top of page


Episode 216: Coaching Leaders and Engaging Consulting Clients—with Janet Livingstone

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, on this episode, we're going to talk about how to both influence leaders and model good leadership when you're working with your consulting clients, so the folks that you're working with have a better experience, shape the way that they do things going forward, and ultimately achieve better results. I brought on someone who does this all the time, Janet Livingston, and she's going to walk us through some of her go-to techniques for how to do this, as well as how she approaches this generally with clients so you can apply it in your own consulting business. Let's get started.

Hi. I want to welcome my guest today, Janet Livingston. Welcome to the show.

Janet Livingston: Hi, Deb. Thanks for having me.

Deb Zahn: You bet. Let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.

Janet Livingston: I'm an executive coach and leadership development practitioner. That means I run interventions for teams and companies, and I do lots of facilitation to help folks figure out what their issues are, get along better, be more productive, etc. I also have a longer-term contract with one company that I work with and do lots of event management and run leadership programming around the world. I'm about to go to India in three weeks, for example.

Deb Zahn: Oh, wow.

Janet Livingston: Yeah, so that's really fun.

Deb Zahn: That's exciting. So, you work with leaders and organizations, but a lot of what you do, even if that's not what a consultant does for a living, are really helpful things to know and to be able to apply. So, I appreciate you coming on and sharing some of that wisdom. So, let me start with the first one. So, a lot of organizations right now, still feeling the impact of the pandemic, still feeling the impact of the supply chain, all of the turmoil that's happened and continues to happen, and a lot of folks are feeling really disconnected, dissatisfied at work, leaders on down. When you're with companies and organizations, how are you seeing some of that manifest? What's that looking like?

Janet Livingston: That's a really good question. I appreciate it because what's happening right now is important, and I want to acknowledge that we're all struggling now post-COVID. It looks like teams that are losing folks don't know why, reorgs that are happening, lots of reorgs, and some acquisitions going on with the companies where my coaching clients come from. So, there's a lot of uncertainty. In addition to the mental health hangover, the issues, some anxiety, some depression, other things that are bothering us post-COVID, there's added uncertainty now happening in the workplace because the companies are struggling to hold their levels of financial performance, obviously. So, there are a lot of layoffs.

So, it's a great combo of anxiety, depression, and sometimes downright fear. So, when the leader of a team comes and says, "Yeah, I think our team needs help. We're not achieving what we need to. We're not communicating the way I need us to. We're dispersed globally. We need some help," and that kind of an ask, that's one kind of an ask. There are a few, but yeah, that's what I would say to begin.

Deb Zahn: Obviously, these stressors are continuing. So, if you were talking to another consultant who's like, "Oh, man. I don't do this team stuff. I don't do the work you do, but I'm seeing this and it's getting in the way of what they hired me to actually do," what are some of the suggestions that you might give them to help them still be able to move forward but not miss the human side of what's going on?

Janet Livingston: Yeah, sure. So, it really depends on what consulting you're talking about. If you're talking about classic management consulting, then I come from the other side of consulting. Here's what's key for me, teams don't have problems that are things. Teams have problems that are holistic. Teams are made of humans. If we think there's one diagnosis or if the decision maker who's contracting with us as consultants thinks that there's a simple problem that can be fixed, that's the first point of hesitation for me.

I want to know, and I recommend this in that it's been very rewarding for me and effective, I want to know what the team thinks their problem is, and in order to find that out, the team might need to go through a couple of longish sessions, a couple of hours, maybe two times a couple hours or two times three hours, to talk to each other and go, "Well, what really is our problem?"

So, I work with various instruments. One of them is a brilliant one that comes with a list of 16 norms. The team is asked to choose three of the things that are most important to them and where they think they need help. Are their behavioral norms not great? Do they feel uncomfortable with their behavioral norms? Is there a lack of trust? Is there a lack of shared purpose? So, there's a structured way, there's a guided way to give the team members a chance to talk about those things discreetly rather than having a random, "Well, I don't like our meetings. We don't get anything done." There are tons of ways you can just complain, generally, but it's really good to come up with a facilitated, structured way to help the team identify their problem.

