21 Aug, 2017
Canada’s Building Trades Unions are structured democratically; the leadership of our fourteen affiliated national construction trade unions and their local unions are elected by majority of their membership. It makes sense; the tradeswomen and men who work hard every day to build our country decide who will serve their best interests. Our system and structure is unlike many other sectors- when you look at the military, authority and leadership derive from the top, ours is from the rank and file.
Without authority weaved into our structures, how to we instill change? How do we try to be bold with new innovative processes or ideas? Sometimes it seems so impossible to steer thinking in a new direction; just as we discussed in our last post there are many reasons why people are resistant to change. However, command and control type leadership isn’t necessarily always the best for instilling long lasting and sustainable change. While it might be the quickest, and the easiest, it can be far less impactful in the long run. At the very least, command and control leaders must have a solid plan to inspire others to embrace change.
The solution for long term sustainable change lies within the very foundation of what we as unions were built upon: networking, coalition building, partnerships, ORGANIZING. There IS enormous power in influence, and influence does not require authority. As a matter of fact, if buy in of an idea or concept is generated by influence, by coalition building for collective action, by networking and organizing- that is where real change can happen. Change does not happen overnight. By taking the time to consult, by persuading others to consider new ideas, in being patient with those resistant to change by active listening- you build the trust and confidence to support your initiative. By fostering relationships with your change agents, access to resources and influence become abundant.
To influence long term change and motivate others to embrace your concepts, oftentimes you need to skillfully engage with people on their hopes and fears, their thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and assumptions about reality. People need a clear understanding of the purpose, the plan and the goal. Using that knowledge to guide your decisions will ensure you make better ones, ones that will get the best out of your membership and, ones that will foster significant engagement. Other times we need to go back and re-examine and remind others of our mission and how we as construction unions came to be in the first place; everybody should go back to a place of shared understanding, responsibility and commitment to the common cause. As we re-examine and re-evaluate our mission, we may want to consider what the future looks like and how our mission can be inclusive of innovation and progression. Sometimes even the mission needs to be updated so that we remain relevant. And of course, don’t forget to communicate the mission; good communication is key.
If we truly want to influence change we need to inspire and motivate, we need to build and foster a widespread network of movers and shakers equipped with the skills and tools (whether it be the right training, policies & accountability measures) to support the change we seek. We need to have the singular courage to face challenges, a wealth of patience when dealing with resistance and a clear sense of purpose to steer us toward our goals. We need to lead by example. In doing so, you’ll find that people will follow- not because they have to but because they want to. If you practice what you preach and you are eager to learn from and work with your members, your team, you’ll leave them inspired!
And lastly, we, as Canada’s Building Trades Unions need to make our new and innovative ideas, concepts and visions a priority, as sitting idle will leave us far behind.
In our next blog post we will discuss the importance of measuring success: what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.