Veteran Pentagon attorney leads MPP students by example

After working in federal government for 36 years, 27 of them at the Pentagon, Tom Taylor knows what it takes to be an effective leader. The former senior career civilian attorney for the U.S. Army gave legal and policy advice to seven defense secretaries and seven joint chiefs of staff. He also received Presidential Rank Awards, the most prestigious recognition afforded to executives, from the last three Presidents.

In June 2006 Taylor left his post at the Pentagon to join the Sanford faculty as professor of practice of PPS. He teaches “Principles of Leadership,” the Institute’s first MPP-level leadership course.

A North Carolina native, Taylor and his wife Susan had always planned to return home to be closer to family. Susan’s mother and the couple’s two sons live in North Carolina. And although Taylor loved his clients and thrived in the Washington political scene, he was ready for a less grueling work schedule.

Now Taylor’s days no longer begin at 6:30 am, and he doesn’t work weekends during times of national crisis, but his professional life still includes relationships with younger generations of public servants.

“The network of young and middle-aged lawyers I worked with was like an extended family,” he says. “Like my former colleagues, the students enrolled in the MPP have real-world experience, with organizations like the Peace Corps or Teach for America. I want to help them move to the next stage of their career.”

Chris DeRienzo (’08), an MD/MPP student who sits on the American Medical Association Board of Trustees and works as a part-time policy analyst for the Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society, relies on the lessons he learned from Taylor in both of these roles.

“Tom leads by example, and you can’t ask for a better teacher than that. From knowing how to ‘control the temperature’ of an issue, to ‘leading by walking around’ and managing a crisis with calmness and focus – Tom’s teaching pays dividends for me on a daily basis.”

As Taylor’s syllabus points out, leadership can be risky, both personally and professionally, especially for those trying to bring about change. His course examines what makes some public leaders better than others, and the role values play in assessing them. It introduces students to traditional leadership theories, compares them to transformational leadership and gives students a chance to develop their own leadership styles.

“If the students enjoy it half as much as I do, that will be good,” he says. “I feel fortunate to be able to work with them.”