The 4-C’s of Effective Leadership: Collaboration, Compromise, Cooperation, and Competition Are Desperately Needed – A Leadership Primer

Probably the most egregious and recognizable, contentious, viral moral and ethical dilemma spanning generations of workers across the world has to be the rise of labor unions.  Starting with late 1800 immigrant families, in America specifically, a desire to improve the workplace arose, and rightly so.  With child labor permanently injuring and maiming, the poor working conditions, and the repressive policies of the day, workers wanted protection and found it by unionizing.  First generation immigrants in America taught their children socialized employment structures from their old countries that began to change the American employment structure.  The lure of unions, the protection of unions, and the religion of organized labor unions were taught in homes.  My wife, a second-generation immigrant from the “Traditionalist Generation” (Hickman, 2010, p. 478), relates stories of how disadvantaged working conditions were for her grandfather and father until they were forced to join unions.  Benefits, wages, time off, and other accouterments became entangled into the lure of unions, and high union demands caused the closing and bankruptcy of many companies.

Hickman (2010, p.478) would call my father a “Baby Boomer,” who related stories of how advantageous unions are as being taught from his extended family.  For my generation, “Generation X” (Hickman, 2010, p.478), I saw firsthand how reprehensible and destructive union organizations are and shunned them.  Finally, labor unions are reporting the “Millennials Generation” (Hickman, 2010, p.478) as not being interested in labor unions as a majority, and union membership is plummeting among “Generation X and Millennials,” this despite what research relates is a predisposition towards favoring the concept of labor unions (US Chamber of Commerce, 2014).

While there are many reasons why unions are unethical, the main focus for this post is simply that people are not treated equally under union oppression.  Unions suppress the desire to work together or cooperate, then infest the attitude of “us vs. them” into every relationship in the business organization, thus destroying any concept of competition, removing collaboration, refusing every aspect of compromise, but first killing cooperation.  Ethical Dilemma Examples (n.d.) reports the various ethical divisions as:

  • “Normative Ethics – The largest branch deals with how individuals can figure out the correct moral action that they should take…
  • Meta-Ethics – This branch seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties and judgments, such as, if truth-values can be found and the theory behind moral principals.
  • Applied Ethics – This is the study of applying theories from philosophers regarding ethics in everyday life…
  • Moral Ethics – This branch questions how individuals develop their morality, why certain aspects of morality differ between cultures and why certain aspects of morality are generally universal.
  • Descriptive Ethics – This branch is more scientific in its approach and focuses on how human beings actually operate in the real world, rather than attempt to theorize about how they should operate.” (Ethical Dilemma Examples, n.d.)

Interesting in this discussion is that the case can be and should be made for the unethical state of unions in each of the above examples.  By not treating all fairly, the leadership challenge becomes one to accommodate all while offending none, but since labor unions by default are always aggrieved, the leadership challenge becomes one of showing equal treatment under the law and continuing to allow labor unions to make grievances where no grievance exist.  Millennials and Gen-X’ers are aware of the plots and ploys of labor unions, desire fair and equitable treatment based upon merit more than demographic alignment and insist upon equity and strong moral character in all employees, especially in managers and leaders (Hickman, 2010; & US Chamber of Commerce, 2014).  The genetic mold of labor unions being good to the exclusion of all else is a myth that is dying.  My parents were disheartened by union membership.  While they continue to embrace the “hope” of a labor union, the reality is far different, and none of their children ever considered joining labor unions, even when incentivized to join.

A major part of the ethical dilemma unions embed into a business culture is that of competition over cooperation, but not normal competition, a mutated and unethical form of competition where means are overlooked and justified if the ends are sufficiently lucrative to the individual in power.  The first casualty in a labor union takeover of a business is the cooperative nature between people dedicated and possessing passion working together towards a common goal.  Cooperation dies, labor unions thrive, and competition infests businesses without labor unions due to the business owners, managers, and stakeholders fears of workers.  A perfect example is the dysfunction of government where unions represent the front-line workers.  No work is accomplished, taxpayer dollars are wasted, bureaucratic inertia abounds, and the labor union is the only party thriving.  The workers in government show they can get away with demanding a specific change, then non-governmental unionized employees make the same attempt, creating more fear of the non-unionized employees making demands the business leaders would have to honor or address.

