Next-Generation Leaders: Slife Mentors AFROTC Cadets, Silver Wings Members

September 28, 2023   |   By Patrick Reardon

AFA’s General Jimmy Doolittle Leadership Center (DLC) organized a private “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshop for Air Force ROTC cadets and Silver Wings students at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Sept. 11. The hour-long session featured a keynote from Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, who spoke with nearly 100 students on the qualities of leadership and professionalism. 

“The first job of a leader is to invest in the next generation of leaders,” Slife said, adding that he considers the mentorship of emerging leaders an important area of responsibility for his department and all senior Air Force leaders.

Slife, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become the next Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, shared lessons from across his 34 years of service, beginning with his own commissioning through the ROTC program at Auburn University in 1989. He explained how after he was commissioned, he learned leaders must hold themselves to a high standard of professionalism to properly run a high-performing organization.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” Slife told the students. “Don’t ever walk past a problem.” 

Nearly 100 Air Force ROTC cadets and Silver Wings students heard from Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, who has been nominated to become the next Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, at a “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshop organized by AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center at the Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Sept. 11. Photo by Jud McCrehin.

Students had the opportunity to ask Slife questions, and he promised to answer with “spontaneous outbursts of honesty.”

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” he said in response to a question about the importance of professional separation between ranks. “As officers, you will be asking people at times to do dangerous things. You may ask them to put their lives at risk … People will only do that if there’s a great professional respect up and down the chain. It’s important to say ‘up’ and ‘down.’ You have to respect them enough not to ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do, but you also have a right to expect that they will respect you and follow you.”

In his closing remarks, Slife invited all the students to reach out to him for continued mentorship. He encouraged them to get in touch using the DLC’s broad network of leaders.

“You all have got way more runway and energy than I do,” Slife said. “Anything that I can do to make your career successful, for me is an investment in the future of the Air and Space Forces.”

Slife is the first of many senior leaders the DLC plans to connect with cadets and students. The leadership center is planning “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshops for every major AFA conference and symposium in the future.

“I think it’s only fitting to have Lt. Gen. Slife for the inaugural DLC Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders workshop, because I can’t think of anybody I would rather have mentoring me,” said DLC Director Dr. Patrick Donley, a retired Air Force colonel and former National War College professor. “I know these young people are all going to be better leaders as a result of his taking time to meet them and share his wisdom.”

To learn more about “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” or schedule a workshop, contact the DLC at