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A couple weeks ago we had our Athena Leadership retreat. This happens a couple times a year with me and our two managers, Jennifer and Dorian. We met together right back where we were last January, in Pismo Beach, California. This is one of my happy places. It’s on the central coast of California. It’s never too hot and never too cold there. (However, as I write this today, it is getting pummeled with rain and wind).

Dorian drove up from LA and Jennifer flew from Peoria, IL. Jennifer had one of those travel days that we’ve all had at one point, where one delayed flight, leads to an enormous layover somewhere, and then you reconfigure and reconfigure your itinerary until you end up getting as close as you can to where you’re going, and then say “Screw it! I’ll get a driver service to get me the rest of the way.” So, at midnight after being awake for 20 hours, she arrived. And when she was good and ready to wake up the next morning, we began.

The retreat was a time for being open, curious and audacious. Thinking big thoughts and creating big ideas without having to know how we will achieve them. Some conversations were right on the agenda. Some topics bubbled up while we were soaking in a hot tub or gnawing on barbecue for dinner.

If I think about my experience of being together with the two of them, living together with them for a few days . . . Well, if I think about it too much I will cry. They are bold and inspiring, and some of the greatest human beings I have ever known. Getting to spend time in person with them is a real treat.

We covered a lot of ground, from short term action plans to long-term dreams. But I was curious, now a couple weeks later, what were the highlights for them? We talked about this after everyone returned to their homes and families. Needless to say, I was thrilled with their take on the weekend:

Creating 2024 Together: The opportunity to collectively envision and shape the future of the company for the upcoming year served as a powerful catalyst for inspiration and motivation. With the groundwork laid in 2023, the retreat provided a blank canvas for creativity and innovation.

Magic in the Air: The act of sitting together and looking “eyeball to eyeball,” yielded a deep level of connection and commitment.

Safe Space and Trust: Being in a safe space with supportive colleagues underscored the importance of psychological safety in fostering creativity and collaboration. This trust gave us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of judgment and led to more authentic and meaningful contributions.

Partnership and Support: We know we have the full support of each other. Coming together and sharing bold ideas can be daunting, but feeling supported in expressing them is safe and validating. We understood that even if some ideas didn’t immediately resonate, they might contribute to future innovations. No bad ideas!

Culture of Winning: We are creating a space together and with the entire Athena Executive Services team that ensures success is not a zero-sum game, but rather a collective endeavor where each individual’s achievements contribute to the overall success of the company.

Diverse Approaches to Rejuvenation: Our discussion around team members’ diverse rejuvenation needs highlighted the importance of accommodating individual preferences for recharging and self-care. Not everyone recharges in the same way!

Our Responsibility as Managers: We really got into the significant impact a manager has on the lives of team members, clients, and their respective circles. Beyond direct interactions with team members and clients, we hold a broader responsibility for fostering an environment where fulfillment and success are prioritized.

Looking ahead to 2024, I asked Dorian and Jennifer who they were going to be in 2024 that stands on the shoulders of who they were in 2023?

They each had answers that were uniquely their own which I will hold to myself. But I will say that they are both looking to tackle 2024 with bold confidence! Our intention as a leadership team is clear: to empower and uplift team members, foster a culture where every team member feels valued, supported, and integral to the company’s success, and create a dynamic environment where the Athena team and our fabulous clients thrive!

It was so interesting for me to learn what the managers got from the retreat, and I wanted to share these highlights with all of you, because I think it paints a picture of what it’s like behind the curtain at our firm.

Gina Cotner, CEO, Athena Executive Services


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