Hampton University President discusses the ‘secret’ to being an effective leader

Hampton University President and retired Lieutenant General Darrell Williams joins Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss leadership and why people are ...

Hampton University President and retired Lieutentant General Darrell Williams joins Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss leadership and why people are the “secret sauce” of any organization’s success.

Williams took over as Hampton’s president  earlier this year. Previously he worked at  Leidos, where he served as vice president and managing director of the company’s $9 billion United Kingdom Ministry of Defense Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation (LCST) contract, providing global logistical support to U.K. military forces.

He joined Leidos after a distinguished 37 year career in the US Army — his final 11 at the executive and enterprise levels. In 2020 he served as director of the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency, where he led a global workforce of over 26,000  civilian and military professionals. Annually, the DLA provided over $40 billion in global logistical support to all U.S. military services, designated international partner and allied military services, and during the early stages of the pandemic, the DLA provided over $1 billion in COVID-19 relief to the DoD and other federal agencies.

 Williams said he was drawn to the military to help pay for college, but found a lifelong passion for public service.

Throughout his career he has tried to be a collaborative and decisive leader.

It’s a lesson he learned from his mother, who he said had the most impact on him as a person and a leader. Williams came from a large family, and said his mother had a passion and approach for her family that made her the strength of her family.

He said he has always treated his organizations as a family and it has served him well.

Williams went on to say that his leadership style and the approach to decision making has never really changed.

“The process should always be doing everything you can to gather the facts and getting to ground zero of the truth,” he said. “Then you want to develop a plan to execute.  Make sure you have a process of practice so you can execute. The best traits a leader can have during a crisis is to be calm, inspire confidence, be prepared and develop a plan.”

Williams went on to say that effective leaders surround themselves with competent staffs to carry out their directives.

“People are the secret sauce of any organization,” Williams said. “It is the people you need to take care of, if you want to turn out the right way.”

According to Williams, you must invest in your employees or your organization will not perform at its best.

“People down in your organization will catch things early that can make the real difference and maybe save lives in the military,” he said. “I believe all levels of the organization are as important as my job. You must invest in people at all levels. If you concentrate on the people first they will never let the mission fail.”

Williams said once you get the right people in your organization, you must treat them with the proper respect.

“It is important that you buy into them,” he said. “They need to be sure they understand you are there for the organization and you are invested in helping them to achieve their dreams and goals.”

But Williams is quick to add that “empathy does not imply lack of accountability.” He said too often one gets confused with the other.

“In every organization there are moments of truth, if you show the right amount of empathy when an employee is going through rough times it is invaluable. You have to have the right scale of the balance of empathy and accountability,” he said.

Williams also explained how his approach to leadership has been impacted by recent events in the US.

He said that as an African American he thinks a lot about what happened to George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, among others.

He shared a story about his son being pulled over and the concern he had that the situation could have turned out very differently because he was an African American.

“When you are an African-American you need to think about how something like that can turn out in a bad way, and the fact in this nation this is happening is a social injustice and wrong. Respect and just treatment is something that everyone should be able to depend on and receive,” he said. “I will continue to fight for social justice. My parents fought hard and sacrificed  to bring me to this point. I know they would expect us to continue to fight for social justice for all.”

Williams also said that as the president of Hampton University, he has “the honor” to impact the lives of young people, and an obligation to give back.

“Who wouldn’t want to be part of an excellent university like Hampton University and provide the best experience?” he said. “Hampton University has had a long history of  leaders that answered the call for our nation. As the new president, my priority will be providing our students with a robust experience that is second to none and prepares them for life after graduation.”


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