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Graduation files: Leadership and public service program ‘best educational decision in my life’ for Benton County mayor

The College of Leadership & Public Service is making an impact on leadership across Tennessee with its Regional Scholars Program.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Brett Lashlee at his swearing in ceremony as Benton County mayor.

Brett Lashlee at this swearing in ceremony in 2018 as he officially took office as Benton County, Tennessee, mayor.

Sergeant First Class Brett Lashlee is passionate about serving others. 

He has devoted the majority of the last four decades to doing just that through military service and as an elected official. An active member of the Tennessee Army National Guard, Lashlee, is the mayor of Benton County, Tennessee, a rural county of approximately 16,000 citizens.

With the knowledge and wisdom learned throughout his career Lashlee could write a textbook for public service. However, he continually seeks to learn new and better ways to serve and lead. That quest led him to the Lipscomb College of Leadership & Public ServicesRegional Scholars Program and the completion of a Master of Arts degree in leadership in public service this December. 

“When I embarked on this program I wondered to myself what else was there to learn about leadership as my background most of my life has placed me around living and learning such. I cannot count the numerous training and education I have had based simply around leadership – leading people and leading processes,” explained Lashlee. “However, Lipscomb’s graduate program in leadership and public service has definitely shown me you can teach an old dog new tricks!” 

The Regional Scholars Program is an initiative designed to develop leaders across Tennessee with a particular focus on those from the state’s 70 rural counties as investment in leadership development and education in the state. The Master of Arts degree in leadership and public service was created and designed to train leaders who can serve strong communities by implementing tangible solutions. The first cohort of regional scholars entered the Master of Arts program in August 2020. Lashlee is among the first students to graduate with this degree.

I cannot put into words the value of this program, the curriculum, and the faculty who lead it. Through this program, I realized that leadership is not a set skill, but rather an evolving skill. — Brett Lashlee, 2021 Lipscomb alumnus

The program, which may be completed in one year, facilitates the building of critical skills in leadership, communication and conflict resolution. Courses focus on innovative leadership in rural and statewide settings, data analysis, connecting the community to resources, negotiation and conflict management, working productively in cross-sector settings, communicating to diverse interest groups and budget management among other topics. Students study with and are mentored by top leaders from across Tennessee and through the program develop a statewide support system and network of resources. Part of the course of study also includes developing an initiative that is built around the needs of a particular community and then implementing it. After students complete their studies, Lipscomb will continue to support graduates of the program with professional development opportunities and a statewide network of resources.

“I cannot put into words the value of this program, the curriculum, and the faculty who lead it. Through this program, I realized that leadership is not a set skill, but rather an evolving skill. What worked with human processes in one generation does not work in another. Citizen needs change and good leaders adapt,” he said. “The LPS program trains a leader to adapt their thinking and skills. When it comes to ‘public service,’ the LPS program taught me to understand the issue, idea, or problem and then use adaptive thinking in addressing them.”

While most of the more than 450 members of the December Class of 2021 filled Lipscomb’s Allen Arena on Saturday, Dec. 18, to celebrate the completion of their studies and to receive their diplomas, Lashlee was thousands of miles away serving his country in east Africa. He watched commencement through the university’s live stream at nearly midnight his time from his deployment location. This summer he was called for his fifth deployment during his tenure as a reservist for the Tennessee Army National Guard, for which he serves as a member of the 1957th Contingency Contracting Team, a highly specialized unit conducting operations in contingency operations. 

SFC Brett Lashlee in military uniform

Lashlee began his military service in 1985. He first served in the U.S. Army Reserve 306th Medical Company, for which he was combat medical rescue NCO. In addition, he has served as an accounting and financial specialist NCO at the Tennessee Army National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters, in a variety of finance and accounting roles in the U.S. Army Finance Corp, and was assigned to the office of the U.S. Army Inspector General — State of Tennessee for five years. He has served in his current assignment since March 2018. Lashlee’s tenure includes 60 months of mobilization and  deployment service time, 50 months of combat zone service and five deployments covering  multiple conflicts around the world. His military education includes combat medic and lifesaver courses, defense finance and accounting services finance course, Army acquisition and logistics contracting officer course, Defense Acquisition University Contracting Course (DAWII Level 2 Certification), and the Air Force and Army Inspector General schools. He has won numerous awards and recognition for his service. As he is nearing the mandatory age of retirement from service (age 60), Lashlee’s current deployment will be the last time he is called to service.  