In so doing, there's automatic buy-in. They've identified it. They want to work on it. It's their thing. It's not me, the consultant, coming in and saying, "Well, I talked to your leaders and I understand you have problem X, and so here's what I recommend." That's a simplification of classic consulting, but yeah, I think teams are like humans. We generally have tons of information from our lives, from our experience, and if enabled to process it enough, we can come up with insights and what's bothering us, and teams are the same way. They need to get the chance to do that.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and consultants, I think, can often play the role of translator, interpreter between the leadership and the teams because I have found sometimes the leadership's like, "Look, I just need them to get stuff done, get them on task, get them focused," and it doesn't matter if it's data if it's IT if it's transformation. It doesn't matter what it is, but if the teams are stuck in whatever their holistic set of things is, then they're stuck. So, how do you help the leaders then understand, "Look, you can't just say, 'Darn it. Get this done, folks.'"

Janet Livingston: Yeah, you can't. That's the thing that so many people don't really understand, that you can't say, "I need you to change your behavior now." You can say that. You can say that 50 times, but it doesn't mean you're going to get any impact or result from that. So, with the leaders, it's worth having a couple of deeper conversations in the beginning before anything starts, just to get to figure out where the leader is in their thinking, how they are feeling because of how they feel and how they behave and how they express themselves, obviously, has a big impact on their team.

You can see when you have teams where the leaders turn over, you can see that teams morph and they react. What may have been a tense situation with one leader, with the next leader, could be a really creative, lovely team. So, I try to figure out, what is happening with a leader. What is keeping them up at night? What are the things that they perceive have to do with the team, and then probe, is that a deeper issue? Are there external influences within the corporate culture that are affecting the way the team works? Is there an issue with how they're delegating or not delegating? Is there an issue with their emotional intelligence in communicating with team members?

So, I want to know all of that and maybe help the leader get to a place where they actually are thinking more deeply about themselves, where they're curious about themselves. Then once you can get to that point, I like to include the leaders in the team, the real work that the team does. If you can get the leader to a point where they feel safe enough and comfortable enough to not act like the leader in the meeting but just participate, that's a huge, big deal. That can shift the energy on a team profoundly, and they may never have experienced that.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Janet Livingston: So, I try to aim for that. A lot of leaders are not very comfortable with that, but the idea is to try to help them get there because of the power distance in this culture, and that's maybe something that you've noticed about my background is that I work globally, and I often deal with other national cultures from other countries. In the US, power distance exists, that is, there are plenty of leaders who are in command and control, who are top-down. They may gather info and then they make the decision themselves. Then there are lots of leaders now, especially in tech, who really want organizations to be flatter. They want teams to be independent. They want things to be decentralized, but people on teams tend to feel worse the more disconnected they feel from their leader.

Deb Zahn: What are you seeing in other countries that's a little bit different than...because the US has a very distinct flavor, taste, if you will. What do you see in other places that would be a different approach?

Janet Livingston: So, in Scandinavia, where I have not worked very much at all, but I think about it and talk about it with other folks, they have a very deep consensus culture. So, when there's a decision to be made, literally everyone on the team gets consulted, and there are multiple rounds of documents and emails that go around because it's tradition and it's considered a good business to have everyone's buy-in before moving forward.

What that means is that their processes are slower, but they can be more successful because they've taken the time to gain the buy-in. If they can manage to do the work as needed and produce the product on time or innovate according to their timeline, then they can be in an extremely strong position. Whereas if you have the opposite, for example, India or some Latin American cultures, where the leader is quite far from everyone else and there's a lot of command and control going on, what that means is that the lower downs who are doing the work and who may need to make smaller decisions during their days, they often wait. They wait to see what the leader's going to say. They wait to see what the second command is going to say. They hesitate to move forward, and that makes things slow too, but it's less productive slowness than it is in the other case.

I spend a lot of time working with my Chinese counterparts and colleagues as well, and they really want instructions. When they get instructions, they act immediately, quickly. They're extremely hardworking, but that creates a situation where the CEO or the chairman or whoever is really in charge can make decisions at the drop of a hat. They will have established an entire program and the chairman can come and say, "No, we're not going to do it that way. I know we've already started, but we're going to switch it out right now," and he can disrupt, usually. He can disrupt profound, and nobody bats an eye. That's OK because there's extreme distance.

