LIFT Speaks Ep 34 with Lisa Harrington: How to Make the LEAP into Work that You Love

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Lisa Harrington is a coach with Vistage,  an executive coaching company. She spent many years as a COO, CMO and CEO before deciding to take the leap and start her own business. After years serving at the C-level, she decided to get back to her true calling which is strategic consulting and helping businesses to grow.

Lisa helps her clients understand the human equation. Whether at home or at work, people bring their whole personality, and the acknowledgement of our humanity in our day-to-day work makes a difference for people.

Sometimes there is too much focus on the business and not enough on the person – their personality and their natural talents. Lisa believes if you are using your natural talent every day and you’re doing something that brings you joy, you never work a day in your life.

You can also get some free coaching from a pro who not only does strategic business consulting with high-level business men and women, but also understands what it takes to start your own business. Download Lisa’s advice on How to Make the LEAP to Your Best Work Ever! 

Download Lisa’s Tips

A Few Questions for Lisa

I started my business because . . . I was ready to increase my influence and impact on more than one business at a time. By becoming a coach, I felt I could help more people. And there is no better job than being my own boss!

The thing I enjoy most about my business is . . . I love developing personal relationships with my coaching clients. And there is so much variety in the types of people and businesses I get to serve! Never a dull moment.

The biggest surprise for me as a business owner is . . . how much I dislike the admin/detail work!

My advice to women considering starting a business is . . . Be yourself!

One question people should ask me is . . . how I can help them to create a long-term plan for their business. Only 20% of American businesses have a plan.

My older self would coach my younger self to . . . Don’t equate something being “easy” for you (an innate talent) as less valuable. Never underestimate the value of what you do well naturally.

One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is . . . Don’t expect everyone to like you.  Earn their respect!


Catherine Miller: Have you ever contemplated taking a leap, jumping from what you’ve been doing for many years and saying, “I’m ready to do my own thing?” Today I’ve invited Lisa Harrington. She’s a coach with Vistage and she has spent a lifetime in the insurance industry – 35 years and for 20 to 25 of those years, she spent them in vice president or higher roles.

She has been a COO, a CMO and a CEO and she finally decided, “I’m going to do my own thing,” and so I invited Lisa today because if you’ve ever contemplated making the move from a corporate career to doing your own thing, Lisa has not only done that very beautifully and successfully herself, but she also coaches people today in their businesses and in the work that they do. She works with CEOs or people who are starting their own company.

Lisa Harrington: That’s correct.

Catherine Miller: Welcome. I’m so happy that you’re here with us today.

Lisa Harrington: Thank you.

Catherine Miller: And excited for everyone to meet you and learn about the work that you do. Will you give us a little background, a quick history of what you did to get to where you are to today?

Lisa Harrington: Sure, no problem. I graduated from Ball State University with a management degree and I got right into the insurance business and I’ve done all sorts of roles in that business. In 1999, I became the vice president of education for a trade association in the insurance industry and that launched my executive career. Then nine years ago I opened a consulting practice. But my clients kept hiring me to be executives in their offices.

So, I was the COO at a little technology firm and then I was the CEO there and then I went into the insurance publishing business as a CMO and did marketing for several years and finally decided that part-time consulting wasn’t enough. I really need to get back to my true calling which was the consulting and helping businesses to grow, helping executives to know how to handle their own illusions and their own realities.

One of the things I like to say is that I help people understand the human equation. There’s sometimes too much focus on the business and not enough on the people that are there. So …

Catherine Miller: So, define human equation.

Lisa Harrington: Well, we are who we are. I’ve done lots of research about this and our brains work a certain way whether we’re at home or at work and the acknowledgement of that humanity in our day to day jobs makes such a difference for people.

They can’t turn themselves off when they go to work. They are going to bring their whole personality to work. Let’s use the best of that, and there’s lots of books around this, tons of work done by people who wrote things like Soar with Your Strengths and other books, that just identify those key components about a person that brings out their natural talent. If you’re using your natural talent every day and you’re doing something that brings you joy, you never work a day in your life.

Catherine Miller: Yes. In other words, you can never really get away from yourself.

Lisa Harrington: That’s right.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah. Wherever you go, there you are.

Catherine Miller: There you are. Yes. So, you better find the best way to work within how you’re made and what you do and …

Lisa Harrington: Right. That’s exactly right.

Catherine Miller: Cool. You moved then into fulltime consulting. Was that two years ago?

Lisa Harrington: January of 2018.

Catherine Miller: January of 2018. I must have met you shortly after you started.

Lisa Harrington: That’s right, that’s right.

