Enterprising Women Vol 10, No 2, 2009

58 enterprising Women B Y MARY SCHNACK F rom childhood, Martha Mayhood Mertz saw women she admired—as skilled, strong and inspiring –denied recognition for and access to leadership. So in 1982—from her home in Lansing, Michigan—Mertz spearheaded a new leadership award program. The ATHENA Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess, would go to individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities and helped raise up other leaders, especially women. After two years of interviewing women leaders—from world leaders to the dynam- ic woman next door—Mertz has written Becoming ATHENA; Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership . The book, which hit the market in March, traces the ATHENA history, and illuminates the eight ATHENA leadership principles, with inspiring, instructional sto- ries from Mertz’s and other leaders’ lives. Some are prominent figures: a General Motors executive, a United Nations offi- cial. Others are precisely the kind of high- achieving, low-profile leaders ATHENA was founded to honor. What Mertz conceived more than a quarter-century ago with that first ATHENA Award is now a global movement. ATHENA International, headquartered in Chicago, has fostered leadership recognition, men- toring and training programs in more than 500 U.S. cities and six foreign countries. With Becoming ATHENA , Mertz aims to celebrate outstanding leaders and the principles they represent, to encourage others who would emulate them, and to give future generations guid- ance and traction for the challenges ahead. More than 6,000 leaders, most of them women, have been honored as ATHENA Award recipients. In a 1998 research study, ATHENA International interviewed hundreds of those recipi- ents, asking about their leadership traits, beliefs and practices. The aim, Mertz says, was “to distill these distinctive ways of leading into a blueprint that aspiring leaders could fol- low.” From the data, Mertz and colleagues fashioned the ATHENA Leadership Model — eight principles that lie at the heart of effective, admirable, enlightened leader- ship: • Live authentically • Learn constantly • Advocate fiercely • Act courageously • Foster collaboration • Celebrate • Give back • Build relationships Increasingly, what Mertz calls ATHENA principles are also known by other names — servant leadership, values-based lead- ership — and cited by experts as the gold standard for enlightened practice. Mertz has even started a discussion forum on “President Obama Leads Like a Woman” at www.Connected-Women.com. Mertz opens Becoming ATHENA with a confession: “For years I’ve resisted writing this book because telling the ATHENA story also means telling my own story, and I’d prefer to avoid that spotlight. Finally, though, I realized that’s a little hypocritical. Given my conviction about women’s lead- ership — that its unique power comes from women’s shared life lessons — how could I justify not sharing my own?” “Ultimately, it’s about changing the face and nature of leadership, and at thismoment in history that strikes me as critically im- portant”, Mertz said. “Our world is experi- encing crises in leadership just when it most needs to be led wisely.” Anyone of either gender can embrace this way of leading, Mertz says. “It’s as ancient and organic as the social patterns women have created over generations — and yet, it’s as vital and full of promise as the 21st century.” Through stories in the book, these eight indispensable prin- ciples speak powerfully to all who would lead. “By recognizing these leaders’ actions— how they perform with excellence, give back to their communities, reach out to mentor others—we say publicly and unequivocally that these actions are valu- able. Not nice, not optional, but take-this- to-the-bank valuable,” saidMertz. “Singling out these leaders isn’t about glorifying them personally. It’s about propagating what they stand for, encouraging those who would emulate them, and giving the next generation some traction in the uphill battles still ahead.” Mertz affirms it is time to check our col- lective vision. “These are old truths newly framed. These are our intuitions, finally said out loud. Now all that’s left to do is step up. We must become the leaders we’ve been waiting for.” For more information on Becoming ATHENA , the ATHENA International lead- ership programs, or to obtain a book, please go to www.ATHENAinternational. org or call 312-580-0111. MARY SCHNACK is a noted communi- cations specialist, speaker, author and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience. A member of the Enterprising Women National Advisory Board, she can be reached at 928-204-9834 or email: mary@communicationbridges.com. Becoming ATHENA Martha Mayhood Mertz Review Book Martha Mertz