Start with your leadership team. Ensure everyone on your team is aligned, believes in the vision and purpose of the organization, trusts and respects each other during both good and difficult times. Take the time during a strategic retreat once a year to reflect on how the team interacts with each other and run a simple exercise of Stop, Start, and Continue to flush out those behaviors that require modification. Creating a promise between team members is often a very strong step forward in aligning the leadership and ensuring that you can have difficult conversations without making things personal.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, we had the pleasure of interviewing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leon Goren, president and chief executive officer of PEO Leadership.
Leon Goren believes in purposeful leadership — the type that requires us to challenge the status quo, anticipate the future and be confident enough to step outside of our comfort zone to inspire and help those around us excel.
His 25 years of leadership experience and understanding of the needs and challenges of leaders come from leading multiple organizations and working with over 1000 Fortune 500 and SME Clients.
As the owner and CEO of PEO Leadership, Leon is dedicated to building communities of knowledgeable and respected business leaders by developing opportunities for shared insights and experience. The company believes in a holistic approach focused on helping leaders to realize both their personal and professional objectives. They’re focused on 5 key elements of success — Business, Health, Wealth, Career and Family/Personal Relationship. They believe success is achieved not through balance but rather having those 5 key elements working in harmony.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been in and out of several businesses and investments throughout my career, which started as a CPA, CA. When I founded a company called Justwhiteshirts.com in early 1997, I was often asked to speak to business audiences around North America. At one of these conferences, I was approached by the founder of PEO Leadership and asked if I’d be interested in joining a shared advisory board within their leadership community. At the time, I had no one to bounce ideas off outside of our company and believed that having an external board, even if shared, would be extremely helpful to my personal leadership development and the growth of our business. I found the experience to be fantastic. After spending several years as a member and following the sale of Justwhiteshirts.com, I decided my next acquisition would be PEO Leadership, which I completed in December 2010. The organization had tremendous potential at the time but had been floundering by a lack of investment and focus. I looked at it as an opportunity to not only turn the business around but to grow it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In March 2020, Covid-19 brought along a period of uncertainty, creating numerous challenges, questions and an elevation of fear on how we would continue to serve our great PEO Leadership community. For me, it was a time for reflection on what we had accomplished as an organization to-date and the realization of how important and necessary our offering was during this pandemic. The essence of our organization has always been helping leaders, during both good and bad times, realize their personal, professional and organization’s growth objectives. Covid-19 exemplified the importance of what we do and reaffirmed the type of giving community we have created. As an organization, we rose to the occasion by being present, supportive, understanding, and flexible with our members. We didn’t always have the answers; however, as a team, we listened, and we developed a game changing plan for everyone in our community to move forward.
Having a purpose both personally and in our organization made all the difference.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Life is all about constant change and reinvention. These last 15 months have allowed us to experiment with new ideas and adapt to the changing world around us. We launched a Live Webcast and Podcast called PEO Leadership’s The Way Forward, which was ultimately designed to share the learning of our leadership community with a much broader audience around the world. We took the pulse of what we were hearing from our community of leaders in any given month and shared some of the insights and best practices to enable other leaders to rise to the occasion. This little project has grown in size, effort and listenership and yet I believe it could be so much more. It has helped so many through this difficult time and we are now trying to discover how to take it further and help millions of others. If we can positively impact a leader, of any level, we believe we can have a positive impact on the communities they serve.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Too many people in this world are working without a purpose and vision of what they’d like to accomplish in life. People are regarding their jobs as only a “job”, an opportunity to make money, rather than a place in which they can contribute to making a difference to another human being(s).