So, there are a lot of things to take into account. So, if you're a US person working with a more high-powered distance culture like China or India, what we find often is that the decision-maker that's been assigned to talk to you in the early stages may agree to all kinds of stuff tacitly. They may see, "That looks good." They may say that. You may go through weeks, even months, of vetting things with them and negotiating with them, and then they have to present to their higher up, but you don't know exactly who it is because they're not going to tell you.

So, then you may find that the higher leader changes it up very late in the process. This happens a lot. So, I recommend trying to figure out who the true decision maker is, what the chain is. That can be difficult. They don't always want to make that clear because they have their division of labor.

Deb Zahn: I would imagine also some of what you described, I was ticking off in my head where I've seen this in organizations in the US. So, the variations still exist. So, I imagine the other thing you have to do is recognize that there is a culture or cultures because the US, I've done East Coast and West Coast, totally different, and Midwest, totally different. So, you have to know that there are cultural differences, not assume and show up and check out what's happening, but then you have to work with what's actually there, and if you're a consultant, not with the way you think it should be.

Janet Livingston: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: I had someone, actually when I was employed, who we were trying to get some project done, and she came to me and she worked for me, and she said, "The people who are involved in this, they're driving me bananas. They're not doing what they're supposed to do, and they're getting in the way of the work." I looked at her and I said, "This is the work," and I said, and I've said this before the podcast, "Unless you're switching to hamsters, this is the work because human beings are involved."

Janet Livingston: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, this is where my coaching background comes in. It's so, so important to ask lots of questions and to ask questions that are not only yes or no, but, how do you do things? How have you always done things? How do you want to change the way you do things? What are the expectations of the people around you? How would you describe the corporate culture that you exist in? That would be one of the first questions that I would ask.

Deb Zahn: Well, and the coaching, I think, is valuable. I want to dig into that a little bit more because recognize that leaders at various levels, the better they are at coaching, often the better the outcome is, but they often have to be coached in order to fulfill a coaching role. So, what are you seeing in some of the conversations with folks at the top leadership related to understanding the value of upping their coaching skills and applying those skills?

Janet Livingston: I'm seeing cracks. I'm seeing the light coming through the cracks. I'm seeing quite a lot of interest in coaching. To a certain extent, it's self-selecting because it's often the leaders who I'm coaching, so they're already getting coaching, but nonetheless, there is a willingness to find, to think about other ways of doing things. What I find myself doing a lot is being in a session and listening to somebody talk about their team and the meetings that they're running and how they need to get ready for a big presentation, whatever it is.

I hear them preparing what they should do and how they should present and all of this, "I'm the leader and I need to show up." So, I often ask them, "When you run your regular meetings, do you ask your folks questions in the meetings? Do you ever crowdsource? Do you brainstorm?" Often they'll go, "Yeah, I should do more of that. That's really a good idea."

This is endemic, right? I'm sure you've come across this a million times. That leader role is a double-edged sword. You can make things happen, but if you get stuck in that, "I know everything, and I have to show up, and I'm the one who's going to present, and I can't be embarrassed, and I have to be really competent, and I have to know everything," the more you get into that, the more passive your team becomes because they get that energy from you.

If you're anxious, you might be showing up a little bit tense, maybe a little bit pushing, maybe even arrogant without knowing it, and that makes people recede more, and then they're afraid to show up as their full selves with you. They're afraid to say, "Well, I'm not sure I really understand the purpose of this process. Could we rewind and talk about the process because that will help me, the purpose, that will help me understand what my role is better," or, "I'm not feeling well today," whatever it is. Then you become more and more lonely as a leader because people are avoiding real human conversations with you, and that's not good for you or them. It's not good for anybody.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, or the result because-

Janet Livingston: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: ...then no one feels psychologically safe enough to say, "We're going to get into trouble if we do that," or, "There's a risk if we do that." They'll just say, "OK."

