TTLS S4 15 | Gig Economy


Everything needs to be unionized nowadays, especially in a gig economy. There needs to be that balance between boss and worker. A boss can’t just run his company like a kingdom with his employees as their slaves. That shouldn’t be tolerated. The union movement needs to happen right now. Join Dr. Kevin Sansberry as he talks to Dr. Chaz Austin about the need for unionization and the gig economy. Dr. Austin holds a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He coaches leaders to be better leaders while also teaching workers to have more power. You have more power than you think you do. Learn more about the gig economy. Find out why teachers don’t teach you what you really need to know in the business world. And, discover what makes a good effective leader.

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Unionization And The Gig Economy With Dr. Chaz Austin

I’m excited. We have Dr. Chaz Austin here. How are you?

I’m fine, doctor. How are you?

I’m excellent. One of the things I’m excited to dig into is the notion of self-awareness and, in particular, how does that help leaders be better leaders and counteract some of these toxic behaviors that we see in the workplace. I look forward to knowing your insights. Before we jump into that, can I learn a little bit more about you?

I hold my Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. I work at the Nexus of Leadership and Workers. I coach leaders on the one hand and teach Leadership and Strategy courses. On the other hand, I help workers to define their own brands because we are in a gig economy, and I understand how they define the brand.

They learn to articulate the brand then they sell the brand. The traditional model of having a company that you were loyal to and that you could stay with for years is like my hair is gone, and it’s not coming back. I coach the leaders to be better leaders, and I coach the workers to have more power and say so over their careers because they can’t count on the safe harbor of the corporation the way our folks and grand folks did.

What got you into the work? My Doctorate is in Organizational Behavior, and I know for me, it was a lot of work. They don’t just hand these things out. You have to have some passion or reason why you want to do this. I’m curious. What was yours?

I started teaching about several years ago. I have been a college Professor all that time. I’ve taught in my career for over 60 courses. Everything from Criminology to the History of Rock and Roll. My focus has been on business and communication. In many years, I saw an opening, a need that maybe like you but certainly for me. We are not preparing people for the workplace. There are disconnects between what you’re taught in college, which is a lot of theory, busy work, and teaching to the test. You will come out into the business world, and what do I do now? I’m not prepared. I wasn’t taught anything useful. I passed a lot of tests, and I have a degree but I have no idea what I want to do with my career.

Lay on top of that, the idea of the gig economy and the fact that people are struggling and scare about, “What do I do? How do I find a job? There are no jobs.” I saw a need for that. I develop that over time. I have been teaching versions of my course based on my second book for years and practicing anything. You get better and better. As Philip Glass says, “You practice, you get better at simple.” I practice over and over, and the courses I teach now are impactful for people. It opens things up for them. I moved that over into coaching. I coach people, mainly leaders all over the world, on how to be more effective.

It's a contextual problem if your only source of income is in that one job where you're going to kiss up to your boss in any way you can. Click To Tweet

You are on the Toxic Leadership show, so you know what we talk about here and why. I’m curious, what is your experience or was your experience with toxic leadership?

Let me back it up. I’ve had maybe three good bosses in my life. The rest were essentially toxic leaders. I think looking back now, since I don’t have to work for someone else. I work for myself and my clients, obviously but looking back, it’s a contextual problem. If your only source of income is that one job, you are going to kiss up to that boss in any way you can because, at least in California, it’s an at-will state. If I work for you, for example, you can fire me for any reason. “I decided I don’t like old guys. I don’t like what you said. That was a bad joke. I don’t like how you dress. Look at this. You are out of here.” For whatever reason.

Most people will blame themselves. “I must have done something wrong.” My whole life at work is about sucking up to you. I’m in a subservient position. If you are not aware and not kind, you are going to use that power over me to bully me, and I’m going to say, “Yes, sir. Whatever you say,” because I’m desperate to keep the job because if I don’t keep the job, I’m unemployed. I can’t pay my bills. I’m living in my car at worst.” People are two paychecks away from living in their cars.

That allows you, if you are a bad boss, which most bosses are, frankly, in my opinion, to abuse, yell at and keep me off balance. It’s a horrible situation but as an employee and you are my only source of income, I don’t have a choice. I have to do exactly what you want. If you say jump, I say, “How high?” I have a lifetime of experience with this.

