Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life


Simple Steps to Change  By Jay A. Livingston, M.A.

Simple actions leading to big results.  Amazone Review ByKevin Harknson March 2, 2015 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

I have always been a proponent of time management but bad habits and repetitive actions were hard to deal with. Livingston was able to provide simple yet effect techniques on handling the actions that lead to bad habits and non productive results. Just shutting off the TV and the internet for a little while led to better results and more actions steps on what I needed to do.



Executive Coaching

I was asked by a client, in this case an individual who holds a position of significant responsibility in an organization, what made the coaching I was offering “Executive Coaching”.  I grinned and said, “You’re an executive aren’t you?” But then I went beyond that and I hope my full answer was a bit more helpful.

A client comes to coaching with a collection of needs, dreams and goals. Coaching helps clarify and prioritize those notions and then designs implementation strategies and specific next steps that lead toward the goals.

Effective coaching uses the latest research about the neurobiology of behavior, habits and change. Good coaches will integrate this information, and the client’s requirements, into a series of deliberate and strategic steps that they will discuss with the client as potential ways to accomplishing certain stated goals and behavior changes. For example, “Given that, it might be most effective to try this as a starting point and then adjust our approach as we see how it goes. How do you feel about that?”

Executive coaching follows this same basic blueprint and additionally recognizes that the client is functioning within a particular environment; he or she is a part of an organization with its own goals, strengths and pattern. This business context must be a consideration in any suggestions or implementation strategies that are developed.

In addition, the executive client has the pressures of leadership, managerial responsibilities and team development. Because these clients are or will be attempting to motivate and grow their teams and key personnel as they work to change themselves, they require a deeper understanding of the process than many other clients.

To deal with this mix of requirements, an executive coach needs three areas of experience and expertise: 1) an extensive background in the process, politics and systems of business, 2) expertise and experience in approaches to leadership and managerial development and 3) experience and an appreciation for the skills and nuances of coaching.

There are any numbers of ex-businessmen who look for a second career and simply promote themselves as coaches because of their prior experience. They may bring a significant amount of business experience to the table, but that isn’t enough. They must also have significant understanding, ability and experience in the demands of coaching or they will often just become mere repeaters of consulting platitudes and be ineffective at helping implement sequential actions toward change.

In short, a quality Executive Coach is an excellent coach who really knows the business environment and can design procedures to institute change, which have significant potential to enhance you and your business’s future.

The Magic of Regular Evaluations

A common question from CEO’s and managers that I coach is how they should confront an employee who is functioning at a sub-par level. The answer depends to a great deal on the employee and their history with the organization, but one common denominator that I suggest is to prepare for this eventuality from the beginning of the employee’s employment.

Approaching anyone with your negative feedback is easier if you have already established a structure and pattern for such conversations. You want to introduce topics and processes while cooperation is highest and negative feedback is least expected. During their initial employment period, employees are generally most ready to adapt and try to please and least likely to have established a pattern of missteps. This is the point to begin practicing the style of interactions you expect to have with the employee.

My suggestion is to establish the timing and agenda for regular evaluations that prepares them for discussing continual skill improvement, self-evaluation, goal setting and difficult issues. I introduce the rough outlines of this process during employment interviews to see if I can gauge a candidate’s openness and flexibility around change and professional growth.

In my experience a schedule of evaluations for a fulltime employee might look like this:

  • At the end of the new employee’s first day and each day thereafter for the first four days
    • 10 min meeting
    • “I’m pleased to have you with us.”
    • “How’s it going?”
    • “What are you learning?”
    • “What seems like it might be challenging?” or “Where are you initially going to need to focus your learning energies?”
    • “Is there a way I (we) might make this orientation process more effective or helpful?”
    • “Is there anything I need to know that we haven’t talked about?”


