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DeDe Halfhill / Photo by Heather L. McKinney

A compassionate, direct, and somewhat unorthodox approach to building teams and challenging norms during her 24 years in the Air Force has made DeDe Halfhill a sought-after leadership coach. Next week, she will bring her message to Chattanooga as the keynote speaker at the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's annual dinner.

"Chattanooga doesn't yet know the gift we are about to receive from one of the most effective leaders in our military," said Kim Shumpert, the institute's executive director. "We expect that DeDe is going to open up important conversations for our community that will benefit women and men alike."

Halfhill's work coaching and developing teams got the attention of famed leadership researcher and author Brené Brown, and her story became part of Brown's bestselling 2018 book, "Dare to Lead." Halfhill took her team through training developed by Brown, and it's not an exaggeration to say it changed their lives, Halfhill said.

"She's giving us a language to lead us down a different path, to talk about leadership and language and some of the really hard things we do," Halfhill said.


The Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute’s 15th annual Impact Leadership Dinner will feature speaker DeDe Halfhill, a career Air Force officer and leafership coach who was featured in Brené Brown’s bestselling 2018 book “Dare to Lead.”

When: Feb. 27, from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: Chattanooga Convention Center

Tickets can be purchased online at





A focus on language has been at the heart of her own work since Halfhill researched the differences between the Air Force manual from 2011 and the manual from 1948 during a leadership course she took in the military in 2014.

"I pulled up the manual from 2011 — our core values, all the stuff I read today in the Air Force, but something caught my eye. It said, 'these current values are an evolution of the seven core values from 1948, and one of them was humanness,'" Halfhill said. "I really keyed in on that — what does that mean? It's so different from what I hear today.

"I found that [1948] manual in the chaplain corps. It was so emotional in nature, I guess someone decided there's a time and place for that, and it's church."

The manual from 1948 featured the repeated use of words like "feel and compassion and kindness and mercy and friendliness and even love," Halfhill said. Her work on the topic made it into the hands of a senior military leader, and from there the messages spread broadly, Halfhill said.

"Our language is often so technical, so sterile. We have sanitized the language of emotion, we are less comfortable leading with emotion," Halfhill said. "Here's what I find fascinating — the fact that they, in 1948, after World War II, they could write with this language. These warriors were comfortable leading this way."

Halfhill coordinates a "Dare to Lead" Facebook group in the Air Force and continues to work on her own adherence to the values she aspires to reflect, she said. "If we could all just share more openly the challenges we all face in leadership, we are all collectively going to be better," she said.

The opportunity to talk in person to a large, diverse group of people about the work is particularly powerful, she said.

"I think there's such value in people showing up together to have these conversations for two reasons," Halfhill said. "It tears down walls — it allows us to see the collective beauty of what we're trying to do, it slows us down to see that we're more alike than different. It also normalizes the discussion. Coming together might be able to inspire someone who's on the fence. There is an energy around it that multiplies individual effort."

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.