Like you, I’m trying to reverse that by making leaders understand how to better lead their people so that kindness works better and their employees are more productive. On the other hand, working with employees to say, “You have the power that you can create a career for yourself that is not dependent on one source of income.” If someone is not treating you well, you have other sources of income. You are not unemployed, and you have some freedom.

With that being said, the way you described that relationship of, “I’m a suck up to you.” They talk about ingratiation and research. Meaning that I’m going to do things to keep our relationship positive so that I don’t lose my job, for example. Some, to the extreme, look like brown-nosing sometimes. Is there a different way? Do you truly believe there’s a different way to restructure that employee and leader supervisor? I’m going to say relationship, even in a hierarchy, where it doesn’t feel that way? Is there a way to do that? Have you seen it?

The answer is one word, unions.

TTLS S4 15 | Gig Economy

Gig Economy: There’s a disconnect between what you’re taught in college and what really happens in the business world. You’re taught a lot of theory, then you come out into the real world and don’t know what to do.


Tell me more about that.

The Union movement is starting to come back. Thank goodness. That’s what made the American middle class that, “You can’t bully me because I have some protection in my union contract that you can’t just fire me because you feel like it.” If there’s no union there, I’m out of luck. I’m out of work. I don’t know why and have zero protection. I’m very pleased that the Union Movement is growing again and workers have some protection, which means, “You can’t fire me because you feel like it for whatever reason.” That, to me, is the answer.

It’s relative because unions have been shirking dramatically over the last 40 years, as you know. There are a lot more talks about unions but I know a lot of HR people, for example, who were anti-union. Tons of leaders and CEO positions, things like that, who are anti-union. A lot of times, to me, it seems like the union aspect of it is very much so grass root efforts, obviously.

This is not like back in the day when we had manufacturing unions, and that was a norm in the workplace. It’s not a norm. Now, it’s more of like a fight than ever it has been before to get that union established because it has been so normalized that like, “No, we don’t need unions.” Hearing your perspective was interesting. You see it in Starbucks. You see it in different companies that are in the news now. I’m not saying anything bad about Starbucks.


These organizations that are in the news now either have to manage what that unionization looks like and have a manager with employees. I have been hearing stories from employees at various organizations where things are not above board, I would say, as it relates to union communications and stuff like that. My central question is, what do you say to organizational leaders that you coach or that you will be coaching or HR people when they are generalizing it and being like, “I’m totally anti-union,” as a generalization? What do you say to them?

Too bad. We use that scenario again. You are my CEO. I report to you. Of course, you don’t want a union because then you have to share power. You can’t be a bully and say, “I don’t like what you did. You are fired.” You are accountable. It’s interesting how companies want you to be loyal to them. My answer always is, “If you want me to be loyal, have a long-term contract.” “No. We only give that to the C-level executives. You are just to pay on. You don’t get that. You have to keep working and hope to God that you please me at every moment. You don’t decide for no reason one day to get rid of me.”

As an employee, you have power. You can create a career for yourself that is not dependent on one source of income. Click To Tweet

You are going to be against the union because now, you have to be accountable. You can’t do whatever you like. What you have is, basically, you’ve got this little kingdom running in your company. You are the king, and I’m a serv. I have no say-so or no power. If I’m part of a union, of course, you are going to hate that because you are no longer the king. We have to share power, a bet, and I don’t care. I have to protect myself and my people.

One of the data points that I’m aware of is the Economic Policy Institute did a comparison between union membership rates and the share of income going to the top percent as it relates to income overall. What they showed is, basically, when union membership now is probably about, let’s say, 10%. It’s low.

That also is correlated with the highest share of income going to the top 10%. Whereas, when union membership was maybe 30%, that share of income going to the top 10% was very similar to the union membership. It was lower than now. What I’m trying to say is it looked like there was a negative correlation between income going to the top 10% and union membership. This means the more unions we had, the more shared power you will see. The more equitable income, I would say for work. Is that something you would agree with?

That’s what I’m looking at. Look at the money some of these people are making, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. How much money do you need? I was thinking about this in preparation for our conversation. If I were Elon Musk, I could solve the world’s problems and still be a billionaire. I could go to Flint, Michigan, and clean up the water crisis. I could handle homelessness. There’s so much I could do with my money but they are so focused on, “God, I’ve made a fortune, so I have all the answers.” They go into space. Really? You don’t turn around and look at your fellow human beings and say, “There are all these homeless people. If I spent a tenth of my income, I could clean up the homeless problem in the city after city.” They don’t do that.

