Finding your inner Goddess – Leadership lessons for women from Athena

If you have ever had the good fortune of visiting the ancient city of Athens, Capital of Greece, you will be immediately struck by its ancient and dominating history. Athens dates back to 7000 BC it is, one those places whose present is much entwined in it glorious past, a past that follows you around no matter where you go. According to legend, the Athenian King Cecrops named the city after himself but the Greek Gods, seeing how beautiful it was, felt it deserved an immortal name. Read on to discover who the city was eventually named after…

King Cecrops decided to have a contest amongst the Gods of the Acropolis, the winner of which will lend their name to the glorious city. The two most promising and prominent Gods of that time, Poseidon and Athena, naturally were the fiercest contenders.

The contest between them was so intense that they nearly went to war with each other. However, just when they were about to attack each other, Athena had an idea for a different approach. She proposed that she and Poseidon enter into another contest, where whoever presented the city with the best gift would become the patron. King Cecrops and the people of the city would decide the winner.

Poseidon struck the Earth with his massive trident and presented the city with the gift of water. He was the God of the Sea and the gift of water, in the form of a massive foamy stream, excited the people. But they found out, a little after, that the water was sea water and quite unfit for human consumption.

After much thought and wisdom, Athena, in turn presented the city with an olive tree. Her gift was presented as a seed sown in the earth, and people had to wait to see what comes of it. The olive seed bore fruit and proved to be a wonderful and practical gift. It provided the people with sustenance, fuel, wood and a crop that was tradeable. Athena’s gift was much loved and she was proclaimed the winner.

Thus Athens got its name and Athena’s wisdom was immortalised, in the city of Athens, which to date bears the olive fruit which is much loved world over.

Athena is considered to be the Goddess of Wisdom as well as war. She was a prudent and wise battle strategist. She had creatively turned what could have been a destructive war into a gift for the people. She had ensured that the outcome of their rivalry and irrespective of who won the contest, the city and people won and benefited by default.

Athena is also considered the Goddess of strength, leadership, crafts (specially spinning and weaving) and was known for her generosity and kindness.

As women, in leadership roles much can be imbibed from these myths and legends of Athena. She embodied courage, wisdom as well as kindness and domesticity. For us women striving to balance the home and workplace, we could, like Athena, embrace our femininity and yet, fiercely lead from the front line.

In 1982, much inspired by Goddess Athena, speaker, author, and successful entrepreneur, Martha Mayhood Mertz spearheaded a leadership award program: The ATHENA Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess. An award for individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities, and helped rise up other leaders, especially women. Mertz’s book traces the ATHENA history and illuminates 8 ATHENA principles: Live authentically, Learn constantly, Advocate fiercely, Act courageously, Foster collaboration, Build relationships, and Give back, Celebrate.

These eight distinct attributes reflect women’s contributions to leadership. While these can be applied by both genders, women demonstrate these personal traits more intuitively. These intuitive traits, when combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership – taking risks, assertiveness, hard work – could prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.