In addition to his military service, public service is in Lashlee’s blood. When the Camden, Tennessee, native was elected Benton County’s mayor in August 2018, he became the eighth consecutive generation of his family to serve in elected public office in Tennessee. He has actively served and volunteered in multiple capacities within the communities he has lived since childhood. Prior to his election, Lashlee worked for Caterpillar Financial Corporation, KPMG and other public accounting firms. He is a graduate of Leadership Dickson County (TN), the University of Tennessee-Martin WestStar Leadership Program and the Delta Regional Authority’s 2020 Leadership Institute Program. 

Lashlee holds the Associate of Science Degree in business management from Nashville State Community College and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in finance from Middle Tennessee State University and completed the Adult Studies Certified Public Accountant Qualification Program from Lipscomb. 

SFC Brett Lashlee in field uniform

Now, Lashlee has added the Master of Arts degree in leadership and public service to that list. Even with his extensive experience, Lashlee wanted to learn more.

“I always yearn for growth and development and pursuing such has allowed me to grow in my professional capacities. A master’s was my next educational step and frankly, the marketplace is demanding such as the minimum requirement to hold certain levels of responsibility,” explained Lashlee. “The marketplace for a public service is our constituency – and ever-changing times require leaders to continually absorb development opportunities. I am thankful Lipscomb offered a master’s program designed specifically for public service.”

God placed me in the right program and the right class with the right institution at a perfect time in my life. This master’s program was the best educational decision I have ever made in my life. — Brett Lashlee

Lashlee learned about Lipscomb’s program from Tennessee legislator Rep. Mark White (District 83), who also serves as director of community and government outreach in Lipscomb’s College of Leadership & Public Service, where Tennessee turns for leadership.
 
“Representative Mark White is why I came to Lipscomb and this program at this time in my life! I owe this achievement all to him. Mark recruits for this program and I met him while I was attending an event in the legislature,” recalled Lashlee. “I was at an internal time in my life where I could take on this endeavor. I was not exactly looking. But when Mr. White informed me about the program and asked me to consider it, I felt this internal comfort that the time was right, and Lipscomb University was the right place, and the leadership and public service program was the right curriculum path.”

“I am sure God had his hand in this,” he continued, “but He worked through Mark White and I will forever thank that man for his support, guidance and mentorship from that day of introduction and will till the day I pass from earth.”

The in-person cohort approach was one that Lashlee said he values greatly. 

Brett Lashlee with Benton County seal

“I cannot place the value received in this degree program that a live-cohort brought to the learning and instruction. Being in the live classroom and learning as much from my cohort as I did the reading and instruction was a value far surpassing what the online programs offer,” he said. “God placed me in the right program and the right class with the right institution at a perfect time in my life. This master’s program was the best educational decision I have ever made in my life.”

“As I have grown older, my appreciation for faith-based institutions has also grown. The focus of internal development in a moral and spiritual based sense is just as valuable as the skill education that will be executed in external ways,” Lashlee continued. “Lipscomb University is a cornerstone and foundational faith-based institution that has proven itself for many generations. It’s as rewarding for me to recommend Lipscomb University as it is the leadership and public service program.”

Although Lashlee’s military career is nearing its completion, he hopes to continue to serve others in any way he can. He knows that as an elected official his future is in the hands of the citizens whom he serves. 

“Elections subject you to the will of the people. If ‘the people’ are willing to keep me, then I will continue to honor the opportunity by doing my best to move Benton County forward in many aspects and embrace an ever-challenging future,” Lashlee said. “My educational, military and professional skills have aided me in many ways when it comes to serving others. I hope that I can continue to put those skills to good use whether it is as county mayor or in another capacity.”
 
“As I get older, I do not yearn for material things and wealth, but rather base my goals on ‘leaving a better world behind,’ he explained. “I just pray God will use me in such ways. I do know one thing; I do not fear the future, but rather embrace it regardless of the professional capacity I am serving in.”

Learn more about Lipscomb's Regional Scholars Program.