I want obviously a more equitable situation with people. Look at Amazon. Jeff Bezos makes a fortune every day. Millions of dollars he earns, and his workers can’t take bathroom breaks. Where are we at? Is this the fifteenth century? It’s unbelievable that this is allowed to exist. The unions are going to help right the ship so that workers have some protection in this, and leaders can’t get away with this madness.

I’m assuming you, coach leaders, all across the country?

All around the world.

TTLS S4 15 | Gig Economy

Gig Economy: Leaders are against unions because they have to be accountable. They can’t just do whatever they like. They’ve got this little kingdom and they’re the king. If there’s a union, that power is shared.


I’m going to stick to the United States to make it easier because we can always go international. In the US, unions historically have been heightened more in the North of the United States. Like motor vehicle manufacturing and things like that. Not as big in the South, I would say. Now with companies that are all over the United States, instead of regional, there’s going to have to be some different collective bargaining laws that we look at. There’s going to have to be a different way we look at or how we allow collective bargaining for what you described to come into fruition because it can’t be a regional thing anymore like Amazon is all over the place. That makes me think about how big of a movement this is.

There should be unions in my mind for everything. For example, adjunct professors are treated like dirt and paid very poorly at most schools. They need a union. They are layers in the education of administrators. That’s why education is so expensive. It’s the administrative costs, and the new buildings have to be put up to attract the parents of students. The adjuncts take the heat. You wouldn’t say, “Education, that’s not our blue-collar job. They shouldn’t have a union.” they also should have a union, so they are paid more equitably for all the work and all the time they put in.

As a Professor, very often, adjuncts, most of the time, are not paid to do anything but teach. If you teach 3 hours a week, you are paid for 3 hours. You spent ten hours in prep, and that’s free. That’s not right. The teachers at the K-12 level, how much time and money do they put into preparing for school? They are treated badly. Unions in every field so that there’s some balance between leadership and the workers, so each understands the other.

As we discussed this, one thing I’m thinking about that sits with me is union is one answer. Is it the only answer? Are there other possibilities that exist that are maybe not tried, maybe not tested, maybe different organizational designs? Are there other answers, other opportunities that exist in the modern workplace to create this equity?

I suppose. I certainly make a difference with the leaders I coach to make them more self-aware but that’s 1 leader at a time in 1 company. If the leader leaves the company, great. That leader’s more aware but the company culture hasn’t changed sufficiently. It means to be a more mass movement. Frankly, you have to force people to behave themselves.

You have to force leaders to behave themselves. “You are a little out of control here. You don’t get to do this anymore. You don’t get to fire people, abuse them and yell at them because you feel like it.” My money is on the unions. I’m sure there are other ways to do it but in terms of a mass movement and having a change for the positive of what people are earning for the hard work they are putting in. That’s the way. Sorry to be so one minded but that’s my feeling. It’s the unions that are going to fix this.

Your experience has a large scope, and reading about the work that you do, is totally respectable. I wanted to dig in to know that. One thing that I’m thinking about is you talked about coaching, and coaching is one way to do some micro change in a department. There might be somebody, a leader, reading this episode who is like, “I don’t have anything to do with the unions. They either exist or they don’t work in my organization but I want to become a better leader for my staff so that I can least do my part.” What traits do you work on as it relates to that leader looking for something different?

There should be unions for everything so that there's a balance between the leader and the worker. Click To Tweet

My wife is a Freudian analyst, and that spilled over to me. One of the things I learned in talking, working, and living with her is that the office environment is a reflection, a mirror of what it was like when you grew up. Let me tease that out. When you grew up, the parents were in charge, and all the siblings had to fight for attention. In an office situation, it’s basically children in suits. The boss is the mommy or daddy.

You are trying to please the boss and have them pay attention, give you the promotion, the bonuses, and the raises over the competition. If you are a leader and not self-aware, and you are leading from that perspective, you are essentially going to lead the same way your parents taught you to run a household. It’s the same thing. It’s amazing if you look at it.

It is true. That is how it is in an office very often. “I’m the boss, and I’m going to treat you the way my dad treated me, which is you will do what I say.” I’ve spoken to people who were leaders and said, “I’m a leader, and my job is you do what I say. That’s it. You have no input at all.” Bosses need to understand that if I had my way if I had my druthers, you go into therapy immediately and understand how you are wired.