Janet Livingston: Exactly, and you have layers. So, you may have a good leader who's OK, who you feel pretty good with, but the greater corporate culture under which you exist might be hard-nosed, "Leave your emotions at the door. Don't waste my time with drama," all that kind of stuff. It's not about drama, it's about feeling free to bring stuff up and to enable the team and the leader to solve problems and get stuff done and get those results.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Janet Livingston: Then there are other cultures where you don't ask questions, you just do. You just follow instructions. That's tougher, but if you grow up in that culture, you don't necessarily know that there's a different way to do it that serves all of us. The more isolated you are coming up, the less you're able to innovate.

Deb Zahn: This is where consultants come in handy because if we're working with the leaders at different levels ... So, even if, again, we don't work with what you work with, I know because I work with folks in the C-suite or definitely VP and up, but usually I'm working with a C-suite, and if they're stuck in their, "Well, here's how we do things and how we do things are we present and how we do things is we're the talking heads at the front of the room and everybody's going to listen, and then we're going to check the box and say we communicated,” which happens a lot.

A consultant, if you're an honest consultant and you're not just clocking in the time and trying to cash your checks, you're going to say, "There's probably a better way to do this. Let's have a conversation about what some other options are," and to help them understand the value of it.

I've had this happen recently where there was a question of whether or not even to form teams to work on something and why not just hold all of the decision-making at the top, and because of my role as a consultant, I was able to say, "I'm going to give you the top three reasons why that's a bad idea," and starting with bottleneck and going down to, "You don't know everything and you don't know what it's like to be on the front lines, and if you don't know what it's like to be on the front lines, you don't actually know what's going to work."

Janet Livingston: Right, and not knowing everything is not a weakness. How can one person know everything?

Deb Zahn: Yeah, but this is why having a neutral third party like a consultant, who's only interested in good things happening, if you are the type of consultant, if you're listening to this podcast, you probably are, that you have influence and a little bit of power that you can use to suggest some alternatives that they might not have thought about before.

Janet Livingston: Absolutely, and I would add to that one thing that I find is very important, and that is for all the consultants out there, if it's a team deal, if the team is dysfunctional, if the team isn't producing results, if the blame is getting put on the team, and you're working with the leaders and you're seeing that you want the leaders to maybe run their meetings differently or whatever, if you have good facilitation skills, the shortest way to get there, the shortest way to affect that change, in my opinion, is to model it, is to hold a meeting with the team and the leader, and you facilitate, and you facilitate differently. Come with a plan. Come with questions you want to ask. You make the decision ahead of time if you're going to put them into groups. If it's virtual, put them in breakout groups. If it's not, let them be together live.

How are you going to help the team? For example, maybe get to know each other better. Maybe the team has a turnover. Maybe there are new people. Maybe those new people are in faraway places. Maybe the leader has no idea how to help those folks get to know each other better and therefore work better together. Maybe it never occurs to the leader to do that because it's a waste of time. It's chit-chat. It's this, it's that. Facilitation skills and modeling stuff is extremely valuable. Why? Because the leader will feel it. They'll have the experience of being in that meeting, right?

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Janet Livingston: I think it's more powerful than sitting down with them more than once and saying, "Hey, what if you tried this?" or, "I think it would work better if you did that."

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I love that. As consultants, we have so many opportunities to do that in big and small ways. So, it could be a big event like you're talking about and like you do. Even I remember being with a group and everybody was stressed out in too many meetings, and we're going to get to meetings in a second, but too many meetings and, "I never have time to do work in blah, blah, blah," and I said, "Why don't you switch your meetings to 45 minutes?" and they were aghast, and they said, "That's arbitrary," and I said, "An hour is arbitrary," but more important than that is I switched my meetings to 45 minutes, and because they were thoughtfully planned, we were really clear, "Here's what we're actually trying to achieve. This is a discussion. It's going to end here. This is where I need you to make a decision," and everybody knew that walking in, so nobody was like, "Wait, why are we here?" They got an opportunity to see what it was like to have a meeting that valued their time.

