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Awakening the Leaders Within

Today it’s a global crusade dedicated to providing women empowerment through the concept that personal success and fulfillment is intrinsically interlinked with uplifting the well- being and success of those around us. However, what would become the global leadership program ATHENA International first gained its groundswell in early 1980s Lansing with a quotation from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and a vision borne by the organization’s architect.

“My vision was that women would begin to have a voice in our communities,” said Martha Mayhood Mertz, founder of ATHENA International. “At the time, women were not considered to be leaders or to have leadership qualities, but I didn’t think that way. I thought women had unsung leadership strengths that weren’t recognized or seen, and my hope was to cultivate the awareness of women as leaders.”

Cultivating, planting and harvesting that culture of awareness — and self-awareness — is exactly what she did.

Athena Wall

What started as an annual award program through the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce to recognize one outstanding female leader has grown to programs in more than 500 American cities and 10 countries, the research and establishment of eight principles known as the ATHENA Leadership Model, mentorship and training opportunities, and two books.

“I thought (the ATHENA Award) would make a difference at the time in that room,” Mertz said. “I never dreamed of the force and the impact that would come with that vision.

“In the past 40 years, the ATHENA Award has truly changed the ways communities perceive women. It has altered the way women see themselves. And that has transformed entire communities,” she added. “Additionally, the definition and essence of leadership have been improved through the ATHENA Leadership Model.”

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