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Through personal stories from her days as a Congressional staffer, a business leader at SAIC, and from the halls of the Pentagon, Deborah reveals her approach to leadership at the top, crisis communications, talent management and problem solving at the intersection of politics, policy and business. Based on her 35-year track record, she also offers commentary on topical business, national security and defense issues.


Keynote Presentations


Thriving in Dysfunction: Lessons Learned from Leadership and Problem Solving

Deborah will explore how she managed to convert negative experiences from her personal life into positive lessons which enabled her to get along, get strong, grow into achievement and excellence and, ultimately, thrive as a leader in government, business, as a mother, and as a wife at home. Deborah shares both her struggles and their outcomes, and the problem-solving strategies that she developed along the way that she successfully applied to pressures, threats and challenges that at first seemed daunting and impassable. Hear about Deborah’s success in rising up through the ranks of male-dominated industries and institutions so that her life could be lived to its fullest and happiest, and on her own terms. Her problem solving approach – which she outlines with personal stories from business and government – includes: investigate, communicate, activate, and follow up.

Commentary on Topical National Defense and Foreign Policy Issues

As Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah was charged with talent management; readiness and training; technology and modernization; and making her organizations as efficient as possible. She also visited more than 40 partner nations during her most recent tenure in government. She offers up-to- the-minute commentary on the Washington budget scene and topical issues in national security and foreign policy. Deborah talks about controversial topics including: the readiness of today’s armed forces; sequestration; cyber security; space; opening combat jobs to women in the military; making the acquisition process more efficient; and countering the threats posed by ISIS and Russia.

Diversity and Inclusion

A key part of talent management in today’s business, academic and business environment is improving policies for diversity and inclusion. Why? All organizations are in a war for talent and need to recruit from the widest pool possible of qualified individuals to join their ranks. All organizations also seek innovation, which in large part stems from diversity of thought. Deborah outlines the business case for diversity and inclusion and offers examples and implementation advice from both her industry and government experience. Deborah can also offer personal experiences on how to achieve a successful work/life balance and how a woman can successfully navigate in a male dominated environment.

Changing Cyber Culture

Everyone says they want to go digital, so why does it still seem as if Business people and IT people do not understand each other's goals and needs? We used to call it a technology gap, but maybe the disconnect is much wider than that. Could it be that Business folks are from Mars and IT folks are from Venus? Deborah explains the importance of changing cyber culture as part of the digital revolution. Most importantly, she knows what you and your organization must do to create that change.

A Renaissance in Space

Access to Space is crucial for the way we live, work, and play in the 21st Century. From the 1960's and the Apollo program, to the present day, Space has undergone a transformation of significant proportions. Deborah discusses today's space renaissance from a commercial to a government perspective and offers thoughts about how companies -- both new and existing -- can become more involved with the Space revolution. She also offers commentary on topical issues in national security, including organizational matters, selling to the government, funding for Space programs, and becoming more resilient in a high-threat environment.


"Deborah Lee James has been leaning in her whole life. She has been an inspiration to the Lean In community for a long time and I'm proud that she is part of Leanin.Org's Advisory Board. Deborah is a true trailblazer who has lifted up so many women, and I'm grateful for her voice." 

-Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook and Founder, LeanIn.Org

“Debbie is the rare speaker who can knit together incredible been there/done that insight, a fantastic and inspirational personal story, and the humor, timing and poise of a seasoned storyteller. Debbie’s discussions on diversity, growth, and leadership are incredibly engaging, thought-provoking, inspiring and a lot of fun. I have recommended Debbie to several of my clients and for our own internal sessions - and the feedback has been universally top-notch positive.” 

-Daniel Schwartz, Partner, Bain & Company DC

"Secretary James is a go-to speaker on national security. She brings a unique insider knowledge of Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and defense industry, and her engaging style draws in audiences of all expertise levels. CSIS has featured Secretary James as the keynote speaker at conferences on nuclear issues and space issues and in its Smart Women, Smart Power series. Her personal story inspired our Smart Women, Smart Power audience comprising men and women seeking to make their own mark in the public policy and national security spheres." 

-Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President, Henry Kissinger Chair and Director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic International Studies

“Debbie James is a riveting, frank and personable speaker. She knows the complex national security issues facing our nation and proposes common sense solutions. Her senior-level leadership experience in the Pentagon and the business community make her particularly knowledgeable and effective. She's tackled the tough national security issues. When she spoke to our organization, you could have heard a pin drop. She's a speaker not to miss!” 

-Conrad H. Busch, Jr., Director, Business Executives for National Security

“Deborah James’s honesty, humor, and ability to relate to her audience already make her a terrific speaker. Couple that with insights from her distinguished career at the top in both public service and the corporate worlds, and you have a sure hit.” 

-Sanyin Siang, CEO Coach and Executive Director, Duke University’s Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics


Empowering Women & Engaging Men

Empowering Women & Engaging Men

Deborah joins The New IC as Keynote Speaker to discuss empowering women and engaging men, 2020.

Gartner Guest Keynote Deborah Lee James LIVE

Gartner Guest Keynote Deborah Lee Jam...

Secretary Deborah Lee James, 23rd Secretary, United States Air Force, closes our week at #GartnerIO during our final Guest Keynote: Changing Cyber Culture -- Agreeing on the Problem is Key to Solving It live NOW from Gartner IT...

Maintaining Advantage in Uncertainty

Maintaining Advantage in Uncertainty

Deborah Lee James joins a panel with James Swartout, Eric Fanning, and Richard Danzig, to discuss maintaining an advantage during uncertainty in the next national defense strategy.

Implications For Defense

Implications For Defense

Sheila Kahyaoglu of Jefferies Aerospace & Defense Equity Research interviews Deborah Lee James about implications for defense.

Ambassador's Corner - Madame Secretary James

Ambassador's Corner - Madame Secretar...

Click below to listen to the 2nd episode of Ambassador's Corner, featuring Deborah Lee James!

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