For the last ten years, I've had the privilege of being the president of the Cincinnati State chapter of SEIU/Local 1199. This January, I will be stepping down and going back to concentrating on my real job, which is being a software analyst.
It's been a wicked ten years. Our membership has gone from 80 members to 150 members in that time. SEIU represents all of the clerical, technical, and professional employee's at the college. I consider myself a war time president, having spent the last decade with a college president who is vemenently anti labor. He's gone now.
There is a hand full of people, mostly belligerent techs like myself, who have carried the burden of leadership with me. Every piece of successful contract enforcement came off of the back of this group. It affected all of our careers, and for the first time taught me what it meant to be truly hated.
Being a good leader is incredibly difficult, but I've changed so much for having had the experience. I never really wanted to be a leader, but in the end did it because I could. Leadership chose me, and man, did it change me.
Lessons of Leadership:
Learn how to choose your battles wisely. Our resources are very tight, and with full time jobs as well, you have to really look at the bigger picture. How will the energy best benefit the greatest amount of people? If I fight too many fronts, I can't win any. Also, many times, it means more to win the war than all of the battles.
Never let anyone live in your head rent free. Unless a person serves a real purpose in your life, don't spend tons of time thinking about them. It makes it easy to manipulate you, and is a favorite tactic of your opposition. If you allow it, they've won.
Know the difference between business and personal. In business, you can not open your heart and soul to every difference or conflict, it eats you alive. You will generally have someone pissed at you all the time, but it's not personal. How is it not personal? Because they don't know you. You are not the job you perform.
Good leadership means doing the right thing even when everyone wants to tell you it's wrong. Sometimes the decision a leader makes pisses their own side off as much as the other. For instance, the college instituted a four day work week for the entire campus for the summer term. The day before it started, the college approached the union leadership demanding a contractual change for our unit. It would change "sick days" to "sick hours", which is a change in working condition. The demographic of our membership is single heads of household with children, and with that change, inevitably, some would end up with odd hours of sick time and not have enough to cover a whole day and end up in the disciplinary process. We couldn't agree to a contractual change (not if they ever wanted the contract to be taken seriously as "legally binding") without a vote of the membership, and there was not time for a vote because the college waited so long to approach us (which they did on purpose). As their leadership, we were forced to say no and the college took back the four day work week. The membership hated my guts for it. Now, having watched things play out, I know we made the right decision and wouldn't change a thing even though it was a very painful year.
Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. The burden of making decisions by yourself will kill you. I've always been surrounded by what I call "the brain trust". I never make any decisions on my own, everything is led by consensus of the group. We can scream at each other behind closed doors, and disagree, but when we walk out of that room, we are always a unified front.
Leadership is not a life perk. Good leadership never benefits you personally. It is absolute self sacrifice for something bigger than yourself. The only thanks is leaving something behind that is stronger and better than when you found it.
Democracy is for those who step up to the plate. If a business contract isn't enforced, then it just doesn't exist. A contract carries the rights of those it governs, but if you don't know your rights, you can't enforce them. Be careful what you wish for, because once you get it, you have to take care of it. So there you have it.