What makes a woman an influencer? The very definition of the word is someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their knowledge in a distinct niche. Throughout my personal development, I have had the opportunity to meet many such women within the community where I reside—Rochester, Minnesota.
Rochester is not only home of one of the greatest medical facilities in the world, but it also is home to many influential women. I will be showcasing numerous women from all different backgrounds and trades to learn what drove them to become the leaders they are today.
I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen Harrington briefly as she was wrapping up a podcast interview and I was getting ready to start recording one. I remember thinking—wow, what a firecracker of a woman! And she was so incredibly friendly. Right then, I knew I had to meet with her. To my surprise, she graciously accepted an invitation to meet for coffee, and ever since then, our friendship has blossomed. She has been one of my greatest mentors.
Kathleen grew up in New York City, the oldest of three siblings, all of which were boys. She was the first in her family to attend college, obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Biology and her master’s in Psychology. After her schooling, she made the move to Washington, D.C., where she served under three of our presidents—Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and George W. Bush. She served as assistant secretary in the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services, and she resided there for over 35 years.
Ten years ago, she moved to Rochester to start her new career and employment at Mayo Clinic as the director of Government Relations.
I wanted to find out what drove this powerhouse of a woman to become so dedicated to her quest to succeed, and I was so honored when she quietly shared some of the vulnerabilities she had endured throughout her life, knowing that I would be disclosing this information publicly.
Kathleen shared that she grew up in a lower-middle-class family household that was emotionally insecure, where one of her parental figures had an addiction to alcohol. She stated being driven was a blessing, but also a curse because of shame. “It made me work harder, and if I performed better, then maybe somehow I could help my parent’s addiction issue,” she says. She later recognized the insanity of the addiction cycle and how she wasn’t going to change it.
I asked her how she found a balance between her professional and personal life, and she responded, “I believed that you could have it all.” She plowed ahead believing that no matter what was going on in her personal life, her work was more important.
When I asked her about some of the barriers within her field, she stated, “I didn’t focus on the barriers, only the challenge.” She found her path over time as a woman who started teams to either develop or fix a program or organization.
She did admit that a personal barrier was giving into her own imagination and overcoming faltering confidence. She pushed back on her fears, which allowed her to make a positive impact on the people she was serving and allowed the team to work together efficiently.
However, having a successful career doesn’t always come without regret. Kathleen regrets hurting others, whether inadvertently or actively, and that she chose to put progress before her family. She finds reflection important and doesn’t spend time living in the past, but she seeks to improve on the things she controls today.
In the 10 years she has resided in the Rochester community, Kathleen has done many things to shake up this town. She is a former Chamber of Commerce president, ran for public office and has served on various boards to be of service to others, but her passion is to empower other women and prove that you can survive in a man’s world.
Kathleen is now enjoying life in retirement and stays active. She continues to value and serve our community, while caring for her family, her friends and herself.
I’m so incredibly blessed to call this trailblazer of a woman one of my most treasured friends and to learn by her example to focus on the challenges not the barriers.