December 17th, 2021

I was speaking to the CHRO of a large pharmaceutical company recently, and she asked me to describe Athena’s model for executive learning. I framed it as a community of executives who can access a broad range of executive learning — when they want it, when they need it. This takes place through live orchestrated events (Salons), on-demand content (hundreds of hours of incredible content, at your fingertips), and peer-to-peer exchanges. It’s an ecosystem of support.

She suggested that Athena’s model is much like “learning in the flow of work”, one of the latest paradigms to reach corporate training programs. And she’s right. Much like leaders in learning and development are seeing an increased need to make training enjoyable, easy to access, and convenient to engage in (and then let employees get back to work!), Athena makes it easy for executives to engage in similar learning cycles.

Following are some trends I’m seeing in executive learning as it relates to the Athena community:

Executives want to engage when it’s convenient for them. I’m seeing more Athena members join Salons on the go, in their “free” time between meetings, and in the evenings and weekends. In other words, they’re approaching our live Salons less like a “meeting” they “have to” attend, and more like those coveted hallway conversations we used to have pre-Covid — they casually drop in, they say hello to members they recognize or who they’ve come to know, then catch the Salon later in the library on-demand when they can deep-dive into the content.

More side conversations, please. One thing has been true from the start of our virtual Salons: the chat sidebar has a life of its own. In fact, we encourage it! Athena is not about webinars. We don’t have attendees anonymously and quietly raise their hands. We let the conversation take a life of its own, because we know that’s where the real learning and connections take place. It’s through our chat that resources are shared, links exchanged, questions asked, praise is given, and so much more. We have no intention of ever extinguishing that spirit.

The best mentorship is organic. The executive realm can be lonely because leadership is lonely. Support to get through it needs to be natural. Athena members know relationships are a give and take. They know to pick up the phone for one another (or the Zoom, or the text), because at some point they, too, will come calling with a question, to ask for a referral, a call for mentorship, and so on. Great community is formed when everyone gives, and everyone receives.

Learning must be agile and fast. If we’re expected to lead, to operate, to thrive in a fast-moving world, then the way we learn must be equally agile and fast-moving. There’s not a lot of time for textbooks, for production studios, for the perfect script. Athena members share in a raw, real, vulnerable way. We ask that they show up as they are (on some days that may mean spandex, and other days it may mean a blazer). We ask that they teach as they wish (speaking to the camera, with or without slides, from any location they choose).

This rapid style of learning is what got Athena members through the earliest days of the pandemic — we mobilized thought leaders within days to speak on supply chain disruption, workforce reductions, employee health and safety. It got us through George Floyd, anti-Asian sentiment, and it’s pulling us through the Great Resignation. And we know when we need to turn off the cameras to allow our members to maintain authenticity and confidentiality.

There’s a place for cohorts and peers. We’re human, and despite our virtual world and advances in tech, we want to learn together — side by side. Curating the right learning, the right subject matter experts, and the right talking points to create a rich, Socratic-style learning environment can help executives maintain momentum in reaching their goals.

For coaches, it’s less about certifications and more about experience. Executives need to work one-on-one with coaches who truly know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. The best coach-member relationships happen when there’s a foundation of executive experience, coupled with a talent for unpacking the weight of a multitude of issues. These coaches can be hard to find — which is why Athena carefully vets and sources coaches only from our tight-knit community.

Outcomes are personal. When Athena collaborates with corporate partners, our goal is to work toward their corporate goals — whether it’s preparing for an IPO, change management, or going through a merger or acquisition.

However, we also recognize the overall journey is deeply personal. Change is personal; growth is personal. It will vary from leader to leader, nuanced to their role, background, and aspirations. We know it’s critical to work to achieve outcomes both individually and collectively, and our model is designed to support that. In this way, each member can show up as their whole self.

Big things are coming to our incredible community of executives in 2022. How are you supporting your top leaders, and what trends are you seeing?



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