Leadership and Labor

September 5, 2011


Creating Success for Both…

Thinking about Labor Day highlights the complexity of the leadership task.  Leadership within an organization involves getting the job done while constantly improving the organization.  Leaders accomplish this through the efforts of the members of their organization; labor.  Labor Day began as a celebration of their contributions.


“Let us have, a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American Industry.”

Peter McGuire, Father of the Labor Day Holiday


Your organization is at its best when labor’s motivation, satisfaction and performance are at their peak.  To get the job done you need highly motivated, high performance people.   You only get those type of people when you are aware of their needs and meet those needs to the best of your ability. Each of your people are unique individuals with unique needs and motivators.  The challenge of meeting individual needs can be daunting and all of this must be done in the context of your limitations.


Your ability to meet individual needs is limited by the resources that the organization can expend while maintaining viability.  You can’t get blood from a stone.  You can’t give employees a raise when the organization is operating in the red (at least in the real world).  You can’t provide service and give everyone the day off.  Not everyone can be the boss, have that specialized training opportunity or specialized assignment.

Your ability to meet individual need can also be impacted by the contracts you negotiate with labor.  Traditionally the purpose of a contract has been to ensure that employees are treated equitably (read the same).  This has both benefits and liabilities for the members.  By mandating that all employees are treated the same, the unique motivators of the individual can be ignored.  As an example – you have an employee who would like to alter their shift by an hour to allow for child care needs.  You would like to honor the request but the contract mandates that any time outside the contract mandated shift requires overtime – bad for the organization and probably bad for the employee because you will unlikely be able to honor the request without a special agreement with the union.  And then there’s the matter of precedent; What if everyone now wants the same benefit?


The success of both labor and the organization are inextricably tied.  No labor – no organization.  No organization – no need for labor.  This is the area where great leaders (both organizational and labor) earn their pay.  It is forging that balance between organizational performance and employee needs and maintaining a system that creates success for everyone.

Please comment on your successes in compromising between labor and organizational need.




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