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Top Takeaways from MI ATHENA Leadership Summit

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Michigan Chamber filled the University Club of MSU with a max capacity ATHENA crowd, eager to meet together in-person for the first time. A mix of keynote speakers, fireside chats and panels comprised the event, chock full of valuable takeaways.

Nayana Ferguson, entrepreneur and founder of Anteel Tequila, began the day with a keynote speech, called “Taking the Chance and Investing in Yourself.” Not only did she tell memorable stories of her resilience against fear and adversity, but she shared two pivotal points:

  1. The cornerstone to investing in yourself is having faith in yourself. This could come from within or someone else who believes in your abilities. This belief may come naturally or it may take someone else’s words to believe that you can do what you set your mind to. At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle to your goals is yourself; faith in spite of uncertainty, even if that only entails taking the next small step, will have a huge ripple effect on your confidence and impact going forward.
  2. Do it afraid! Confidence and believing in yourself are not cultivated in the absence of fear, but the belief that achieving something is greater than the fears that stem from a life choice. Ironically, even though our tendency is to avoid fear, pushing through fear is the best way to foster confidence and remind yourself that fear does not have to control you.

After headshots and networking, a Lunch and Learn panel titled “Creating Habits that Cultivate Confidence” was next. Anna Heaton of Resch Strategies moderated a discussion between Amy Mansfield of Davenport University and Deb Muchmore of Deb Muchmore Consulting. Here are two items of note:

  1. Take small steps forward, rather than expecting perfection. Confidence builds from knowing you can accomplish things, which, more often than not, starts with small milestones. Even the greatest achievements are comprised of small choices, from carving out time to prioritize something to executing the steps that bring a goal to completion. Perfectionism tends to be another huge obstacle to achievement, so pressing forward anyway can make the difference between success and failure.
  2. Both panelists agreed: The best way to overcome impostor syndrome is to take big risks. Saying “yes” to opportunities, even those we are unsure about, can foster unexpected relationships and improve new skills we may fall in love with. If we always say “no,” we may overlook where we could thrive. Worst comes to worst, taking a risk will lead to clarity on what is not a good fit for you, and that can boost confidence in its own way.

Jennifer Maxson, president of Jennifer Maxson & Associates, led an engaging, interactive session on enhancing your presence. She discussed the impact presence has on others and how to achieve it everyday. Having “it” requires a combination of confidence, honed communication skills and emotional maturity:

  1. Confidence – Project confidence by bringing purposeful energy to every interaction. It is important to be aware of your facial expressions, use appropriate emotions and hold space for others to join in the confident space you create.
  2. Communication – Jennifer used the phrase, “Be bright, be brave, be gone,” when referring to how to be a good communicator. Strive for everything we communicate to be have a clear objective, get to the point and delivered within a certain timeframe.
  3. Emotional maturity – Jennifer explained that we must have a level of self-awareness and self-management. It is key to understand our emotions, and also how to regulate them.

The Summit wrapped up with Jennifer Sulak-Brown, joined Sheri Jones of WLNS TV 6 on stage, to share her experiences in developing her own personal brand and leadership identify throughout her 17-year career at Barton Malow. Jennifer shared that her personal brand naturally developed in the workplace as she sought out a company with values that matched her own. She stressed how authenticity is imperative to developing your brand in the workplace. Here are her key takeaways:

  1. Have a sense of curiosity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or learn new skills. You’ll then find your personal brand develops organically over time.
  2.  Be self-confident and assure yourself you are worthy. Positive self-talk can go along way. Additionally, starting every morning with optimism can set the tone for your entire day.
  3. Be indispensable by being part of the solution. Present to others that your personal brand entails always being reliable and a problem solver.

Michigan ATHENA is closing out a very successful year of programming with special thanks to its sponsors, of which these events and more would not be possible. A huge shoutout and word of gratitude for them all: our diamond sponsor, Lake Trust; our presenting sponsor, Consumers Energy; our gold sponsors, Amerisure, Hastings Mutual Insurance Company and Perrigo; our silver sponsors, Ice Mountain and Lansing Board of Water and Light; our supporting sponsor, West Shore Bank; our premier educational partner, Davenport University; and our supporting sponsor, CATA.

While 2024 programming is soon to be announced on the Michigan ATHENA page, there are many other ways to engage in the meantime. Check out the recordings of some of the previous Michigan ATHENA events and connect with us on social! You can find us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.