Catherine Miller: And tell us how you made that leap yourself. How did you say, “Enough of this,” even though clearly you enjoyed it? Enough of this. I am going to do it full time as a consultant.

Lisa Harrington: Well, I had met Vistage at my last corporate job and just love their philosophy and the way they do things. One of the things that they do well is allow us to also have other parts of our business. So, I also do strategic planning and private coaching outside Vistage. I have a brand management consultant business. There are more things than just the Vistage. But it’s my meat and potatoes, right? It’s the main thing and I met them in the corporate job, and I was so entranced by how they allow the people to be people.

When they coach a CEO, when they trained me, I had to take a hundred hours of coaching training from them to be their coach and this whole idea of accepting that nobody is perfect, everybody is human, everybody is going to have foibles, but you can actually mold that into strengths for the business and acknowledging that is something that really led me to Vistage. I think their ability to do that, plus a 61-year-old company, they really know what they’re doing.

Catherine Miller: OK. What was the shift in your mindset of going from – you said oh, the companies would then hire you. You would start as a consultant and then they would hire you to work for them. What was the break in your lifestyle or in what you were doing that made you say, “Now is the time. I’m really going to move into this and not move back into …”?

Lisa Harrington: I think that my understanding of the need for things to move forward. There’s always change, and big companies sometimes have trouble with change and I just wanted to move faster than they did. So, it was a decision that really made me have every day be something I wanted to be doing instead of following someone else’s orders. That’s really the thing. I think most of us come to that point in our careers. I want to do it my way.

Catherine Miller: I agree.

Lisa Harrington: You know, let’s do it my way.

Catherine Miller: I agree, I agree. I see it time and time again. I see so many people actually who come here because people in our office are initiators and many of them have had long-tenured solid careers and yet there’s always something within them that said, “I want to do my own thing.”

Lisa Harrington: Right.

Catherine Miller: And it could be that they loved what they were doing, but they just were ready for that change. For some of them, it was forced on them.

Lisa Harrington: Well, I think for me, a big part of it too was that I’m such a natural coach and I couldn’t get to as many people or affect as many lives because I was in the day to day of corporate life.

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Lisa Harrington: Right? So, I couldn’t do that one thing that was really the best for me all day long even though I did it while managing employees. That was my style. I just thought like I could have more impact and hopefully, that will turn out to be true.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: As my business grows. But I think I can affect more people this way than in one company. So …

Catherine Miller: Cool. I think one of the things that I know about you and that I love about what I learned about you over this last couple of years is that you know how to initiate. You know how to grow a business. You’ve run large companies, but there are a lot of people who are highly successful in the corporate world and have a hard time really making that move and being a successful entrepreneur and you did that in record time. I will brag on you at least for a minute. But Vistage coaches, only about 20 percent of them actually make it after the training and actually sustain a business, and you did it in record time.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah, six months.

Catherine Miller: Six months, which is crazy. So, what I’ve asked Lisa to do today is to coach us, to coach those people who want to make that move or maybe who have already made the move and are struggling.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: I’ve asked her to come up with some pointers for us, kind of a checklist or things that we can go through and evaluate. What should we do before we make the leap? Once we’ve made it, how can we sustain ourselves and keep ourselves propelling forward?

Lisa Harrington: OK. Well, I created a little acronym which she kept talking about making a leap. So, I used LEAP.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: And the first letter in that word is the L, which is love what you do, and that’s what started me off. It’s my calling, and what I love. It’s the thing I want to get up and do every day, and I think most people have never stopped to think about that. They think about their talents and what they’re good at and they maybe think about what they went to school for.

But I’ve coached people who are going through this and asked them to make a list of the 20 things you would love to do all day every day. Just make a list and it seems simple. But once you start that list, it gets your brain going. It’s not really about the list. It’s about making a conscious effort to decide what do you love.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: And it may or may not be connected to anything you’ve ever done before.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: And there are people out there, not just me, but lots of people out there that can help you then connect that to something that makes you money.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: But the first thing is love what you do.

Catherine Miller: OK. So that’s before you take a leap.

Lisa Harrington: Absolutely.

Catherine Miller: Right? But what if somebody started – they started with something they loved. They get into it and they find that maybe they’re even successful. But they’re not loving their business anymore. Do you have guidance for those?

Lisa Harrington: Sure. Make another list and then you make a connection between what you’re doing now and the people you know and the networks you have and how to move into something else because you can always make a tie between something you did before and now and take that path.

If you’re connecting it to something else that you’ve done and you can show some level of experience with what you did before and what you’re about to do now even if it’s just well, I know how to keep the books or I know how to go network with people and sell things. As long as you can find some way to transition, it has all got to go back to what you love to do.

