Learning To “Aim High” From Deborah Lee James

Deborah Lee James taking questions and sharing her wisdom as Dan Maguire and other attendees listen closelyHere at TeraThink, we work to create opportunities for everyone to learn. Recently we had the opportunity to have the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, talk to us about her new book Aim High: Chart Your Course And Find Success.  Hosted by our Leadership Community of Practice, Debbie shared some lessons learned from her very impressive career.

I am lucky enough to know Debbie in her role as a Board Member here at TeraThink. I knew that her insights and inspiration would be spot-on for our audience. As outlined in her book, Debbie told us her story. She shared how failures had become successes and about how a path that seemed clear was actually not. Most importantly, Debbie told us that having purpose and passion are keys to a life well lived.

Her Book, Aim High

One does not simply get appointed to be the Secretary of the Air Force by being average. In fact, Debbie is far from average. Through ups and downs, or “zigs and zags” as she calls them, Debbie walks the reader down a path to navigating life with some key lessons. Actually, ten of them. From the power of mentorship, learning to listen well and speak up, and being all about the people in your life, each of the ten lessons is told in a personal way that expresses how Debbie used them throughout her career.

Part self-help and part autobiography, Debbie graciously shares her most positive successes and her most challenging times. While a great read for everyone, it is particularly on-point for women navigating through traditionally male-dominated careers. This is a theme that Debbie thoughtfully focuses on throughout each lesson. Her approach to this important topic is straightforward and based on actionable direction gained from her own experiences in maybe the most male-dominated arena ever – The Pentagon.

Making A Mark

To say Debbie is an impressive figure would be a huge understatement. I fondly remember my first conversation with her almost two years ago. As we were closing the conversation, I asked what her favorite day was as Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF). After about 30 minutes of telling us all about jumping out of airplanes, traveling the world, and meeting President Obama, it was clear she had many favorite days.

However, that wasn’t the end of her answer. Debbie concluded by telling us about her most meaningful days. Those were when she found herself standing on the tarmac in Dover Delaware receiving the human remains of a fallen Airman alongside their family. For Debbie, it is all about the people in a very deep and meaningful way. Her career in public service and the depth of her passion and purpose is extraordinary.

Learning From The Wisdom

Deborah Lee James posing with some of the attendees of the May 2019 TeraThink Leadership Community of Practice eventDebbie shared with us some of the highlights and challenges from her career, as well as the ten key lessons from her book. Afterwards, we had an extended Q&A session where everyone was eager to take advantage of Debbie’s wisdom and experience. Eventually we had to end the session and allow people to discuss the stories and insights that Debbie had shared. As everyone left for the evening, we each got an autographed copy of her book.

The event was an amazing success. Not only were our fellow TeraThink colleagues in attendance, several high school aged young women were invited to hear the powerful messages. We also welcomed a group known as The B2B Project. They are a group of exceptionally qualified C-suite and operating executive women focused on achieving diversity of thought, perspective, and experience in the boardroom. Debbie is a founding member of B2B and we knew the group would help further inspire the other attendees.

What A Night

With over 90 captivated minds at our event, Debbie is certainly inspiring those that follow. If you have a chance, I highly recommend you take some time to read her book, Aim High: Chart Your Course And Find Success. You will unlock some very key lessons that apply to anyone in any career.

1 Comment

  1. Leslie Hubbard-Darr on June 10, 2019 at 10:38 am

    This was a fantastic event! Debbie was very engaging on a personal level, as well – Truly an inspiring person. Thank you so much for coordinating!