Janet Livingston: Yes. Thank you. Brilliant. It is arbitrary. I consult with a very large corporation, and they do 30-minute meetings. It's extraordinary to do one-hour meetings. They exist, but mostly, it's 30 minutes and we watch the time, we watch the time.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and I love the, "You have to get it done in that period of time." I remember when I was in corporate and I would be in meetings, I would've no idea why no one was facilitating them, and we walked out thinking, "Why did this happen?" I actually want to hit meetings, and for some reason, the other day, it reminded me of this when we were going to talk today, I swear this is relevant. We have a big, big pond next to us, and we looked out the other day, and there were all of these turtles, over a dozen turtles, all grouped together. Apparently, it's called a bale of turtles. We had to look it up.

Janet Livingston: A bale? Like a bale of hay?

Deb Zahn: Yeah, like a bale of turtles. We looked it up and figured out why, but as we were driving by, I said to my husband, "I bet one of them said, 'This could have been an email.'"

Janet Livingston: God, that's great. I love that. You see the turtle on the keyboard.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, going, "Why? Why? Why are we all here?"

Janet Livingston: Yes, "What are we doing?"

Deb Zahn: The death by meetings, which, again, one of the things consultants do is we hold meetings. So, I think this is an important thing to talk about because giving people a different experience is as powerful as you just described. So, it's often too many, and it's often bad meetings or some combination of the two. So, other than some of the things we've talked about, how do you plan for running meetings that get the job done and aren't boring? What are some of your go-to tactics for doing that?

Janet Livingston: If you're the leader, if you're the person who's going to lead the meeting if you're a leader and you do it all the time, get some facilitation skills. Corporations do not necessarily provide training in that to people who get promoted. They just let them swim, right? One of my biggest pet peeves about a lot of meetings is that it's about flow down, it's about information. So, it's a one-man dog and pony show, and it's just, "Here's the PowerPoint," blah, blah, blah, blah. 20 minutes later, we're completely glazed over, all of us. Then the end of it is, "So, what are your questions?"

Deb Zahn: If even.

Janet Livingston: Yeah, and I'm there thinking, "Wow, I could have just watched a video of all this," or, "I could have just consumed this on my own time," or, "How did they pick what they thought would be interesting?" Of course, they have criteria. So, that's one thing. Get straight, whether this is a meeting about so-called flow down, and if it is, it better be important information that you're imparting, and try to make it interesting. Start with at least some kind of check-in that wakes people up. Check-ins are not just about waking people up. Check-ins are about taking the pulse in the room, right? If you come up with a question that's powerful and everybody has to answer it with one sentence or with two words, you are going to get a pretty powerful view of what's happening in the room.

I like to ask, "What's your mood in two words?" and I'll get skeptical, jittery but excited at the same time, distracted, whatever, or here's another question, "Fill in the blank. I'm currently working toward dot, dot dot."

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Janet Livingston: That can be in your work life or in your personal life. It can be anything from anywhere. I put that question to a group the other day, and the three top leaders, all men, said, "Balance."

Deb Zahn: Oh, wow.

Janet Livingston: I was blown away because this was an admission from them that they're stressed, that their lives do not feel balanced, and they talked a little more. It was mostly about how to handle work now that we're coming out of COVID and family now that COVID made the family used to them being around more, and now they're going to start traveling again, and the work volume is exploding. It's a tough moment, and they were willing to talk about that.

Deb Zahn: Wow.

Janet Livingston: That's one thing that I would really say if you work in tech or engineering or industries where the info is like, "I need to get this mechanical manufacturing job done," or, "We need to tweak this," as opposed to more creative professions like advertising or, I don't know, content production or social media or things that are not all about project management and spreadsheets. That's probably not a fair generalization. We use spreadsheets everywhere, everywhere.

Deb Zahn: Hey, I love my spreadsheets.

Janet Livingston: Spreadsheets are cool until that's the only thing you get to look at all day, right?

Deb Zahn: Until that's it, yeah.

