteran's Services