No advantages in labor union controlled organizations occur between cooperation and competition because many pertinent principles are being forgotten; compromise and collaboration are first needed to begin to form advantages or disadvantages.  Thomas (1992) extols this approach due to conflict resolution; so, the continued application of all four principles, cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and competition, provides fertile ground for resolving problems and advancing organizational objectives regardless of labor union involvement.  These four principles must work together with no single principle more important than the other.  Like the four-legged stool my grandmother used to reach high cupboards, the stability of the stool depended upon all four legs to ensure strength and flexibility to work exactly.  Compromise and competition do not work without collaboration and cooperation.  They are all interconnected, and the business leader, wanting to lead well, would remember this relationship.

Collaboration is strengthened by cooperation, compromise, and competition.  Competition must end in collaboration, cooperation, and compromise; in fact, competition will breed collaboration and cooperation to reach a compromise, before those being competed against provide collaboration, cooperation, and compromise, and remain attached and honored as successful means to reach the desired win-win agreement.  The fires of competition are crucial to purifying those collaborating, compromising, and cooperating into a single honed unit that can more effectively work together.  Cooperation can do nothing without the shared responsibilities of collaboration and compromise; when competition is added the cooperation is strengthened.  Compromise without cooperation or collaboration is nothing, and competition is an added value to ensuring stronger compromise.  None of these can stand alone without elements of the others to support, edify, and multiply; along with the stated relationship comes the knowledge that if the agreement is not win-win, the agreement is a straight lose scenario.

The inherent discussion above is condensed from Thomas (1992), who advocated this combined approach to organizational design as a masterstroke to getting people working together.  The same basic philosophy can be seen in the writings of Goldratt and Cox (2004), Lencioni (2002), Lundin, Paul, and Christensen (2000), Boynton and Fischer (2005), and Boylan (1995) among many others.  Notably, these principles have been understood throughout time.  Jucius (1963), in speaking of the broader issues in personnel management, understood the combined power of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and competition and wrote extensively about how to use these effectively in the organization.  Cruickshank and Davis (1958) understood these principles to be a combined and more effective tool than separate strategies of the same general direction and strove to ensure business leaders understood the practical application and inherent need for the organization to adhere to these principles as a combined effort of all organizational members.  McNichols (1963) strove to keep these items combined in the minds of executives; thus, empowering them to discover solutions employing all the strengths in the consolidated collective use of competition, collaboration, compromise, and competition.  The empowerment felt in combining these tools elevates the individual focus into a collected focus, and the solutions for an organization are improved dynamically.

Examples of the combined efforts of collaboration, competition, compromise, and cooperation are found in the writings and research of Collins (2001 & 2006), Collins and Hansen 2011), and Collins and Porras (1994).  These books contain many organizational examples of companies employing the combined strategy as outlined and collectively harnessing the power in cooperation, compromise, collaboration, and competition to make the long-lasting change from “Good to Great” organizations.  Collins (2001) discusses Walgreen’s transformation and employs the combined power into the new highly successful Walgreen’s store model.  Mitchell (2003) discusses the same principles as CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores.  By embracing the combined power contained, this CEO has kept the family business growing.  Both organizations, Walgreen’s and Mitchells/Richards, embraced the energy of collaboration properly supported by compromise and collaboration and invested in internal and external competition to drive the needed organizational changes.  What Collins proves is that the collective power is not particular and rare, but available to all who choose to combine not separate, collect not disburse, connect and retain not divide, partition, and mutate.  Leadership demands higher practical performance than management (Robinson, 1999; Punia, 2004; and Mintzberg, 1980).

The ability to rise higher must include all the attributes, strengths, and collective power found in collaboration, competition, cooperation, and most especially compromise.  Having standards does not mean compromising personal or organizational standards for collaboration.  Having standards is the discovery of common ground in collaborating for a common goal, enhanced in the fires of competition.


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Boylan, B. (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Boynton, A., & Fisher, B. (2005). Virtuoso teams: Lessons from teams that changed their worlds. FT Press

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Collins, J. (2006). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany Good to great. London: Random House Business.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck: Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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Jucius, M. (1963). Personnel management (5th ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

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Mitchell, J. (2003). Hug your customers: The proven way to personalize sales and achieve astounding results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Punia, B. K. (2004). Employee empowerment and retention strategies in diverse corporate culture: A prognostic study. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 8(81), 81-91. doi: 10.1177/097226290400800107

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

US Chamber of Commerce. (2014). Article: General Foundation – The Millennial Generation Research Review. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved



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Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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