In the second part of that answer is the E in LEAP, which is engaging your network. Talk to your friends. Go out and meet people. Go meet new people. Engage new networks. It’s all about being out there and hearing what’s available because we tend to live in our own little bubble.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: Sometimes we don’t even know all the opportunities that are out there until we start asking questions and that’s where – we talk about engagement with employees all the time in the corporate world. I’m talking about engaging the network, engaging the people that care about you, that know you, that could tell you, “No way. You can never do that,” and would advise you against one thing or push you towards another. Just keep your own engagement high.

Catherine Miller: So, if you’re currently – let’s say it’s someone who’s currently in a corporate career who’s wanting to do this. You don’t necessarily want to go to your boss and say, “Hey!” Right? What are some specific networks that you would recommend someone in that position to?

Lisa Harrington: Well, I always tell people to pick three networks. So, you want one that’s a business network of some kind, your Chamber of Commerce locally perhaps. You want maybe something that’s philanthropic, your church, your synagogue, the Rotary Club, the Lions, people that give back to the community.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: And then you really should engage with a hobby group. If you like antique cars, go join the Antique Car Club. If you’re a gardener, go join the Gardening Club. Do something that just brings you joy and as you’re doing that, you’re meeting people.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: You’re talking to people. You’re engaging them. You’re figuring out, oh, that’s a direction I could go, and this person will walk me through how they did it. It’s more about finding what you want because once you do, I promise once your heart is open to it, it all comes.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. And you know, I think part of that too is making the effort and the time to make that happen.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: Because if you’re already in a fulltime career and maybe you have a family, making the time to go be a part of another networking group is time-consuming.

Lisa Harrington: It’s tough.

Catherine Miller: It takes time to create a job, to find a new career.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah. I like to think of it as investing the time now so that you can get to where you need to later because that’s what we do for everything.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: We invest our money now for retirement. We invest time in college so we can get a good job. That investment of extra effort now could lead you to the best thing that ever happened to you.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: So, it’s worth giving it a try.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. Yeah, because the other thing I’ve seen is that even though we think of running our own business is finding more freedom and time to do the things we want to do, it’s also very time-consuming. If not time-wise, mentally and you have to really learn how to …

Lisa Harrington: Right. You have to find a balance between all of that. The other piece to it from my perspective is the A, which is aligning it. So if you make the list of what you love and you talk to people and engage your networks, then you want to align all that with your own life purpose and once you do that, you will start to see what direction should you go that could make you money because we are doing this to make a living.

Catherine Miller: That’s right.

Lisa Harrington: So, aligning it to a life purpose that really speaks to you, something that matters. For me, I believe that if we have better leaders everywhere in companies and business, we build a better world. We affect everyone around us.

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Lisa Harrington: And then they affect everyone around them.

Catherine Miller: That’s right.

Lisa Harrington: So, my alignment came when I figured out that if I talk to more leaders and help them be better leaders, I was actually making a positive impact on the world.

Catherine Miller: That’s cool.

Lisa Harrington: Well, everybody needs to find that purpose themselves. Once they do that, it starts to fall into place.

Catherine Miller: Right. That’s a big vision.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: But what better way than to find purpose? I think everyone wants purpose beyond just feeding our family.

Lisa Harrington: Right.

Catherine Miller: I love that you’ve found a way that you feel that can really make the world a better place to be.

Lisa Harrington: Well, you can’t just say I want to make more money. Of course, that’s part of what we all want. But how do you want to make that money? Who do you want to impact as you’re out there making that living? You will make less money, but you will be happier. If you make more money, you would be happier too.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: It’s always fun. But the idea is you can’t just focus on what’s the biggest paycheck because you might be sacrificing other things.

Catherine Miller: That’s right, a bigger purpose.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: And there are lots of resources out there to …

Catherine Miller: Like what would be a few that you would recommend?

Lisa Harrington: Well, that’s the P in LEAP is planning and that goes with purpose too. But you want to talk to someone like the SCORE Organization. There’s a group. I like the Fort Worth SCORE, but they’re everywhere. Every city in America has one. Usually tied to some university or small business college and it comes out of the small business administration. The US government helps to fund some of this, and they can talk to you about how to write your business plan, what makes money and what doesn’t, how do you hire people, how do you fire people, how do you get the IT right. There’s a lot around running a business that’s beyond just doing that thing that’s you’re calling.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: And you really need those checklists and a group of people you can rely on and with no significant fees. You can go to a class at SCORE for $35. You can get online help from them, say the forms you need to fill out or how do I file my corporate name with the State of Texas. They help you with all of that at no charge.

