A Conversation with Gary J. Stangler

Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, March 1999 | Go to article overview

A Conversation with Gary J. Stangler


This year, the American Public Human Services Association will launch its Executive Leadership Institute (ELI), a series of programs and services for public human services managers. To learn more about the institute, Policy & Practice talked with Gary J. Stangler, chair of the Steering Committee.

Stangler is director of the Missouri Department of Social Services in Jefferson City. He has served in this position for 10 years; he was first appointed by Governor John Ashcroft (R) in 1989 and reappointed by Governor Mel Carnahan (D) in 1993.

Stangler is a graduate of the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government, Strategic Public-Sector Negotiation, and Leadership for the 21st Century at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has also served as chair of the National Council of State Human Services Administrators. He is currently a member of the Danforth Foundation Policymakers' National Advisory Board and the Board of Directors of the Finance Project.

What was the impetus for creating the Executive Leadership Institute?

STANGLER: Several experiences have pointed out that chief executive officers (CEOs) have an immediate need for this type of professional development opportunity. The first time APHSA did an orientation for new CEOs, we discovered their insatiable thirst for the experiences, skills, and advice they needed to survive. The new CEOs quickly realized that as new commissioners, particularly if there was a new governor as well, they could make a fatal mistake early on and cripple their administrations and forevermore damage their ability to be effective leaders.

We also noticed that when we used veteran commissioners as faculty at the orientations, they tended to stay after their presentations and join the subsequent sessions, again reinforcing to us that it's not just new commissioners who need these skills but all of us. Even those who had been doing this a decade or longer are seeking leadership-enhancing skills and skill development. How do you believe the institute contributes to APHSA's mission?

STANGLER: The association's mission is to develop, promote, and implement public human service policies that improve the health and well-being of families, children, and adults. I believe a key ingredient in developing and implementing effective policy is leadership, leadership by state officials. APHSA is the voice of public human services officials. It is a natural, even obligatory, move on APHSAs part to provide this service.

Whether you're in a political campaign or a military campaign or whatever you're doing, the most strategically designed plan is not going to matter if you don't have the leadership that will execute it. Developing leadership that can articulate a vision, execute actions, and make very serious decisions under pressure, I think, is part of APHS-Ns mission. That leadership will result in effective policies and services.

You're a graduate of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Are there any similarities between the institute and Harvard's program?

STANGLER: I hope that there are similarities, strong similarities, with the program at Harvard because it is superb. I have attended three or four of them myself and I always gain a great deal.

What will be unique about the Executive Leadership Institute is its leadership-enhancing curricula. TI`he events, the content of the seminars, and orientations will focus on social policy and services in such a way that will create a marriage of the two. Institute participants will explore both leadership skills and the human service issues they can take back to their states and be able to implement tomorrow.

Programs like Harvard's and Duke's and others are excellent but they are broader in their scope. Oftentimes you come back and you ask, "Now how do I apply those to these issues?" At the Executive Leadership Institute, because the audience itself is made up of human services professionals, there will be more direct conversations about how the content applies to the specific issues we face in human services.

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