  • At the end of the first, second and third weeks
    • 15 min meeting
    • “I’ve seen you do ___ and I’m pleased.”
    • “Is there anything you’ve accomplished that I might not have noticed?”
    • “What challenges are you dealing with?”
    • (If necessary) “I’d like you to focus a bit more on learning/ doing ___. How might you go about doing that?”
    • “What are your learning goals for next week?”
    • “Is there something we should be talking about that we haven’t?”


  • At the end of each month for the first six months
    • 45 to 60 min meeting
    • “Please share your accomplishments that I might not have noticed.”
    • “Here are some of your strengths I’ve noticed.”
    • “What areas of your professional skills do you see as requiring additional focus or effort from you?”
    • “I want to develop strategies to help you address the areas that need progress.”
    • “What are your learning goals for the next month?”
    • “Is there something we should be talking about that we haven’t?”

A comprehensive review at the end of the first year is a future article.

By following this general process, you have experienced lots of opportunities to discuss ongoing issues, but more importantly you have instituted a style of interaction that welcomes frank talk about strengths and weaknesses, and continually practices those interactions well before there are serious problems.

In addition, your employee is unlikely to be surprised by future discussions about needing to address certain issues, setting goals and planning specific approaches to accomplish growth and learning. Even tough conversations are easier when they are contained within this now familiar process.

Building Better Workplace Relationships

“How can I get my people to play together nicely?” A question I get a lot and its very wording reflects part of the problem; these aren’t children at play but adults we need to respect and have high expectations of. The team relationships we create, and upon which we depend for success, need to be deliberately constructed.

The groups of people we work with can be a slightly strange assortment of personalities, beliefs and quirks. We end up working closely on challenging projects with these people and spending lots of time together, creating the impression we’re close friends, but given a choice or another context, we wouldn’t necessarily spend time together; we may not even share fundamental attitudes about lifestyle, politics or level of emotional transparency.

Because these forced relationships are located in the crucible of workplace politics, high demands and deadlines, it’s not uncommon to end up with interpersonal conflicts and irritants within the team that threaten the quality of services and projects.

As leaders, we ask our employees to work in creative and productive harmony and then hope that some “common sense” will prevail to both smooth out the inevitable difficulties and encourage focus on crucial tasks. These expectations are sometimes based on little else but our unsupported optimism. Our business culture does not advocate cooperative etiquette and manners with the same passion as it promotes and rewards individual competition and accomplishments.

What can a leader to do to foster more agreeable and effective attitudes or behaviors and head off the predictable tangles?

Primarily, we need to model the behaviors we want. Don’t assume that you can “wing it” in your own relationships with co-workers and employees. As a leader or manager, you need to be deliberate, thinking tactically about what outcomes you want from your exchanges with team members and planning how your style and interactions can create the potential to realize those outcomes. As your work relationships come to more closely reflect your professional goals, other team members are likely to begin to emulate your behavior.

Try starting here:

  • Always talk about mistakes or failures without heat, blame or disrespect
  • Always address your concerns and frustrations to the individual – never behind their back
  • Never expect your employees or colleagues to tolerate your irritability. Failures require effective changes to be developed and implemented, not frustration to be absorbed.
  • Always consider whether you’ve made the environment safe enough feeling so that mistakes can be more easily owned instead of defended.
  • Do not passively or overtly accept disrespectful or petty talk about team members by either cliques or individuals. Concerns need to be addressed with respect and an eye toward solutions.

Starting these actions in your relations with others will model what you want and expect. Employees are more likely to follow your actions than vague mission statements or messages that differ from your actions.

Building a safe, productive organizational culture takes consistent modeling, team training and specific suggestions for behaviors in difficult situations. Carefully planned and implemented, all this up-front work eliminates the need for most crisis interventions later.

If you see the need for training or remedial focus on your team’s work relationships, a number of training and coaching approaches have been shown to be effective, everything from individual coaching for managers to regularly facilitated team trainings.

Initiating a Getting Things Done System

David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is a powerful and effective system for managing projects, tasks and responsibilities. For a detailed look at the system, I encourage you to read his latest book, Making It All Work.

