How did you get involved in PEO– what was your experience, what did it do for you?
L: As a CFO I became quite involved with Financial Executives International Canada, including being the Toronto chapter president as well as being on the board, and then as the CEO I realized the value of organizations like that. That was a little bit of how PEO found me but I was also open to the idea of peer networking and being in an organization where you have got peers challenging what you are doing. It is also a case of the more you put in the more you get out. I found that with FEI, a different organization than PEO (a broader-based organization) whereas PEO is really centered on a core group of individuals getting together on a regular basis and understanding your business.
So you were open to joining a peer group after your experience with FEI?
L: That is what we as members know: there are those that are open to a challenge about what they are doing and those that aren’t. There are individuals that just cannot accept feedback or a challenging question in order to cause them to think. Obviously, we all read about how to give feedback to our employees and to peers, so there are ground rules that you need to adhere to around that but not all feedback is meant to be positive. As long as it’s properly given, which I think PEO is pretty good at, in terms of establishing the principles around candor. I have always been open to feedback and understanding. You realize that as a CEO it is hard to create an environment where people give you honest feedback. You can create an open organization but it will only be open so far as to the feedback you will receive as a CEO. After all you are still the CEO and subordinates will only give you so much feedback.
It’s hard for them to give you negative or challenging feedback because they depend on you for their livelihood?
L: Correct. If there is one value that PEO brings, is the fact that you have individuals around the table that don’t have that same restriction surrounding giving you feedback as long as you are relatively open about what you are doing with your organization and what the issues are. That’s where it has to be a two-way street. If all you do is provide the group with the rosy aspects of what is going on…that’s what you will receive feedback about. There is also PEO’s business side and how we also open it up to personal objectives and challenges, allowing people to provide feedback on that, too.
You have been given some good input on the personal side too?
L: I think so. It’s two ways. It’s not just having other critiques, if you have got a business issue and you lay out what the business issue is or how you are handling something and having feedback on it. It is also the feedback that you get in terms of whether or not you are able to contribute to other people’s issues as well and in what fashion and form that you provide them.
The feedback that I get on that front is because I have been a member of PEO for some period of time and you take a look at it its not so much what one individual says but it’s what a number of individual say over a period of time. The feedback I get allows me to go right to the heart of what the issue is and help people deal with the core. It reinforces that I am able to understand what that issue is and where is the value? That’s probably most helpful for me as I reinvent myself beyond being the CEO, a board member and being involved in other organizations. It’s a skill that you need to have in the boardroom.
It’s a good place to be for a CEO? Would you say that?
L: Yes. I think it’s a good place for somebody who wants to move beyond just being the CEO, to be a board member. Whether that is with a traditional corporation or with other organizations.