It’s how you are wired and connected. You are understanding how you operate and your relationship with other people. That’s how you were connected. You have to understand how you are wired and stop behaving like they are your children and your daddy, and you lay down the law because that doesn’t work.

Now, you don’t appeal to their kindness because people are in it for the money. You appeal to it this way. You will make more money if your workers are more satisfied. If they feel they are being heard. If they feel that they are making a contribution and it’s acknowledged, so you will make more money. That’s why you are kind. To go from the kindness perspective, “What am I running a camp? I don’t care how happy these people are.” Why you care about how happy they are is you will make more money if they feel more loyalty towards you because you are taking care of them and not being the abusive daddy.

With these leaders, you understand. It sounds like some of the leaders you coach, you basically understand what their motivation is. If their motivation is money and not employee satisfaction for the sake of satisfaction, you are looking at results. Speaking about what motivates them will help them see the writing on the wall as it relates to how to lead and lead from that connection standpoint and being more connection-oriented.

I was going to use the word astounding but it’s not. How unaware people are of how they treat others. If you are in a position where, “I’m the boss. I have a long-term contract. I’m going to make a big bonus this year off the backs of my workers. I’m going to abuse them because I’m safe. No one is getting rid of me. The more robots I bring to replace my workers, the more money I will make.” That’s what they care about. They’ve never thought about these things.

TTLS S4 15 | Gig Economy

Gig Economy: The office environment is a reflection of what it was like when you grew up. The parents were in charge and all the siblings had to fight for attention. In an office, these are the workers trying to please the boss.


How I get them to think about these things is, “You will make more money if you treat your people better.” Now you’ve got my attention, then I sneak it in that, “You are more kind and have created a better non-toxic or less toxic environment for the people that work for you. They are happier but for you, you want to pay attention to all about money. I understand. If you want to pay attention, they are more productive, and you make more money. Now I care.

There’s that self-selection bias. Do you think that leaders who get in these positions innately have lower emotional intelligence that seeks out these leadership roles or are they selected based on skills that don’t even need them? Maybe you don’t need a lot of emotional intelligence or certain roles. Do you think it’s because they’ve gotten selected, or do people select or seek leadership positions because of lower emotional intelligence?

I know from my perspective in getting my Doctorate and also working with MBA students a lot, which I’m doing now. I’m teaching MBA students in India about leadership and strategy. What you seem to be taught at the schools are Finance and Marketing. The human factor is that it doesn’t matter. We are not going to focus on that. You’ve got people who don’t know how to relate to other people other than as, “I’m the boss, and you do what I say.”

To coin a term, their self-unaware. They have no idea why they do this, and they keep getting more money. Obviously, it’s working. What is this? I’m supposed to know how to treat people? What’s this emotional intelligence stuff? How does this impact the bottom line? My job is to show them how it does impact the bottom line but they have no idea why they behave the way they do. They have carte blanche to be as abusive as they want it. It worked for my predecessor. It works for the competition, and I’m making a fortune. That’s all I care about is me, and all these people are cogs in the machine, so I make more money.

To me, it seems like your scale and scope as an executive coach, you can only reach 1, 2 or 3 leaders at a time. It’s not like you can make a systemic change as an executive coach. We can make micro changes, even myself. You teach courses but how can we shift how business schools are even teaching? How can we provide more content for them as it relates to creating business leaders? I think that’s another source as you described it. That seems like another systemic thing but that will take time to shift that too.

You have to go at the macro to make any long-term changes. Business schools and graduate schools are like corporations. It’s always worked for us. Tenure is a big problem. If I’m a tenured professor, what is my motivation to change anything I’ve done? I have a guaranteed job no matter what. I’m not going to take risks because that could put my tenure at risk then I won’t have a job forever. They do what they’ve always done. A lot of it is not practical and useful in the modern world. They are not preparing their students and graduates to be aware leaders or more aware leaders who can manage and lead in a new way.

We need more leaders to trust that way is more profitable because if I’m a leader that got taught bottom line matters, I will get whatever results I get. That’s the incrementalism we see in economic growth like, “I’m going to get what I get.” There is research that shows if you treat people better, they will go above and beyond than you can imagine. That’s what a lot of leaders don’t want to test because they know that’s a risk.