Janet Livingston: So, meetings, and also meetings are an opportunity for you to work on relationships, and relationships are everywhere. We cannot get away from them no matter how much people want to avoid so-called drama, avoid getting into tough conversations, avoid having to listen to people drone on about their problems, all that kind of stuff that bothers people. If you invest in creating enough trust that people can come to the table and say, "I'm struggling with X. I need your help," this is a problem-solving thing, and I feel OK enough to say, "I can't figure this out. This is crap. It's complicated. There are too many dependencies here. I need to wait for this one and that one, this one. How do you do this? What's your streamlined process?"

If you invest in the relationships, you can get to a point where you can really hone the way a team functions, and you can really have a smoothly functioning team where people can approach each other on whatever it is like, "Hey, I was supposed to do that, not you. Let's talk about division of labor. Let's revisit what we said because it looks like either I wasn't clear or you forgot or I forgot," whatever. The human side is as important, if not more important, than the, quote, unquote, "substance side" or the task side. I find that that's the biggest thing that I battle with.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, it's profound. I want to pause there because meetings give most people like, "Ugh, not another one," but you understand it as it's about relationships as much about what the substance is changes the dynamic completely. So, one of the things that I do is I help folks in the C-suite organize meetings of larger leadership groups and try and figure out how are we talking about things, how are we getting input from them, et cetera, and knowing that it's about relationships, and it's not just about imparting information changes everything.

Janet Livingston: Yes. It's extremely powerful. Unfortunately, it's not always intuitive to folks. It doesn't occur to them. It's easy to get into the rut, "Oh, here's the flow-down meeting, a weekly flow-down. OK. Where's everybody? Is everyone here? OK, I'm going to start. Here's the ..."

Deb Zahn: Yeah, "Oh, Sue, you're on mute."

Janet Livingston: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: All of that stuff.

Janet Livingston: There's always somebody who's on mute or who's on double mute or who's audio is having a hissy fit somewhere because the cell tower doesn't quite reach where they live or it's on and off. You name it. They're in the car in traffic in Delhi. That's life. That's life. So, meetings, you could turn it around. Meetings are a blessing. We have a chance to come together and figure out what we're doing. We have a chance to brainstorm, pick each other's brains. We have a chance to truly help somebody understand a process by us saying, "Yeah, here's what I did, then I did this, then I did this. What do you think would be the next step?" to involve each other rather than just telling. There's a thing that somebody recommended. There's a post on Medium called “Meetings are the Work.”

Deb Zahn: Nice, nice title.

Janet Livingston: Yeah. I recommend reading it. I have not yet read it myself, but the person who recommended it to me is a hugely talented organizational development person, and I trust her immensely, so I just wanted to bring it up. I don't remember the author's name, but that's the title.

Deb Zahn: I like it. I had a meeting with someone in my team this morning, and life has been getting very lifey as Sky Jarrett, one of my favorite people, said.

Janet Livingston: Lifey.

Deb Zahn: You could tell, and I'm like, "How you doing?" Before we started getting into the stuff, I'm like, "How you doing?" and she's like, "Having a rough time." The next thing I said is, "Is there anything I can do to help make that better?" Then as we went through the meeting and we were making decisions together, I said, "Didn't we say at the beginning that we're both having a rough time right now? So, let's skip that because that's not important," and it became how we made collective decisions together, why we were talking was based on the reality of not just what we were trying to accomplish, but also our lives.

Janet Livingston: It acknowledges that we're human. That's great. That's really great. This is another echo of coaching skills. Coaches usually, normally, it's very common to stop maybe halfway, two-thirds of the way, and ask the coachee, "I'm checking in. Let's check in. How are you feeling now as compared to when we started? Where are you at?" to use West Coast.

Deb Zahn: I was born in California. I get it.

Janet Livingston: There you go. There you go. The Bostonian was like, "Do I really have to use that? Is it 1969? What?" but yeah. That's also really helpful because a lot of times on online meetings, especially in companies where folks feel comfortable or prefer not to have their video cameras on, a lot of times a person who's leading the meeting or asking questions gets just complete silence. That's really disconcerting, and I'm horrified by that. I don't think anyone likes it.

