TRAVERSE CITY — Exchanging the blood stripe for a blazer was a “rough” transition, said Angie Morgan.
“I’m my own case study,” Morgan said, referencing her switch from “The Ma’am” — her nickname as an officer in the Marine Crops — to becoming a pharmaceutical salesperson, her first job after leaving military service.
“I ache for other people just starting out after the military. It’s so intimidating,” Morgan said. “All they believe they know is war-fighting. You don’t know if you’re wearing the right clothes, acting the right way or even speaking the same language.”
Navigating life’s transitions is one of Morgan’s missions. The Williamsburg resident does that professionally - from her entrepreneurial company Lead Star - and as a volunteer for veterans, women and girls.
Leaders aren’t always born; they can be made, Morgan said. Many crow “leadership” but few know the nuts, bolts and basics of how to do it, Morgan said.
“You can be told to ‘be a leader.’ You can go to a school reputed to ‘turn out the next generation of leaders.’ You can even ‘lead people’ or manage others without knowing how,” Morgan said. “Leadership is not the job - it’s the behavior.”
Morgan, 38, grew up in Kalkaska and is the middle child of a former high school principal, Gerald Judge, and an English teacher, Marilyn Judge. Morgan graduated from University of Michigan. But she didn’t learn to lead until the Marines showed her how, she said. Her father, a former Marine, encouraged her to join.
“He knew what I was getting into,” Morgan said, referring to the fact that the Marine Corps has the smallest female population of any of the Armed Forces. Only 1,000 of the country’s 180,000 Marines are female officers. “But he thought I could take it.”
Morgan led an all-male public affairs team of combat correspondents. That meant building mutually trusting relationships, creating a harmonious environment and maintaining open communication so conflicts could be dealt with and resolved, she said. It also meant listening, a trait Morgan attributes to her mother.
Listening through the thin walls that separated her from her team of 18 to 24-year-old men also means that Morgan’s young boys - now three and eight - won’t be able to surprise her, she said.
Leadership “how” is now Morgan’s bread and butter. The founding partner of Lead Star runs an impressive client list of Fortune 500 executives from companies like Facebook, FedEx, Google and 3M through leadership training and strategy. The company - co-founded with Morgan’s Marine buddy Courtney Lynch - grew out of the women’s bestselling book “Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women.”
Morgan and Lynch run a 10-person shop that’s entirely virtual, with employees dotting the East Coast. Lead Star even goes full circle with a government contract to provide civilian leadership training on Marine Corps bases.
But Morgan also extends her expertise to anyone who is struggling, pro bono. She invites people to send their resumes to her for insight and polish and volunteers for a number of agencies, including Hope for the Warriors and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. Morgan will be the the keynote speaker for the Junior Achievement Youth Summit this month, said Allison Beers, owner of Events North. Beers is planning the conference.
“Angie is the embodiment of the perfect female leader. She gets her message across, leads by example and cares about her community,” Beers said. “She’s just a genuine, honest and charismatic person.”
Helping people through transitions - out of the military, into a new job, out of school, back to work - is mission work to Morgan. People are “vulnerable” in those shaky months between periods of firm footing, she said.
She illustrates with personal examples - her younger brother committed suicide at 23 years old. His death accounts for Morgan’s particular attention to those who are struggling, she said. Her fears - as a new mom, an entrepreneur, a wife when her husband was deployed to Iraq for a year - awful at the time, strengthened her resiliency overall.
“Sometimes, when you think you have nothing left to give, another problem appears,” Morgan said. “You have to dig deep. That’s when you learn that you are capable of things you never imagined.”
TRAVERSE CITY -- The Record-Eagle will feature a story each month in cooperation with Athena Grand Traverse that profiles someone who embodies the qualities the Athena awards program was founded to reward. The stories document some of the extraordinary people in the Grand Traverse region who've worked to blaze trails for women in leadership. They will publish on the last Monday of each month and aim to encourage readers to think of people in their own lives who embody the qualities sought by the Athena committee. Athena Grand Traverse, part of a larger international awards program, bestows one Athena award each spring to someone in the region who has made paths for women to follow. The 19 past award recipients come from all walks of life, from corporate executives to dedicated volunteers. The only requirement is that the award winner embody the seven characteristics of the group's leadership model: authentic self, celebration and joy, collaboration, courageous acts, fierce advocacy, giving back, and learning and relationships. "Essentially, all Athenas encompass those traits," said Rachel Jarosz, a member of the group's selection committee. Between now and April 1, the committee wants nominations for people who live or work in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska or Leelanau counties and embody the characteristics of an Athena. The 20th Athena award will be announced May 8. If there's a person worthy of Athena consideration, please go to www.athenagrandtraverse.com/nomination and tell the committee why that person deserves recognition.