Newest 554 ELSW vice director reflects on leadership

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. C. Michaela Walrond
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Having a clear understanding of an organization's mission and vision and being able to articulate the goals both internally and externally are just a couple of the key approaches Col. Derrick Richardson takes as the new vice director of the 554th Electronic Systems Wing. 

In this new role, Colonel Richardson said he has become a "jack of all trades." 

"A vice's job is really to do 'any and all of the above' -- whatever needs to be done, wherever there is a hole to fill," he said. "A big part of my job is listening to my contemporaries and taking in the pulse of the organization. Sometimes, I can offer some situational awareness for the Director, Mr. Frank Weber, and say 'hey Sir, this is what people are really thinking -- these are some of their concerns.' That way, we can make more informed decisions for the people within the wing, as well as our external customers and warfighters." 

Colonel Richardson, whose background is in acquisition, said he got a small taste of the Electronic Systems Center at his previous duty station, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., where he spent five years. During his time there, one position he filled was as the E-4 National Airborne Operations Center program manager, a program which was part of the ESC portfolio. After working at numerous acquisition locations during his career, the colonel said the next logical frontier for him was here at ESC. 

Before coming to the 554 ELSW, the colonel said he didn't know a lot about the wing. However, as he began inquiring more about the wing's mission, capabilities such as the Air Force Portal and virtual Military Personnel Flight, and systems like the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Financial Management System and Expeditionary Combat Support System -- new enterprise resource planning systems for financial and logistics management -- were brought up. Since he was at Tinker, a logistics base in the Air Logistics Center, those were all programs that he said he could latch onto, and therefore, he had a better understanding of what the 554 ELSW was all about. 

At Hanscom, a big aspect of the colonel's job is communicating with others and interpreting that communication so that the wing can be successful in getting the job done. Part of that success, Colonel Richardson said, relies on providing "the care and feeding of the staff in order to enable them to do the work of bringing on new systems" and providing "the care and feeding of the existing systems." 

"I think this is a little different perspective in that we not only develop systems, but we also sustain systems. It's our job to do the upkeep and licensing -- whatever it takes to keep those systems up and running to support our warfighters around the globe, so that they can utilize the systems on a daily basis," he said. 

When it comes to the primary focus and goals for the wing, Colonel Richardson said he doesn't have a personal agenda. "I always felt like whatever needed to be done, or could better help an organization or the customers that an organization is serving, that's what you do." 

This people-focused perspective has been a guiding leadership style for the colonel, who said he embraces, for the most part, a more collegial approach. 

"I don't care who gives me the necessary data and information to support informed decision making; it's just a matter of getting that information and getting it in a timely fashion. I don't care if it comes from the bottom of the organization or the top -- if someone has a great idea and we can capitalize on that, regardless of who it came from, that's what we ought to be about -- doing the best possible job with the information that is available to us, to make a difference for our nation." 

By taking this approach, the colonel wants the wing personnel to know that he is listening and takes what they have to say seriously, "in a way that is either an opportunity to help them be more successful, both personally and professionally, or that's going to help our wing improve morale and support to our customers." 

His willingness to listen to and act on individuals' ideas and concerns allows the organization, in some instances, to go back and take inventory of the decision path that's being taken and re-vector. 

"If you do what you've always done, then you'll get what you've always got," the colonel said, citing a favorite expression. 

"The idea is, if you are doing something that is yielding an undesirable result, don't expect that by doing the same thing over again that you'll get a different result -- some might say that's insanity. I think sometimes some folks are reluctant to come forward with their viewpoints believing they may be dismissed, but I like to be thought of as being receptive to those viewpoints -- even if they're counter to prevailing views. This way, one can gain perhaps a different perspective to better address the concern or problem." 

Now with 24 years of service under his belt, Colonel Richardson, who credits his dad for encouraging him to stay the course with the Air Force, said that his career as a whole has been fun. 

"Not everything that you do is necessarily fun, but when you take it as a whole, each assignment overall -- it's been great fun, and along the way, I've been able to help make a difference on behalf of the men and women who support and defend this great nation on a daily basis."