What it means a lot of times is the question gets asked, there's silence, and those of us who might be a little more introverted, who might be waiting for the extrovert to start, we're waiting, but we actually have questions or problems, but the leader of the meeting who's getting the silence quickly feels uncomfortable and says, "I'll take that as a no. OK, moving on," blah, blah, blah, and then you've lost your opportunity.

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. I have a line that I say when that happens. So, I'll just say, "Well, that was a crowd-pleaser." Usually, folks will start laughing and then somebody's comfortable enough to say something.

Janet Livingston: Yes. Thank you, Deb. You gave me an opportunity to talk a little bit about the other thing that I think is super important for leaders and anybody, anybody, everyone in the workplace, and that's humor. Humor is the great equalizer. Humor can crack the tension immediately. It's like a big ax, and the best kind of humor to break the tension is self-deprecation.

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. I'm a big fan, big fan.

Janet Livingston: The example you just gave, right? What is funnier? Who are the standup comedians that we resonate? Well, probably they're likely the ones who are on stage talking about their own shortcomings and vulnerabilities and all the crazy stuff that happened to them, and it's resonating with us. Here's someone on stage going, "I can't get a girlfriend," or whatever they're saying, and the audience is loving it or they're criticizing the untouchable, speaking the truth. That's another thing that we crave. That makes people laugh like crazy. It opens the door. So, leaders who feel good enough, granted enough about themselves to be able to self-deprecate, that's gold.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I think it is gold. It creates an atmosphere of more safety because it opens it up to say, "I'm not perfect. Let's talk about how we can make things better." Love all of that. So, there's so much juicy stuff in here. Where can folks find you if they want to delve more into this?

Janet Livingston: Folks can find me on LinkedIn under my full name in Seattle. There's only one of me in Seattle as far as I know. There are a few more in the world, but the main one is a nurse in Australia, so it's hard to confuse us, and also on my website, at my website,, C-O-A-C-H, which is a nice tag to have. I'm on WhatsApp. You can find me pretty easily.

Deb Zahn: We'll put that all in the show notes. I have to say, there is somebody with my full name, including middle name, who checked out library books in a small town I moved to and never returned them, so I couldn't get a library card.

Janet Livingston: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you sure that person isn't stealing your identity? That's crazy.

Deb Zahn: No, it happened. I was probably 21 years old. I moved to a small town. They're like, "You haven't returned the books." I said, "I've lived here a week."

Janet Livingston: "I haven't been here yet. How can I return?"

Deb Zahn: I mean, I won't return them, but those weren't mine. So, it was very funny, but-

Janet Livingston: Yikes. That's hilarious.

Deb Zahn: I thought it was very funny, but we will have links to you, everything, so folks can get ahold of you on show notes. So, tell me this, how do you bring balance to your life? You mentioned balance got named earlier. How do you bring balanced years, however you think about that?

Janet Livingston: Yeah. Most of the work I do is brain work, intellectual work, staring into the screen, sometimes getting to meet folks in-person. What I do to bring balance is I tap into my super expressive side. That means standing on a stage, yelling into a mic, singing Latin jazz. I just started.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Janet Livingston: It took a lot of courage, but nobody seems to mind because we're all students. So, this next round, the first round I sang in English, the next round I get to sing in Spanish, which is fantastic. So, I do that. I used to be more introverted, and so this is me exploring my extroverted side. It's a huge rush. Music is the opposite of me staring at a spreadsheet and trying to remember all the people I have to consult in order to fill in the item. It's intuitive. It gives me joy. It gives me physical endorphins, breathing, singing, standing around.

I'm the kind of person who when I hear a Latin beat, I can't not move, I have to dance. So, I'm singing and I'm doing this while I'm singing, and I look at my Fitbit. The first time I did it, I came home and my Fitbit had given me another 2,000 steps, and I was like, "What is happening?"

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Janet Livingston: So, that's one of the things I do.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I love that. Well, Janet, it has been such a delight to talk to you. I am now firmly dedicated to upping my skills when working with some of the leaders that I work with. So, I appreciate you sharing all this fabulous wisdom with us.

Janet Livingston: It's been a real pleasure, Deb. Hit me up. I'd love to stay in touch.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content, and I don't want you to miss anything.

But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So, as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode.

bottom of page