Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Empathy

I was a union president and activist for over ten years. What I have to offer is the empathy advantage. I don't just know how unions behave from the outside; I know the how and the why from the inside.

I've seen many management teams fail to effectively advocate for themselves because they are fundamentally unaware of the real interests an motivations of their adversary across the table. I can bridge that gap because I don't think it's wrong for leadership teams to advocate hard for their side, nor for the union to do the same.

Growing up in Oklahoma I had a mindset very unwelcoming to organized labor. When I found myself in an organized workplace I wanted to get involved because it was contract bargaining time and that affected me. I wanted to know how it worked, and did I ever. I was on several bargaining teams on the union side. I wanted to do my part to make the workplace better.

I looked for more opportunities and was elected to a leadership position as Treasurer with my statewide union. There I got to know the healthcare industry and the challenges both employees and management teams face. After my three-year term I moved on to be elected President in a hotly contested internal race. I served for six years in that role. In that time we passed multiple pieces of legislation that helped make the organization stronger, we bargained contracts and organized new workers into the union. We knew how to maximize our chances to win and we did.

That was the easy part. The hard part was managing staff in a results-based industry, which is what union organizing is. I learned a simple truth and I learned it the hard way: managing and leading staff can be the most challenging role for any leadership team. When you factor in that the staff in my organization were themselves union organizers who know what I call 'labor-weaponry' (and were not afraid to use it) you can imagine some of the issues our leadership team faced.

After talking with other people in similar situations, I found there was a need for managers and leadership teams to have a way to better understand their role in doing the hard work of managing and leading staff.

In American labor law we have an adversarial system. That's not a damnmation, that's a statement of how the system is supposed to work. Each side advocates for its interest. The system doesn't work when they don't.

Don't Follow the script