Understanding how to use GTD is a significant task in and of itself, and implementing it is initially beyond most of my clients’ patience. What I’ve found as an effective alternative is to help people start with a sort of “GTD Lite” model and move to the full GTD system when and if they feel ready. For most people the lite version meets the majority of their needs for a long time.

I want to be perfectly clear, I think there are significant advantages to working your way through the entire GTD process of identifying the areas of responsibility in your life, your goals, every project you have agreed to work on or imagine wanting to work on someday. For instance, every time I’ve gotten my inboxes down to zero or helped my clients get theirs to zero a huge feeling of relief flows through.

My experience is that most of my clients won’t invest the time until they have had a chance to try some of the process. So, because I feel that many parts of the GTD system have value even when they’re not a part of the whole method, I deconstruct the system and present these initial steps, any of which may improve your system.

  • List the major areas of responsibility in your life – E.G., Family, Work, Health, etc.
  • Focus on one area of responsibility to initially get under control – usually “Work”
  • List all of your outstanding projects in that area – divide any you want into subprojects
  • List one “Next Step” or task per project or subproject – use verbs and keep them very basic
  • Set a weekly time to review your lists and do housecleaning of completed and not entered tasks and projects – look ahead and behind on your calendar to remember items to note
  • Collect all the papers you still need to act on or decide on in one “Inbox”
  • Collect all emails that still need action or decisions in one file
  • Each day make a short list to accomplish from your “Next Steps” items – optional if you work off a computer list you can filter
  • Use your calendar only for events you agree to do at a scheduled time – don’t just skip an appointment, formally reschedule it
  • Start with current items and fill in inactive projects when you have time – keep cleaning up your desk, files, etc., but get started on creating a task list and accurate calendar.

You can do most of the above on a computer – MS Outlook, spread sheet, notes, email, etc. – or you can do them on paper, or even mix the two.

I want to emphasize two processes that, in my opinion, GTD needs to succeed. You need to review lists or you won’t relax (unlooked at they’re virtually worthless), and it doesn’t help much to make long lists of future steps (they tend to just clutter things up).

I think GTD’s power comes from its flexibility, its intuitive prioritization and the fact you don’t need to “believe” in or buy anything for it to be helpful.

When to Invest in Personnel

Great team members aren’t cheap. We invest time, energy and money to find them, to train them and to retain them through their personal and professional growth cycles and crises. We adjust schedules, projects and even goals to keep them happy. And often, after contorting organizational structures to a breaking point, we lose them anyway.

All of this means that once we have negotiated initial salary and benefits, we will need to have a way to calculate whether we should continue to invest in an employee or cut our losses and try again.

Economically there is solid evidence that once you’ve invested a year or so in a key individual you should do almost anything to keep them. But the real cost of continuing to maintain a problematic employee goes beyond the obvious economics. There is emotional effort, managerial time and organizational culture to consider. These factors create an economic cost or drag, but at some point it becomes important to name the downsides more specifically.

An emotional burden is above all other considerations an emotional burden. It does a disservice to the complex totality of sacrifices associated with the emotional drain of a problematic or underperforming individual to simply calculate them economically. The distractions, opportunities lost, relationships shortchanged, moments bungled, physical health insults accumulated and more that are associated with the continuing emotional effort to manage stress are serious threats to your business.

The importance of the damages caused by shifting attention from top producing employees to problematic ones cannot be overemphasized. It is common for job satisfaction to decrease in many others because a manager’s or leader’s focus has become fixated on problems of the one instead of the successes of the many.

Creative energy and the process of preparing for the changes that are a part of any field become sapped by the need to create solutions for this one issue. It happens regularly that time normally set aside for planning and envisaging a new future get dribbled away with the next iteration of issues attached to this particular irritating employee.

So, to keep or let go? That is the question. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years of assisting numerous companies hire, train, coach and part ways with key personnel.

  • The popular notion that “people can’t change” is wrong. People often don’t change because they don’t know how and aren’t motivated to try, but just as old dogs really can learn new tricks, with support people also can and do change.
  • If you are already deep in the swamp of negative emotions, it generally isn’t worth investing in more than a basic effort to help the individual unless they are exceptionally valuable or difficult to replace.
  • If the employee’s contribution is marginal and you haven’t yet begun to make a significant investment, replace them. I’m impressed how many managers or senior leaders know that an employee isn’t really right, but feel lethargic about starting over or think they’re being compassionate by keeping the employee. The compassion is usually misplaced. If we want to help them thrive they need to be working in a situation that plays to their strengths.
  • It may be helpful to take inventory of the individual’s strengths. Does the position use their strengths? Are they enjoying themselves? Are they above average in their results? If they are using their strengths, then the probability of an investment paying off is much greater.
  • These decisions shouldn’t be either “rational” or “emotional” but rather a balance where the rational tempers the emotional and the emotional informs the rational.
  • If the person has a personality irritant, this is a great time to let them decide whether to go or stay. Lay out the issues (If you are not comfortable with difficult conversations, this can be awkward and a coach can be really helpful), ask the employee to decide if they are interested in changing. If so, agree on goals, decide how you will both know if they’re making progress and set a timetable with as specific benchmarks as possible. This is the stuff that coaches do all day long, so again, it is a great place to seek help.

Be certain to look rationally at some of concrete possible results of keeping or firing the employee, have some confidence that with good support (coaching) change is possible and finally pay attention to your instincts but don’t allow them to discourage you unduly or give more weight to your irritation than it deserves.

You Can get Your Partner to Change

You can get your partner to change. Really, you can!

Of course there is a catch; to change them, you have to adopt new approaches. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those extremely unusual people who already acknowledge positive occurrences, ignores most negative actions and strategies without getting emotionally reactive. But if so, your partner probably no longer has many habits that annoy you.

Even when a person has no intention of changing to please you, or is unable to control their own actions or emotions, they are susceptible to your power to hand out effective forms of positive acknowledgements. They may fight your accusations and ignore your pleas but they will tend to follow the rainbow to the pot of good feedback. They may dismiss the silliness of you saying thank you, but changes will sneak into their routines and respond to your attention.

You can start the process without being particularly good at it, and as you get better the results will show up more quickly. You can tell them what you’re doing or hide it from them, and unless you’re just fishing for their acknowledgements, they’re likely to change over time.

This technique is particularly effective when both partners are working at it from their own end; no need to agree on what changes to work toward, although it may help, just acknowledge away when something that you like happens. That’s really the key – if you want it to happen again, show a little appreciation.

A coach who practices strength based or appreciative coaching will model how to do it. The odds are it will go down really nicely and you’ll find yourself hoping for more. Then you can ask how to get started and with a couple of simple strategies you’re on your way to learning a skill that is transferable to children and bosses

Telling Stories

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”

I surprise many of my new coaching clients when I tell them we’re going to skip the rest of the story. Many of them have been encouraged in therapy to review these stories. And while it might be helpful there, I don’t need to hear them.

My coaching takes a moving forward approach – “Where do you want to go from here?” not so much “Where have you been?”

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of passion and even blame that underpins most disagreements with partners, I just barge right in and call a stop. I encourage my clients to be interested in only one aspect of the story. What could they have done differently to have a more effective conversation, to reach their goal, to create an alliance with their partner, to change their behavior?

I know life is hard and conversations with partners can be very difficult, but the chances of changing your partner are slight if you haven’t changed yourself. So, I start with the most interesting part, how to change your behavior – the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories can surreptitiously encourage us to rehearse our past mistakes and support our old way of seeing things. Discussing new ways to redo the same old situations lets us practice new behaviors and ways of seeing things. You can start a new behavior by imagining how to redo old patterns.

But what do you do with your feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to? Telling emotionally laden stories can fan the flames of your feelings, and there is evidence that that isn’t helpful either. If your feelings are so intense or complex that they are blocking you from moving forward, it would be appropriate to see a therapist. If you can move a bit despite your feelings, try moving toward what you want.

