Director’s shadow program provides illumination, inspiration

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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Most Defense Logistics Agency employees can’t imagine what life is like for the leader of a global combat support agency of more than 25,000 employees, but Associate General Counsel Eura Cherry recently gained a unique perspective by shadowing DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams.

Cherry got that opportunity in March to shadow Williams for three days. On her first day, she reported to the McNamara Headquarters Complex before 5:30 a.m. to accompany him to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, for a meeting with DLA Distribution officials.

“The director is a leader who walks his talk,” she said. “Just seeing how he was received and how he greeted those folks made me see he takes time to make an impression and connect with people.”

Cherry said she was amazed at Williams’ energy.

“From the time he sets foot in the building until the time he leaves, he’s constantly in motion,” she said. “I think I saw him eat an apple, but I didn’t see him eat anything else for three days.”

It’s clear to Cherry that warfighter readiness, DLA’s mission and caring for the workforce are priorities “interwoven in the fabric” of Williams’ daily life.

Cherry’s duties as manager of DLA’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program include continual employee engagement, something she said Williams models well.

“It was a great opportunity to see the agency’s daily workings … to see how I can leverage what I do for the program enterprisewide, since the goal of the ADR Program is trying to help people resolve conflict at the lowest level,” she said.

She said the director’s words and actions encourage cross-organizational coordination.

“You can’t just work in your lane,” she said. “At some point, you’re going to exhaust your capacity and resources. You need energy from others to propel the mission forward.”

Though Cherry had been with DLA only a few months when Williams held his first town hall as director, his approachability immediately impressed her.

“He seemed to have a burning passion for the people of DLA and it was very refreshing to see that,” she said. “The same person that you see onstage in front of the lights is who you see when the lights go down.”

The director is adept at tailoring messages to specific audiences and “radiates positivity,” Cherry said.

“As he talks about his vision for this organization — and it’s not Pollyannaish — he recognizes that there’s more good than bad,” she said.

Initially, Cherry was supposed to shadow Williams during the second week of March, but a litigation case put the plans on hold. She was grateful for how it worked out, as she was able to visit DLA Distribution, attend a Dynamic Operating Plan meeting and participated in the Executive Board meeting.

One of the lessons she gleaned from the meetings is how agency leaders can hone their skills by sharing information with employees.

“You see that the director is encouraging senior leaders to give midlevel leaders an opportunity to lead,” she said. “He wants us to invest in those who are coming behind, to build our bench strength.”

Cherry learned that the general’s meetings aren’t dictated by the clock, and Williams’ ability to “be present” with employees inspired her.

“His day doesn’t end until well after 5:30 p.m., when I was able to clock out,” she said. “When he rolls into a meeting and says, ‘Let’s go,’ he’s already done 50 other things and there are 49 more he does after the meeting.”

Cherry appreciates the opportunity she had to observe and network with various leaders and staff members, especially since her work doesn’t usually include regular contact with them. She also respects the dedication and ethics of the DLA Distribution staff, the DLA strategic initiatives group and the general’s support staff.

“DLA has a lot of goodness and there are a lot of unsung heroes in our organization,” she said. “I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to see those people serving in anonymity, but getting the job done.”

DLA Chief of Staff Kristin French sends a monthly shadow candidate email-call for nominations to headquarters senior leaders aimed at GS-14 civilian employees or military lieutenant colonels and above to participate in the program.