Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Live Authentically by Martha Mertz

“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. This gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me. I can’t find the model to live by outside myself. I can find it only within.” Charles Taylor: The Ethics of Authenticity.

The first principle of leadership is to “live authentically”. This is about the core and substance of a person and is the base for every other principle, trait and value. It’s about acting with integrity, about being an integrated person, with all parts of life and spirit meshing and in harmony. A leader could manifest every other leadership strength and still be waving in the wind unless that leader is grounded in the bedrock of her authentic self.

Living authentically means being in touch and in tune with oneself and thus so much more capable of being in tune with others. It’s a state in which ego takes a back seat. We don’t need the stroking, the constant reaffirmation of our value, because we carry inside a solid sense of worth. Living authentically does not confer invincibility. We still take hard knocks, get shaken to our foundation, and go away feeling horrible. But if we stay true to our beliefs, even though we suffer defeats, we are not diminished.

Think about those we call leader in political office or community life, in our businesses, churches and schools. Rarely does one of them stand before us and announce, “Today I completely threw off my principles” (except of course, when caught red-handed at it). Most of the time, a leader retreats from principled living by degrees – with a little rationalization here, an uneasy compromise there, an intentional blindness to an ethical departure. Eventually, onetime standards are just a faint point in the distance. The leader still may trot them out when needed, for public display, but they’re conveniently remote from the day-to-day decisions when staying true to oneself can be unpopular, professional costly, or even dangerous.

Fortunately for us all, there’s no three-strikes-you’re-out rule for authentic living. We can fail ourselves and others in the quest to behave with integrity, then get up the next day and try to do better. ATHENA leaders make living with authenticity and integrity a lifelong pursuit. They strive to keep their consciences fine-tuned. They surround themselves with trusted intimates who will call them on their missteps and help them get back on track.

Leaders strive to live authentically because someone or something has implanted in them, (as Sister Jane Francis did in my long-ago Latin class), that personal imperative, “To thine own self be true.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's your success story?

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Athena Vongalis-Macrow and Andrea Gallant titled "Stop Stereotyping Female Leaders". The authors state that women's leadership programs should not present a successful woman leader as 'superwoman' but should identify women leaders who show that leadership is feasible, flexible and appealing at all stages of a career. Further, they state that women's leadership programs should stop focusing on barriers, glass ceilings and struggles and instead focus on narratives of success.

I loved reading this because I think that the ATHENA leadership programs do this and I'd like to hear your stories to confirm my belief. We have over 6,000 ATHENA Award recipients and thousands more nominees who have a story to tell....and the time has come to share yours. This is your opportunity to stand out and self promote. If you send me your story, I'll post it on this blog and will select a few to post in our monthly enews. You can send it to ddinkel@athenainternational.org. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Acting Courageously

Last Wednesday we held our second ATHENA Leadership Forum in Chicago - bringing together a great group of established and emerging women leaders. The forum topic was the ATHENA Leadership Model Principle ~ Courageous Acts. Leaders who are courageous speak the truth, test relationships and confront traditional thinking. They "stand up, stand firm and do the right thing". As we shared personal stories, we heard from women who are just beginning their professional careers as well as women who were pioneers in leadership in their profession.

This month we celebrate the courageous acts of women who fought and won for all of us the right to vote just 90 years ago. Women who 'stood up, stood firm and did the right thing'. Women who were courageous at great personal sacrifice.

Martha Mertz, founder of ATHENA International and author of "Becoming ATHENA" states that acting courageously gives us permission to 'own' our acts of courage. As she quoted Mary Anne Radmacher, 'Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, "I'll try again tomorrow".'

There are many stories of courage in today's world and I'd like to hear yours. Will you share a personal experience of courage? A time when you stood up for your beliefs in spite of criticism or opposition? When you confronted traditional thinking or followed your heart?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why wouldn't you choose a girl?

I just finished reading the article 'The End of Men' by Hanna Rosin published in the July/August 2010 edition of 'the Atlantic' magazine. Rosin tells the story of biologist Ronald Ericsson who in the 1970s developed a method for choosing the sex of a baby. At that time most couples wanted to ensure that they would have a boy baby boy as girls were generally considered 'second class citizens'. Now, apparently at the approximately two dozen clinics that use Ericsson's process in America, more couples are choosing to have a girl instead of a boy. And according to Ericsson, in the 1970s, it was the man who made the decision as to the sex of the baby and now it is the woman who makes the decision.