There are two kinds of bosses, the kind you want to kill and the kind you'd kill for. Click To Tweet

I have something I wrote that’s on my LinkedIn page called How to Lead and Manage People. The first line says, “There are two kinds of bosses. The kind you want to kill and the kind you would kill for.” You want to be a leader. I will share something with you and your audience. I use the same approach when I teach workers how to define, articulate, and sell their brands. I put a big dollar sign on the whiteboard. I tell them, “That’s all this course is about,” but that’s a head fake. The course is about contribution but they are not going to pay attention if I say, “You can take your skillset and contribute things to the world.” “No, I need a job. Tell me how to get a job. I want to make more money.”

I put the money on the board. One of my students caught me a couple of years ago and said, “This isn’t about money. This is about contribution.” I said, “Don’t tell anyone.” It’s the same idea. You can make the world a better place but what’s going to motivate you to do that? Both for the boss side and the worker side, it’s more money.

Thank you for sharing that. You have been very insightful. I love your takes on the workplace, leadership, and where we need to go next. Furthermore, I understand the fact that we need macro-level change to see real change. It can’t be you having a good leader to shift your organizational culture. There has to be more.

That’s where the unions are going to force the change because that is at a macro level. “I don’t like it. I’m a leader. I hate unions. I don’t want unions. We treat our people great.” No, you don’t. You think it’s great. Ask the workers. Not so great. Terrible, actually. That’s what’s going to change things. The business schools and the Doctoral school, Doctoral programs will respond and say, “Things have changed. We need to update our syllabus and our course selections so that it reflects the modern world. We are more humanistic and more focused on not so much.” In addition to the finance, marketing, sociology, and psychology groups and people. Leaders understanding how to deal with groups and how to take care of people. Not like a babysitter but like a boss who wants to get the most out of his or her employees.

You are a phenomenal coach, consultant, and professor. What words of wisdom would you leave our audience with?

I will glib and say, “You all need to get therapy.” Everyone does. You need to understand what motivates you. You need to understand how you deal with people in a positive way. You need to appreciate the fact that everyone is their own brand. I’ve dealt with thousands of people in my career, and not one has the same brand. You have to understand what your brand is and who would be interested in paying you for your skillset. You can make a positive change in the world.

I will show one great story with you. A man is walking along the beach and sees a woman throwing something a few hundred yards away into the ocean. He goes up to her. He says, “What are you doing?” She says, “These are starfish. They’ve climbed up on the sand. If they stay there, they are going to die, so I’m throwing them back into the ocean.” The man laughs. He says, “There’s millions of starfish. You are not going to make a difference.” She picks up a starfish and throws it back in the ocean and says, “I made a difference for that one.”

TTLS S4 15 | Gig Economy

Gig Economy: Professors don’t want to take risks because that could put their tenure at risk. So they teach what they’ve always done. And a lot of it just isn’t practical and useful in the modern world.


Most of us can’t work on a macro level. We don’t run countries but individually, we can make a difference in the world. You want to get out of your own way, whatever fears, success or failure through, whatever it happens to be. You want to know that with the things you can do, and as you upskill, you can impact more people in your life, and that’s a life worth living.

How can people reach you? How can we get ahold of you and learn more about your books and work?

The best way is on LinkedIn. Go to my LinkedIn page, @DrChazAustin. I have too many followers now, so I’m not allowed to connect with people. All you can do is follow me. Sorry to say that. That has all the information and updated information on everything I’ve done and articles. I have three LinkedIn learning courses. I have two books. I have a TEDx Talk all accessible through that. Follow me on LinkedIn. That’s the best advice I can give if you want to stay connected.

Dr. Chaz Austin, it has been great talking to you.

You asked great questions, Dr. Sansberry. It’s a pleasure always to chat with you because it’s a stimulating experience, and I learned too. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

I appreciate it. Thank you all for reading the Toxic Leadership.


Important Links


About Dr. Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D.

TTLS S4 15 | Gig EconomyDr. Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D. (“Doctor Chaz”) holds a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. For the past 20 years, he has worked with clients all over the world, advising leaders and managers on how to be more effective, and how to use social media to reach their target audiences. He also trains workers how to market themselves in The Gig Economy.

Dr. Austin has been a college professor for over 20 years, teaching a wide range of courses in business, leadership and communication. He has presented papers to: the National Association of Women MBAs, the Association for Business Communication, the National Council for Workforce Education, the Society of Educators and Scholars, the International College Teaching and Learning Conference, and the Global Conference on Leadership and Management.

His TEDx Talk can be found here: