Suck It Up, Buttercup with Denise Liebetrau · ShiftWorkPlace

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E22 Suck It Up, Buttercup with Denise Liebetrau

Bio for Denise Liebetrau

Denise Liebetrau is the Founder and CEO of Prosper Consulting, and an HR Consultant and Compensation Expert and Speaker with more than 25 years of experience at Fortune 500 companies. She partners with business leaders and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to set up people, processes, performance metrics, and rewards to maximize profit and impact. She is also a Career & Salary Negotiation Coach helping career-driven professionals get paid what they are worth and have careers aligned to their values. As a certified board candidate, Denise is looking for her next board position in a public firm within the technology, extraction, construction, or engineering industries.

Denise defines herself as a corporate refugee who became tired of working as a cog in the system and decided to make a difference in people’s lives. She loves helping SMEs build company cultures, policies and procedures to drive the right results for the business. Her impact also extends to individuals who are looking to begin, change or improve their careers, especially when it comes to compensation. She is passionate about giving women a place in the boardroom within a cultural ecosystem where they can survive and thrive, as well as equal representation from all communities in the workplace.

Episode highlight

Denise Liebetrau was raised with strong values of sincerity and dedication, which she brings into her role as an HR consultant, as well as in her daily life. Listen in to learn how to make a big impact – at work, and at home!



  • “I grew up in a family where you may not like so and so telling you to do something, you still got to do it. You don’t get to have a bad attitude and show up and not perform.”
  • “That focus on building strong, healthy relationships with the people that I love is another part of who I am.”
  • “I have a really strong belief that if you’re going to show up in this world, you need to show up to serve, to love and to care and to give.”
  • “You have to find people who are thought leaders and then… the next step is – don’t just suck it in and sit and repeat it – it’s: Do I believe it? Could I live that? And then, how do I go about using that in my work and personal life in a way that’s powerful?”
  • “You got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if you’re going to grow and learn.”
  • “You sometimes have to… recognize that you are making assumptions because of cultural understandings and norms that you grew up with.”
  • “I am a firm believer in executive presence being something that you cultivate in yourself and that you use 24X7.”
  • “You’ve got to get used to working with people that you don’t like.”
  • “We need the LGBTQ community, we need people of different races, we need people who are able-bodied and people who are disabled, we need people who are of different ages, we need… such a broad diversity.”
  • “So many times, we focus on what we’re losing by letting go of the things in our past or where we’re at today and we don’t focus on what we would gain.”
  • “I firmly believe that those organizations who have leaders who are… creating a toxic culture and tolerating things that they shouldn’t, will not last.”
  • “You can have the same services, the same technology, the same products as anybody but your competitive advantage is your people.”


Childhood incidents:

Denise grew up with 3 siblings on her family’s farm in Kansas, surrounded by an agricultural community and lifestyle. She would wake up early on summer mornings and hand cut the weeds from the fields with a machete. She had a skin sensitivity to pollen, so she would wear long pants, long sleeves and boots in the hot sun, but would be one of the last people to leave the field. “I just have a ‘never-give-up’ kind of an attitude”, she remarks. She says she grew into a strong work ethic through the resilience and grit developed from doing her chores, even though she disliked them.

As a child, Denise was taught how and when to dress up, and that how you showed up to an important event mattered. While she may have worn rugged overalls for work, she dressed up any time they went to the church, a funeral or to meet a senior leader or bank executive. She credits her parents for her executive presence today, reflected in her appropriate mannerisms, speech and clothes.

Groups you were born into and belonged to:

Denise was born into a Catholic family and went to Catholic grade school. She is proud of the strong spiritual foundation which developed because “faith was just interweaved in daily conversations”, she recalls. Many get-togethers with the extended family reinforced the importance of giving in relationships. Till today, she doesn’t conduct business with clients who don’t have a giving attitude.

Even though rural Kansas was defined by a strong patriarchal culture where women came second and were looked down upon if they were unmarried, she was most influenced by the agricultural ‘get-it-done’ attitude.

Temperament and personality influences

Denise claims that she is an introvert despite being a consultant and speaker. However, she needs a lot of introspective time to be able to give her best to her work. She prefers to quietly listen, watch, learn and process, and leans towards small group discussions instead of larger crowds.

Her upbringing piqued her interest in researching and learning. Her mother would take Denise and her siblings to the library every week, and she was surrounded by a culture of reading. How she is now is how she was taught to “show up in the world – you read, you think, you discuss.”

While working for a large financial corporation in her early 20s, she felt underconfident and wouldn’t speak much in meetings. Her boss even asked her to wear turtlenecks to hide how red she became when speaking to executives! However, she learned to overcome her discomfort by acting the part. Inspired by Margaret Thatcher who took voice lessons to command her presence as a leader, she learnt how to be confident in front of audiences by forcing herself to do it repeatedly.

A time I became aware that my way of doing things was cultural and specific to my cultural experience

When Denise was 18, she moved away from her sheltered farming community of less than 5000 people to go to Kansas State University, and then to Seattle for work. She stepped out of the rural Kansas bubble where mostly everyone was White, Christian, held some assumptions and ate a certain kind of food. She observes, “I had my eyes opened very quickly”. Although she loves visiting Kansas to reconnect with her community, she struggles with the misalignment of their beliefs with hers.

As a 51-year-old, she was taken aback when her 11-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter’s friends came home one day for dinner. One of the boys said that he hated their math teacher because she was strict, and he had made up a story to skip the homework she had assigned. However, Denise explained to him that he couldn’t let his dislike come in the way of being the best version of himself. If he practised skipping the things he didn’t like at this age, it would show up in his attitude and performance as an adult too.

She also notices the dichotomy in culture when she visits the mountains in Colorado with her children. The motivations, lifestyle and priorities are quite different from those of the people in Denver. However, she believes that emotional intelligence, awareness and good observation skills can help shift the cultural norms one grows up with, and adjust better later in life.

Denise was triggered to start her own company when she realized how isolating company cultures can be. Some people who have formed a close inner circle made those who didn’t have the same history with the company feel excluded.

Advice to an employer to work with me

“I’m a firm believer in setting the vision”, Denise states. She helps her clients do so with these questions:

  • What does success look like?
  • Where am I at today?
  • What is the gap?
  • What do I need to do to get there?
  • What are the stories I’m telling myself? Are they helping or hindering me from reaching my goals?

By asking questions and unearthing stories, one can discover the source of those stories and explore if they are true or false, leading to narrative-changing breakthroughs. She recommends using Byron Katie’s methodologies to uncover the truths (and falsities) in stories.

As a former weight loss coach, Denise also stresses on having a ‘why’ for one’s life goals. Getting in touch with why a definition of success is desired, why it is important and how it is going to impact other areas of one’s life help define the vision.

More great insights from our guest!

Denise is of the opinion that organizations need to make clear to the employees, which behaviours are tolerated at the workplace. It is necessary to have conversations about performance and attitude and if there is no change, to put employees on a Performance Improvement Plan or fire them. Organizations also need to find talent to show up with the right attitude. “If you aren’t really willing to do those hard conversations, those difficult conversations where you set expectations, you are not going to change things”, she warns.

She had an epiphany when she was consulting for a firm, that the dysfunction in the corporate environment comes from our childhoods in dysfunctional families. If children are trained to show up in a certain way – bullying, being negative – they grow into adults with the same ways of being. It takes lots of effort and motivation to change behaviour at a later stage. She says that we could all work towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace, “but till we fix things at home, we’re not going to fix things”.

Denise believes in following thought leaders through podcasts, Ted Talks and books to continue learning and growing. She especially recommends the book Give and Take by Adam Grant, and you can find other book recommendations on her website. There, you can also find her empowering Know Your Worth t-shirts! Email Denise at for a free list of sources to find your job worth. Also, reach out to her for a free 15-minute strategy call to set your career on the right path!


Show Up Right: A HR expert teaches us how to give our all in both our personal and professional lives to realize our greatest potential.


Denise Liebetrau has a life trajectory that took her from rural roots and a love of the agricultural lifestyle to different cultures around the world and a practice of assisting organizations with creating a culture of inclusion and respect. She speaks openly about her personal and professional influences and difficulties and has great examples and stories to describe the journey of integration across differences, and different choices and finding common goals.

Remember that if you have someone who would make a great podcast guest for the Culture and Leadership connections interviews or if that someone is you, please send an email to anytime!


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