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Labour Leadership Talks!

This short & informative electronic newsletter is filled with tips for building an effective Union and is published monthly by Janet Stewart.

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Good leadership...

Leading the Labour Day Parade

Between January and June, 1872, for the first time in Canadian history, a number of brave labour leaders organized a unified protest movement, developed tactics of resistance, and cultivated articulate working-class leaders.

It was called the Nine-hour Movement. Beginning in Hamilton, the demand for the 9-hour day spread quickly to Toronto and Montréal, gathering support in Ontario towns from Sarnia to Perth.

The movement came to its height in May 1872 when a collective force of 1,500 workers demonstrated in Hamilton in a parade-style fashion.

Skilled, respectable craftsmen emerged as labour leaders. Hamilton’s central figure was James Ryan, a Great Western Railway machinist-engineer recently arrived in Canada. In Toronto, his counterpart was John Hewitt, a cooper, and in Montréal, James Black.

In March-April a Toronto printers’ strike was organized to support the Nine-Hour Movement. 24 members of the strike committee were arrested for conspiracy -- trade unions were actually illegal in Canada at that time.

While the strike itself wasn't successful, the outcry was such that it prodded the Canadian government to action. Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, promised to repeal the “barbarous” anti-union laws.

The Trade Unions Act was passed by Parliament on June 14, 1872, legalizing unions. In the years following, parades were organized in honour of the Toronto demonstration.

The process of becoming a leader

Those early labour leaders in Canada knew a few things. The process of becoming a leader is the same as becoming a better human being. And it starts inside, which then drives what we do...

Good leadership

What does that mean?

No matter what our formal title or role is in our Union, we all need to be leaders. This starts with inner self-leadership and moves outward to influence, guide, support and lead others.

Leadership development is personal development.  Leadership ultimately shows itself in what we do “out there” but it starts inside.


How Do I Do It?


  • Do I know how to lead?
  • Will people still like me?
  • What if something goes wrong?

Here are some tips for being an Effective Leader!


  • Be honest and open about your expectations.
  • Communicate, communicate and then communicate more - great leaders keep others well informed.
  • Be a good listener - seek to hear and understand what others are really saying.
  • Be consistent, but flexible…people want to know what they can expect and count on, but they also respect leaders who can be flexible, based on the situation.
  • Recognize your own personal leadership style as well as your strengths and areas for improvement. Leverage your strengths and create a personal improvement plan to deal with your “weaknesses.” Practice adjusting your leadership style according to the person/people involved. Some will need more direction than others.
  • Deal with conflicts sooner rather than later - don’t let issues “fester” unresolved - they only tend to get worse!
  • Provide both praising and constructive feedback. Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful (and under-utilized) tools for continuous improvement.
  • Have faith in people to do great things - given space and air and time, everyone can achieve more than they hope for. Provide people with relevant interesting opportunities, appropriate measures and rewards, and they will more than repay your faith.
  • Involve others in solving problems. Doing so not only builds ownership and buy-in early on, but ultimately it lays the foundation for the discovery of better solutions.
  • Constantly seek to learn from the people around you - they will teach you more about yourself than anything else.
  • Lead by example - always be seen to be working harder and more purposefully than anyone else.
  • Smile and encourage others to be happy and enjoy themselves.
  • Schedule regular meetings and actively participate. Involve others in running the meetings to help them develop their own leadership skills.
  • Know your objectives and establish a plan to achieve them. Involve others in setting objectives, when possible - then engage them in helping you achieve those objectives.
  • Identify the strengths of other people and help them to develop and use those strengths. Leadership is about behaviour first, skills second. Good leaders are followed primarily because people trust and respect them, rather than for the skills they possess.
  • Accentuate the positive. Express things in terms of what should be done, rather than what should “not” be done. If you accentuate the negative, people are more likely to veer towards it.
  • Embrace change and look for the associated opportunities. Recognize and value the differences in people. Each brings with them diversity in their background, culture, experience and knowledge.

Final Thought…

Personal Development Exercise


  1. Take some time to reflect on your most productive and rewarding leadership experience (you may have been a member of a team being led, or been the leader). Take note of what made the experience so positive.
  2. Think about your most frustrating and unproductive leadership experience. Ask yourself what made it so negative?
  3. Compare these two experiences and determine the key components that differentiate them from each other.

Ask yourself these questions:


  • Which of these positive and/or negative leadership characteristics do I tend to adopt?
  • What important lessons in leadership can I learn from these two examples?
  • Which of the positive leadership strengths or attributes do I need to develop?

Download a FREE copy of this article and use it at your next Union meeting!

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