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The Seven Keys to Building a Strong Coalition

Dear Construction Nation,

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Emily Cohen, EVP of the United Contractors Association (UCON). Emily has a reputation for being able to make “magic happen” when it comes to pulling together groups of people and organizations into a strong coalition. You need a coalition in your business so that all the parts work together and not against each other. Emily has “proven her chops” by creating a marriage between public and private interests to form strong coalitions that help everyone involved: her members, the industry, the public agencies, and the public interests.

She stands on the principles that the United Contractors Association was built upon: there is a collective wisdom in a group. Emily talks about how this was my philosophy when I was the Executive Director for UCON (1982-1986).  But Mark Breslin (UCON’s current CEO), Emily and the entire UCON staff and Board Members, live by this philosophy.  Mark has been CEO for over three decades and set the stage by Creating a high trust culture for their members, the industry, the construction crafts, the state, and the public.

Emily believes that building relationships is the key to building a business, association, or coalition. During our conversation, Emily shared some great keys she found work when building the relationships needed for a strong coalition, and in particular, a strong public- private coalition, which I believe is her superpower. Here are the seven keys I gathered from what she shared:

Key #1 Care
You’ve got to care. Emily said that people are wired to tell in a nanosecond if you don’t really care. People won’t trust you until and unless you care about what they care about. People come from different places. You’ve got to understand where they come from.

Key #2 Take Time
Take the time to build the relationship. It doesn’t just happen. It takes time. Being too busy is not a reason, and likely not a good idea for you, because you won’t really understand each other or have a foundation to work from.

Key #3 Empower Your Team
Let your people take the lead and do what is needed. If they are in the trenches or working to build strong relationships, let them have the reins. Of course, they can communicate with you or others to keep everyone heading in the same direction.

Key #4 Go First
When there is conflict, or a kink in the relationship, Emily says that someone has to go first. Why not be the person, or team that goes first?


Key #5 Do What is Right for Everyone
You get your power when you do what is right for everyone involved. People will rise up to help you.

Key #6 Be Transparent and Open
As you go up the ladder in your business, or public organization, the boss seems to know less and less. Your job is to create a great team, not to have all the answers. People must trust you enough to feel they can give you their ideas, problems, and solutions. 

Key #7 Listen More – Especially if You Have Power
Emily says that you need to know who “holds all the marbles.” Someone has the power. To create a great coalition/team, you need to neutralize the power imbalance, so everyone can come together as a group. As a leader you can do this by not exercising your power and being a part of the team/coalition. Of course, having authentic power allows the entire team to create and deploy solutions that might take years otherwise! 

There you have it! Seven keys to creating a strong, high trust, private-public coalition. I believe that this is a key to real progress. If business and government could work together to tackle some of the challenges that plague the industry – that would be amazing! 

In Trust,

P.S.  Curious how you can improve your chance of success?

  • If you liked this topic and would like more information, listen to Episode 35 of the Lead with Trust Podcast
  • Trust is the new Currency for construction, as we move toward collaborative delivery. ARE YOU READY? Click here to find out your personal results. 



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