My Journey to ATHENA

Sep 21, 2018 Articles

On Wednesday, September 19, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce recognized Jennifer Maxson as the 2018 ATHENA Award Recipient. These are Jennifer's remarks concerning her "journey to ATHENA," the individuals, opportunities, and values that have shaped her leadership journey. You can also see the video shown before Jennifer's remarks here.
- - -
Thank you to the Grand Rapids Chamber and the ATHENA Committee for this special recognition. To my fellow ATHENA Finalists, and Young Professional ATHENA Finalists, thank you for your leadership in our community. Your achievements are amazing.

Over the last few weeks, I have been asked if there was one defining moment, special event, or one special person that inspired me to live the ATHENA Tenets. My answer is no, it is not one event, one moment, or one person. It has been the collection of incredible experiences and people that have shaped my opportunity to live out the ATHENA Tenets. From attending GVSU and being active in student life (I am a Laker for a Lifetime), to incredible job opportunities, mentors that have been supporters and friends, to being invited to serve the YMCA, mentor a Cook Leadership Academy fellow, and support women starting and growing their business through Michigan Women Forward. And I can’t forget to mention our incredible clients. All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow, learn, and live the ATHENA Tenets.  All have helped me create my leadership journey, this collection of wonderful experiences and people.

In the spirit of ATHENA, the goddess of wisdom. I share with you, My Journey to ATHENA, with three lessons that I have learned along the way. First the Power of Mentors, second Don’t Sit Down, and third Celebrate the Small Successes.



The Power of Mentors. Mentors are the cultivators of talent. The reality is that we need mentors throughout our career, not just at the start. Our journey is not a straight path, it has twists and turns. The best part is that we find mentors along the way. Let me share with you the power of two of my mentors.

First, Fred Chapman. Fred was my favorite professor at Grand Valley State University in the School of Communications. He told incredible stories of his days at Mercedes Benz, knew every student in his class, stay connected, and followed our careers after graduation. He knew my interest in communications and business and encouraged me to stay on my path. I will never forget seeing him, 15 years after graduation, walk into a room when I was speaking to a professional association. He smiled and told me that he could not wait to see me in action. Fred has since passed, but his spirit is still with his students.

Second, Nancy Skinner, my friend and mentor. Here are a few lessons she taught me that I would like share with you:
• Speak up at least twice at a meeting. Once on something you are known for, your area of expertise. And second, tie your comment to the big picture, vision and strategy.
• Bring solutions to others. When you are invited to a formal or informal meeting make sure to bring value and to help others solve their problems. This is how you become a partner to your internal and external clients.
• Take on stretch assignments. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.  You are offered stretch assignments because someone knows that you will be wildly successful.

What I have realized, is that mentors see our potential, and push us to be the best version of ourselves. We all have the power to mentor others; the question is will we use it.



Don’t Sit Down. Courageous Acts are happening all around us. From speaking up in a meeting, challenging status quo, or starting your own business.

About 5 years ago, my husband and I learned how to ski.  Our kids were spending evenings and weekends at Cannonsburg. We signed up for lessons and our instructor gave us the techniques on how to safely get ourselves down the hill.  From pizza or snow plow, to keeping skis parallel otherwise known as french-fry. Most importantly, don’t sit down.  My journey on the bunny hill was a success. We moved to the double and I felt like I was on top of a mountain.  I started off okay, built some confidence, and then came the fast-little kids.  At one point, I lost my confidence and sat down.  It was a bumpy journey for a short distance.

What I learned is that when we start to lose confidence or are facing a courageous act, don’t sit down. You have tools, relationships, mentors and instructors that will help you along the way.  I promise you that the journey is a lot more fun when you don’t sit down.


Celebrate the Small Successes. Today is an incredible celebration of joy and achievement. Let’s not forget to celebrate the everyday achievements of individuals and teams. As leaders, we need to be recognizing the efforts of others. Celebrate at the end of a long project or acknowledge how an individual contributed to the group's success. Create a culture of joy and celebration. Write a thank you note, give recognition, make someone feel good about their achievements. Simon Sinek said, “the joy of leadership comes from seeing someone on our team achieve more than they thought they were capable of”. Find a way to bring joy to someone on your team today.


The Power of Mentors. Don’t Sit Down. Celebrate Small Successes.

Today is a significant event on my leadership journey, a collection of incredible and meaningful experiences, and I get to share it with each of you. I can look back at the past, experience the present, and look forward to the future because the best is yet to come.

Today confirms my ongoing commitment to the ATHENA Tenets and supporting future leaders. More importantly, I ask you to think about this, how will you support a future leader on her journey to ATHENA?



Join over 2,000 industry leaders who get fresh content from Jennifer Maxson & Associates. Free monthly updates and no spam.

Thanks for signing up.