What is causing this shift? The author discusses the the changes in our society that seem to indicate that women are becoming the dominant sex in the workforce, educational institutions and home. In fact, women now make up the majority of the workforce for the first time in US history. Women also make up 60 percent of students in institutions of higher education. Women are the decision makers for 85% of all household purchases. (To read the entire article, go to http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/)

Rosin suggests that the modern, postindustrial economy is more congenial to women than men and that this economy is indifferent to men's size and strength. Further, she states that social intelligence, open communication and the ability to sit still and focus are more valuable in today's work environment ~ all traits that are more natural to women than men. So if one is choosing the sex of a baby, it's reasonable to ask 'Why wouldn't you choose a girl?'. Current data indicates that a girl has a greater chance than a boy of being successful in today's workforce.

Rosin also discusses how men are generally portrayed in commercials. My husband and I have this discussion frequently...why are men always portrayed as 'clueless' in commercials. Women and children are smarter or know the right answer. Are we going overboard in suggesting in our media that men are not as smart as women?

I'd be interested in your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are women becoming the dominant force in the workplace in your community? Are we going overboard in presenting women as smarter than men in the media? What are the implications to women leaders who work to help other women in their leadership journey? What are the implications to you?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Best Dressed Leaders

The Vanity Fair’s 2010 Best Dressed List is out and once again, I was not selected. Quite a disappointment since I do make sure to dress every day. Granted some days are better than others, but I’m generally neat and tidy…except in high humidity days when my hair is well, shall we say, less than perfect.

But the list got me to thinking about what it means to be ‘best dressed’….especially when I saw Lady Gaga listed as one of the best dressed. She certainly has some incredible and outrageous costumes, but ‘best dressed’? I’m used to seeing women on the list who wear Chanel and Prada…not feathers, masks and mirrors.

When I started working the ‘best dressed’ professional woman wore a navy blue suit, blue pumps, white hose and a white blouse with a rounded collar. We all looked alike and that seemed important because our view of what a professional woman looked like was in part based on how she was dressed.

But I love that Lady Gaga is on the Best Dressed List. Why? Because the door is now open for others to be on the list that may have never been considered. My paradigm has shifted in who I expect to see on the ‘Best Dressed’ list. And that made me think about leadership. We need to shift our personal paradigm to look beyond the ‘best dressed leadership list’ and see potential in those who don’t fit the leadership mold. We should be opening doors for women who may not own a navy blue suit but have the potential to do incredible things.

So what about you? Does your list include both ‘navy blue suits’ and ‘feathers and mirrors’?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Being an Authentic Leader

Last night we hosted the inaugural ATHENA Leadership Forum in Chicago. The purpose of the event was to bring established women leaders together with emerging women leaders to network, discuss leadership issues and of course, to celebrate each other.

The discussions center around the attributes of the ATHENA Leadership Model. The ATHENA Leadership Model identifies eight attributes of leadership that reflect women's unique ways of knowing and leading. It is unique in that it focuses on personal attributes of strong, successful leaders.

One principle that I particularly resonate with is 'Authentic Self' ~ understanding who you are - your values, beliefs and what you stand for and demonstrating behaviors that align with your values and beliefs. A leader who possess a strong sense of her 'authentic self' is one who is ethical in all circumstances, delivers on commitments and accepts responsibility for her actions.

Those at the table had a very lively discussion about being authentic and one of the comments made was to 'only fight the battles that really matter to your authentic self'. I was not at that table but would have loved to hear the discussion around that statement!

So I ask you...What matters to you? What values and beliefs are you willing to fight the battle? What battles are you fighting that aren't really your battles at all?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

As I reflect on our recent ATHENA Leadership Summit, I can’t help but be reminded of the many comments that I heard from established women leaders who were thrilled that so many emerging leaders attended. They expressed how much the younger leaders added to the overall experience and how much they learned from each other!

I also heard from many ‘younger’ emerging leaders who were so glad to be in a position to not only learn from more experienced women, but to be heard as women, professionals and leaders.

The comments from our attendees excite me because I witnessed leaders and emerging leaders coming together as one voice. It reinforces for me the principal behind ATHENA’s new program, the ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Day, an annual program established for women leaders who want to extend a hand to the next generation of leaders. Each year, on one day, we can all be part of a global event celebrating ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Day. Thousands of women leaders and emerging leaders from around the world will gather to celebrate women helping women ~ and together, we will accomplish great and mighty things.

We can influence our next generation of women leaders. We can do that by bringing them to the table to discuss what it means to be a woman leader. We can introduce them to our colleagues. We can be a role model. We can come together as one and say that it’s important to help other women in their leadership journey. Won’t you join us as we come together as one to celebrate women helping women?