Sustainment – How Leaders Can Influence Engagement

Earlier this week as I began to put this blog together, Hurricane Isaac made landfall in southeastern Louisiana, with winds of 80 mph that spread out over an area 200 miles wide.  It was a Category 1 hurricane as it came ashore, and the National Hurricane Center warned of “strong winds and a dangerous storm surge occurring along the northern Gulf Coast.”

Isaac proved to be a massive and slow-moving storm, when it reached the coastline just a day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.  I found it interesting that as the storm reached southeastern Louisiana, it did something unusual to the Mississippi River – it threw the river into reverse.  For nearly 24 hours, according to the US Geological Survey, Isaac’s storm surge drove upriver at a pace nearly 50 percent faster than the downstream flow. The backflow produced a crest some 10 feet above the river’s pre-storm height at Belle Chasse, La., in flood-beleaguered Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans. The surge added eight feet to the river’s height at Baton Rouge, father north.  The only other time I heard of the “Mighty Miss” flowing backwards was during the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes.

Since then, the aftermath of Isaac has moved through the St. Louis area.  Early reports were calling for two to four inches of rain throughout the weekend.  Up until now, drought was the disaster across the Midwest.  We had a couple of inches of rain and just some minor flash flooding.   With the drought that we’ve had throughout the Midwest this summer, the rain was appreciated.  Just wish we would have had it earlier in the season.


In looking back at the many classes I have taught over the past few years many have related to the Federal Emergency Management’s (FEMA) Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.  Whether it was a Train-the-Trainer or a Program Manager class, I could always be certain that a handful of people in each class were concerned with sustainment – sustaining interest in the program, sustaining involvement, sustaining support, and yes sustaining funding.  And while it may have been just a handful who were openly addressing the concern, I knew the rest were equally interested.

Thinking about this common theme, it also struck me that in leadership and management, we too are concerned with sustainment – sustaining interest, sustaining involvement, sustaining support, and yes sustaining funding.  So I thought I’d share my classroom ideas and see how well they translate over into the leadership and management environment.  The following are just two areas that can help sustainment.


In most of the classes I teach, participants attend because they want to be there.  Something about the class caught their interest and now they want to get involved.  Maybe it was the topic, the venue, or the instructor (huh?).  Subsequently, the people who will attend their classes will be the same.  We say they are “self-motivated”.  They are looking to satisfy an internal need.

Our employees also have internal needs that when addressed appropriately can be motivators.  As a leader, I look for opportunities where I can encourage a person’s interest.  Getting people interested is half the battle.  In order to generate interest in someone we must be able to paint a clear and vivid picture to those we are trying to generate interest in as to why this is (should be) important to them.  In all honesty, we are appealing to the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) question.  Being a good communicator can help us paint that picture and in turn generate interest, either in the classroom or office.  Once we have their interest which then leads to involvement, we must ask ourselves “how will I keep them involved”?


The keys to sustaining involvement, or perhaps engagement is by 1) giving others an opportunity to do something that they feel is important (it meets their expectations), 2) their skills and capabilities are well matched for the task they are being asked to perform, and 3) they receive periodic, heart-felt appreciation.

One common concern I hear from CERT team members is that “we train and train and train, every so often we’ll help pass out flyers at a community function but I’m not being challenged.  I’m not accomplishing what I set out to do.”  At this point, I’m certain the next step would  be for people to start removing themselves from the team.  Isn’t it possible we could face the same situation in our work environments?  If people aren’t interested, they won’t engage.

As leaders and managers, we must understand what expectations our team members have, and communicate ours too.  The only way to accomplish this is to ask and have an honest and open discussion about expectations … yours and theirs.  Once we understand expectations, we can then balance those against needs; needs of the program, project or task.  In this process, we also look to match skills.  Chances are very good that when we put people in positions where they can use their physical and mental skills and capabilities to accomplish tasks that meet their expectations, everyone succeeds.

At this point many stop short.  To really be successful we have to follow through and offer periodic, heart-felt appreciation.  At its basic level, this should be a simple verbal “good job – well done”.  In the business world, it generally takes a more formal approach in the form of evaluations (mid-year and annual).  But that’s not always timely and because of the formality may even lose some of its impact.  The key to appreciation is timeliness, heart-felt, and appropriate for the action.  And it doesn’t have to happen just once!

And why not try other forms of appreciation; like Certificates of Recognition, monthly or quarterly luncheons, or short articles in newsletters or on websites.  None of these takes a lot of effort or money, but over time they can mean a lot.

Well, I hope you enjoy the last few days of summer and a safe and relaxing the Labor Day weekend.  I hope to finish off a book I’m reading by Chris Kyle titled “American Sniper”.  So far it’s an interesting read from the U.S. military’s most lethal sniper.

Be safe!

Getting Prepared In a Year

Having a long weekend will be great for picking up a few more things we need to be better prepared.  Here’s what you can do now to add to your preparedness kit:

From your local Hardware store, pick up the following items:

  • an extra flashlight (I like the LED ones)
  • batteries
  • masking tape
  • hammer
  • assorted nails
  • “L” brackets to help secure tall furniture (i.e. Bookcases) to wall studs so they don’t fall over
  • wood screws

Things to Do:

Brace (secure) shelves and cabinets around your house.


So, what do you think?

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