It’s a problem that is widespread among various levels of an organization and often ripples throughout depending on where the challenge exists. As an example, what often happens is that unhappiness is directly related to the relationship between an employee and their boss or manager. If your manager is not an engaging and inspiring leader, you are almost guaranteed to be unhappy in your role
If you want to create a healthy and happy workforce, think about an environment that allows for positive human interaction, something that is stimulating and/or provides individuals with the freedom of being able to understand their why and the impact of what they do.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
We’ve seen this many times as we’ve worked with 1000’s of leaders and their companies. There is a direct correlation between a happy workforce (an engaging and inspiring organizational culture) and the productivity, innovation, and profitability of an organization. We’ve seen plant operations transform themselves with a change in leadership. Where a new leader came in and spent the first 120 days with his/her people, learning more about them and their roles and responsibilities. They listened and spoke with their employees about potential ideas for improvement from the ground up. They identified those in the organization restricting individual growth, macro managing and exercising a degree of power that was strangling the life out of the organization. By simply removing these bad apples in the leadership ranks, within months, productivity increased, employee moral improved, sick days declined, and profitability increased. More importantly, those that were the best employees but were stifled by poor management, blossomed under the new leadership and uplifted the organization to new heights.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Start with your leadership team. Ensure everyone on your team is aligned, believes in the vision and purpose of the organization, trusts and respects each other during both good and difficult times. Take the time during a strategic retreat once a year to reflect on how the team interacts with each other and run a simple exercise of Stop, Start, and Continue to flush out those behaviors that require modification. Creating a promise between team members is often a very strong step forward in aligning the leadership and ensuring that you can have difficult conversations without making things personal.
- Over communicate by putting yourself in front of all stakeholders on a regular basis. Create townhalls with the various divisions of your organization and reiterate with clarity, the vision, mission, and purpose of the organization. Understand your audience and listen carefully to what is most important to them. Explain why various decisions are being made at head office and be sure you address their concerns.
- You need to be a role model. Everyone has eyes on the leader and as a result the leader ultimately influences and determines the culture of an organization. Leaders need to walk the talk. Start by leading by example and then encourage your leadership team to do the same.
- Create opportunities for one-on-one discussions with your various stakeholders. Take the time to learn their names and really appreciate what they do for the organization. The power of a sincere conversation by the leader of a team may feel like a baby step towards a great organizational culture; however, more often than not, the ripple effect of those baby steps leads to a massive leap forward towards a positive change in culture.
- As a leader, work on being prescriptive in one’s responses versus restrictive. Allow for mistakes to happen and watch yourself when penalizing a team member in front of others. Think about sharing stories of other team members and employees when they do great things. Recognition of others goes a long way in creating a positive workplace environment.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Begin teaching leadership skills at a younger age. This would include university and college courses covering leadership before they enter the workforce.
Recognize those organizations and leader’s that are really changing the way in which they operate their businesses and drive positive workplace environments where individuals can thrive and succeed.
Leaders of all institutions including political ones need to role model behaviors that create a societal culture that is inspiring, engaged and proud.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
There are a few behaviors which I believe highlight my leadership style:
I try and be humanistic and encouraging. I work hard at involving my team in the many decisions that we need to make, listening to their feedback and trying to provide mentoring where possible. I believe it’s during these discussions that people really are able to learn and develop.
I press my team to try and think in unique and independent ways. To broaden their skills and capabilities on an ongoing basis. Just because you were hired for a particular role doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to grow beyond that role. In today’s rapidly changing environment, I try as much as possible to have everyone experiment with innovative solution to problems. Mistakes are acceptable as long as we learn from them. Of course, with all that said, we do things within the context of prudent financial management.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been a number of very close friends and mentors along the way including my wife, who has always stuck by my side and encouraged me along the way. However, in the context of this interview there is a very special individual who is now retired, Myrna Ains, who many years ago visited with our various advisory boards at PEO Leadership. Through a leadership impact exercise, Myrna had us examine the leadership behaviors we were using with our direct reports and showed us the correlation between our own behaviors and that of the organization’s culture. We shared each other’s results within our advisory board, learned from each other and also learned from Myrna, about the importance of the whole person. That simple concept of considering each and every one of us a whole person, not just as an employee, continues to impact the way I think about our organization, purpose and how I treat all our stakeholders.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We work on this everyday by working with experienced business leaders and their rising stars in companies that operate around the world. If we are able to influence and/or enlighten a leader, we know that it will ripple not only through their organization but into the communities they serve. Leaders and their organizations can transform the world one baby step at a time so long as we are all aligned on the greater purpose of making this world a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mine is quite simple and comes from my athletic days as a swimmer — “No pain. No gain!” In life things rarely come easily. You need to work hard, including training your mind to be mentally tough because we will always be faced with challenging times. Forcing oneself to think about how you can positively impact others through your daily interactions is something that is challenging at first and yet over time becomes second nature. You can overcome the initial pain and challenge through practice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At the end of every day, we each record (physically capture on a piece of paper or on our phone) the one act that we performed that day that left another person or group of people more engaged, inspired, or enthusiastic about something than they would have been, had they not interacted with you.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success.