LOS ANGELES – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Command Sgt. Maj. Patrickson Toussaint engaged with employees of the Corps’ Los Angeles District during a visit March 28-31 to the West Coast.
Toussaint, the organization's 14th command sergeant major, advises the office of the commander on everything that affects the workforce.
"I'm charged to go out, whether in the field or at the district headquarters, and engage with the workforce and try to get a sense of, a feel for, a pulse on what's going on in the organization," Toussaint said. "I share that information with leaders at the different levels and say, 'here are some concerns we have or here are some great things we're doing that we can share across the enterprise.'"
During his four-day visit, Toussaint traveled more than 750 miles to meet with employees at six different area, project and resident offices, from San Diego to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Toussaint told the employees he met with that the time he spent with them was theirs to discuss whatever they wanted to, and it was important for him to listen to them. He also said he felt it was imperative for him to carry out and convey the USACE commanding general's message.
"There are five things that I think each of us need to understand about USACE – the mission, the vision, the priorities, the intent behind the priorities and the definition of 'winning' for USACE," Toussaint said. "Winning for USACE means finishing quality projects, on time, within budget, and, ultimately, safely. That's winning for us."
"If we understand those things, then we understand how and why each of us and what we do is important, regardless of who you are, where you work or what your grade or position is," Toussaint continued. "What you do is important because, without you, we cannot get after the big business."
The command sergeant major then led a discussion over the commander's priorities of people, readiness, partnerships and revolutionize. He said leaders too often prioritize mission over people and readiness. If we take care of people, he added, the other three priorities fall right into place.
"We care about our employees, or we're supposed to anyways, that's what these priorities are trying to get us to do," Toussaint said. "It's to let you know that we care about you. We want you to be on our team forever, but we have to do our part, as leaders and as individual employees."
Toussaint challenged each of the employees, whether leader or subordinate, to develop and implement a personal leadership philosophy as a sort of guide or moral compass. That philosophy can help one navigate life's day-to-day activities and serve as a reminder of one's personal values during decision-making. He said he's used the word “people” as his leadership philosophy, formed more than a dozen years ago.
He told employees the first “P” is for passion and asked them what they were passionate about and what motivates them.
"In my travel across the enterprise, so far, I have not witnessed a shortage of passion in USACE," Toussaint said. "Folks always say, 'I enjoy working for this organization. I love USACE.'"
The “E” is for empowerment.
Toussaint said employees need to assess risk, but they are empowered to make decisions.
"There's not enough time in the day to always have to ask, 'Can I?' If it's at your level to make a decision, make it," he added.
“O” is for ownership.
He said employees need to own the decisions they make, whether good, bad or indifferent.
"What we owe you is that top cover when you make a decision, if it does not go the way you expected it to go," Toussaint said. "We don't feed you to the wolves; we've got to have your back or you're not going to make decisions ever again.
"We're supposed to have your back and tell you, 'It's okay. Figure out what went wrong. Learn the lessons from that and then share those lessons, so somebody else doesn't make the same mistakes.' That's what we owe you, as leaders. That's how we learn and grow and develop. That's how we gain experience. I want to believe that whatever decision you made, you made it in the best interests of your people, of the project, of the program, and, sometimes, it just doesn't work out."
The second “P” is for purpose.
Toussaint posed these questions: “What is your purpose? Why are we here? Why do we have the mission we have on behalf of this nation? Why this project? Why you? Why us?”
"It's important to know and understand that purpose, just think about what or who this project is for," he said. "I think that's what ties that passion back into it."
“L” is for loyalty.
"Loyalty is to the families we left at home this morning before we came to work, to our teammates, to this project, to the district, to the division, to the Army, to the nation – loyalty, it's important," Toussaint said. "It's an Army value, but I want you to think about that loyalty like the other Army value of duty – the obligation that we have to do the right thing, holding people accountable."
And the “E” is for empathy.
He said he believes empathy helps people to be good human beings, and, more importantly, good leaders.
"How well do you truly know your people?" he asked. "When Toussaint walks in the door, and he's having a bad day, how do you deal with that? Do you even care? Ask yourself, 'If that were me, what would my expectations of my leaders be, reasonably? What would I expect my leaders to do for me if I were in the situation that this person is in?'"
Toussaint concluded his meetings at each location with the opportunity to recognize employees for specific achievements. He said USACE strives to promote a culture of employee appreciation and recognition, and timely employee recognition is key to enhancing satisfaction with the organization and critical to retaining valued teammates.