How to grow and change? That’s the important question. When I see my clients changing, I know we’ve hit the right balance.

Helping Couples Begin Changing Now

More and more often Ken and Mary found their relationship deteriorating into angry blaming sessions. Neither felt they were being listened to or understood, and neither experienced the other as trying to make it better. They had seen a therapist a few years back but they found themselves in the same spot again and asked their family physician for another referral.

He appropriately asked them why they weren’t going back to the original therapist. Mary answered most simply, “We talked a lot about how our parents’ marriages affect us, and shared our feelings, but we never really understood what we should do when we were in the middle of a blow-up.”

Their physician hesitated, and then asked, “I can refer you to a couples coach. You should each expect to be challenged to change your own behavior and learn new ways to communicate. It’s all very practical and focused on your present situations and behaviors. But consider it carefully because it can be too direct if what you really want is someone to sympathize with you.”

Both said they wanted to try it and he gave them my name. Boy were they surprised at the first meeting when I told them, “We’re not going to spend time going over your story. I just want you to start with one of the conversations that you find it hard to have. We’ll use the conversation to take a look at your individual conversational strengths and weaknesses, and come up with new strategies.”

They decided to start talking with each other about how they wanted to parent their children and almost immediately Mary started blaming Ken for not being consistent. I stopped the conversation and asked her what she was trying to accomplish.

This simple question opened up an explanation of her feelings, but once we had briefly reviewed them I suggested we start the conversation again and this time we got a bit further before Ken calmly accused Mary of not respecting him or his parenting style.

Once again I stopped the conversation and told Ken that I heard that was how he felt, but it was presented as an assumption about Mary that might just be his creative story and have little to do with what Mary really felt. I encouraged him to check it out.

This conversation went on for the hour and a half we had scheduled and in their summary both Ken and Mary were more accepting of their role in conversational failures and motivated to clear things up. I gave them things to try at home and we wrapped up.

Couples Coaching is about changing current behaviors so that an individual can get what they want out of a relationship. It focuses more on effective and lasting change, and learning

Couples Communication

Communicating is one of the most complex things we do. Place that challenging undertaking into the context of an emotionally interwoven relationship and there are exponential increases in the difficulty.

Saying that you talk is not the same as communicating well. Research has shown that, for instance, men and women who talk rarely understand the full meaning of the other and often not even the basic message. Our language is nuanced enough that each partner is unduly pressed to make assumptions about what the other person means.

To that puzzle add needing to understand the emotional shading, which changes the meanings of words and phrases (e.g., “No” as in “No thank you.” and “No” as in “Are you out of your mind?”). Then imagine the person trying to listen being deafened by their own emotional static and pile on unconscious influences springing from the emotional baggage of both communicators and it becomes a wonder that we understand even the simple announcement from our partner that dinner is ready.

It is said that couples conversations just go in circles, never learning, never changing. While this would be completely understandable, the truth is much more encouraging than that. And the good news is that the path through all of the complexity is actually very straightforward.

Here are six behaviors can turn tangled messes, which threaten emotional war (hot or cold), into possibilities for increased closeness:

  • Slow everything down so that you can think carefully about what you say and do
  • Don’t start a war (hot or cold) by being “truthful”
  • Try to never give voice to your blame of the other, especially if their wrong
  • Check out all your assumptions, but assume the best about your partner’s motives
  • Take full, personal responsibility for getting what you want
  • Be clear and transparent about what’s happening for you

Once you’ve laid the foundation by defusing things, there will be lots of room to seek more respect, reject blame, request “do overs”, walk through the puzzle of how it all happened. You can implement strategies to “train” your partner, you can agree on ways to grow together and you can be sure each of you feels heard and understood.

My experience is that it takes a very active, experienced coach to establish the routines for this process, but that once established, it becomes self-correcting. Now there’s a balm for the heart and soul of any relationship – self-correcting instead of endless repeating negative spirals.