I was recently introduced to the Athena Leadership Model, a model developed through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership.  The attributes are Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.  In a series of posts, I’ll share a story of personal experience around each of the contributions.

Giving Back.

In 2006, I joined a mentorship program with Community Partnership for Children.  I was paired with a teenager named Stacy.  For years, I had supported various charities and causes, but always tugging at my heart was the desire to do something deeply meaningful.  The mentorship program seemed like a great opportunity for me to serve as a role model, and to share my wisdom and experience with a child in need.

Boy was I wrong.

Not about the opportunity. I was wrong about the outcome of the program.  I never expected to be so richly rewarded in return for my giving.  Stacy soaked in my knowledge, but she also changed me as a person.  Our friendship blossomed and she showed me unconditional love.  She became a surrogate big sister to my children, Evan and Irelyn. She made our family whole.

Stacy and I come from different cultural backgrounds.  We entered our relationship with our own preconceived notions about our different cultures.  Our relationship helped us dispel and laugh at the stereotypes we had assumed.  We gained a better understanding of each other’s cultural differences and a deep appreciation for them.

Giving back as a leader.

Giving back to the community is one of the most effective ways to learn and hone leadership skills.   Organizations that promote community involvement recognize great reward in the long run.  Community involvement enriches the work environment and fosters a spirit of giving throughout the organization, especially when teams of employees volunteer.

Shanna Bender, founder of Design Studio 15, believes in community involvement so much, she has included it as a requirement of her company’s employment agreement. She says, what employees learn from volunteering is transferred to their job with better team collaboration, customer service, and loyalty.

Samantha Blyn saw such value in employee volunteer programs she founded Making the Difference Outreach.  Making the Difference Outreach takes the burden for organizations and volunteers by bridging the gap between the community and organizations that need volunteers to make a difference.

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Jennifer Ferguson, CEO and Founder of Symphony Financial Team, provides comprehensive and coordinated planning for her clients.