Then you could join a chamber. You know, Chamber of Commerce will always help. You can sit down with the staff there. They usually can help you with marketing and that sort of thing. So, you want to have a plan around what it is you want to do before you pull the trigger. Get all those ducks in a row so that you do it right so that you get the fast start.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: Think about a house. Think about how we build a house or a business building. We first put in the foundation and I remember one time I was teaching classes up in Canada for another insurance company and going back and forth and every time I went, I would watch them build this huge high-rise and the first year of the 18 months I was going up there, all they did was the foundation.

It was going to be a 23-story building and it had to go down the equivalent of about 10 stories to make the foundation strong enough.

Catherine Miller: Oh wow.

Lisa Harrington: So, all this stuff I’m talking about is really building your foundation and then you can make your plan and get ready and have everything in line to build the rest of the house.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: That’s kind of the idea behind all this research and advanced work. You’re building your foundation.

Catherine Miller: Right. When you personally took your leap, what were some of the key things for you personally that you did in your list there? Because some of them you had probably already kind of sifted through over the years.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: Right? Because you’ve been doing some of it for nine years.

Lisa Harrington: Right.

Catherine Miller: When you finally took that step, what were some of the key things you did to …?

Lisa Harrington: Well, we talked on the phone earlier about always be selling and so because I had to represent not only Vistage but myself and my own business, I needed to figure out who to talk to. Who would my target audience be? Where did I want to be and who are the people? And this is a great area for this because we’re right around the airport here, Grapevine, Southlake, Colleyville area. So, I decided I was just going to go an inch wide and a mile deep and whatever groups I joined, whatever information I was going to put out there, I wanted it to be to this very targeted audience and let them really get to know me and make a relationship with me.

So that was my big research. What chambers to join, what networking groups, what sort of conversations did I want to have with people about this? And then targeting my message. So, it took me – I would say I spent the first six months introducing myself at different meetings as all different sorts of things.

I would try out different things and see what resonated and what would make people walk up to me and say, “Hey, I want to learn more,” and I tried all different – I would say I was a consultant, or say I was a coach. I would say I was an executive coach. I’d talk about Vistage and I finally landed on strategic coach because all of the work I do is about strategy. So, when I say strategic coach, somebody will say, “Well, what does that mean?” and then we get to continue the conversation.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Lisa Harrington: So, honing your message, honing your audience, getting the business plan, those are all the things that make a great business and help you with the quick start.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. Were you nervous? You’ve done this kind of work for years. So, when you actually said, “I’m stopping this, I’m putting the stake in the ground,” did that make you nervous?

Lisa Harrington: Oh, yeah, sure. I think if you take – Simon Sinek says don’t say you’re nervous. Use that as energy. Channel that nervousness into energy. So that’s what I try to do because he’s – I think he’s a great author and has great books and great advice. So, when I saw that podcast of his, OK, I’m not going to be nervous. I’m going to be energetic. Channel that.

Lisa Harrington: And I’ve done lots and lots of keynote speaking over the years. Back when I was at FAI as the vice president of education, I would have to get in front of rooms of 40 to 400 and speak. Had done some of that in college and so it wasn’t the idea of being in front of a group that made me nervous. It was wow, I’m really on my own now.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Lisa Harrington: And with all the support Vistage gives, I knew that only about 20 percent make it.

Catherine Miller: You ran.

Lisa Harrington: I just ran hard and got it done, yeah.

Catherine Miller: Well, I love your advice and here’s a great thing that you’ve offered to do for us. So Lisa is going to put together for us a checklist, lining up with LEAP, with some books potentially and different ideas of ways that you can go through that process and prepare yourself, things to consider, things to read, to go through to prepare to take the leap and go and do your own thing. At the end of the show in our comments, we will have how you can download her list of things to consider and before you take the leap.

Lisa Harrington: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Catherine Miller: Oh my gosh, it has been great. And if someone wants to get in touch with you Lisa, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Lisa Harrington: Well, I have a website that’s just my name. It’s Don’t forget the H in the middle.

Catherine Miller: OK.

Lisa Harrington: Or

Catherine Miller: OK, great.

Lisa Harrington: Thank you.

Catherine Miller: Well, thank you. I’m so glad that you were here today.

Lisa Harrington: Thank you.


Download Lisa’s Tips

About LIFT Office

The LIFT Office is a coworking/flex office/meeting space in the center of DFW in Grapevine, Texas just 3 miles from the DFW Airport. The LIFT Office is a dynamic community of influencers, entrepreneurs, independent professionals, consultants, and freelancers. Learn more at

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