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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

Everyday Athena: Cassandra Kiger Executive Director, Affinity Mentoring

Women’s LifeStyle Magazine: Tell us about your role as Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring?

Cassandra Kiger: I started in the middle of lockdown, which is always an exciting time to start a new job!  I want to emphasize that I have the most amazing team in the world.

I see my role as a facilitator to make sure my teammates have all of the resources and funding they need to lead by example of how we communicate about the individuals we partner with — our community partners, the students and families who mentor with us as well as our mentors. We’re making sure the community knows that we believe that this is a partnership between every individual who participates in the work of our organization.

WLM: The ATHENA Principle you picked is learning. Tell us why that principle resonates with you.

CK:  I have degrees, I have titles behind my name, but I would say these are by far not the most important ways I have done learning in my life. The biggest, most important learning I’ve ever done has been really experiential. Sometimes it’s on the job. Sometimes it’s learning a new skill. Sometimes that is participating in the community. Lots of times for me in my life that has been travel and having really amazing opportunities to see life reflected back to me in a new culture and a new space, sometimes in a new language and say, “Wow, this gives me a really great opportunity to reflect and see things through someone else’s eyes.” 

That type of learning is really important as a leader. It’s probably the number one most important thing I look for when working with other leaders. If someone is in a space of leadership and they are not actively engaged in learning on a day to day basis, that is a big problem. They’ve either surrounded themselves with a bunch of “yes” people who just keep agreeing with them, or are staying only in their area of expertise, which is terrible for leadership, for growth, for the health of an organization. Our world is changing so quickly and it needs to. That’s not a bad thing - our world has some deeply needed long-overdue change that is coming and needs to keep coming.And as leaders, it is not our jobs to slow it down and to have wistful wishful thinking of the past. It is our job to look to the future and see what the community needs and how we’re paying attention to that and then say, “ What are all the things I don’t know how to do? What are all the spaces I’ve never entered in before?” Those are the spaces that leaders should be in.

WLM: Can you describe what learning looks like in this moment of coronavirus?

CK: I think the thing to do is to accept the fact that, like we’re not arriving, we’re not in a time and space in the world where we’re arriving. And that can be exhausting. Sometimes that means I feel like the decision fatigue in leadership today is it’s higher than I’ve ever felt it before. And I’ve been in a lot of positions  before. I had to make quick decisions and I had to make decisions that affected people’s jobs and people’s lives. But now, more than ever, by the time I hit a Friday afternoon after my 150th decision of the week, I’m like, “I hope I don’t have to decide what to eat today.”  I feel like that’s one of the hardest things about this time right now as a leader —— we’re not arriving, there is not a clear answer in sight. There’s not an end in sight right now.

I think as a leader, I have to embrace the fact that I am going to make some wrong decisions. When  you’re learning, when everyone around you is learning at the speed of how quickly you can read the next article and how quickly you can get the next bit of communication out to people, it means we’re going to make wrong decisions. And I think leading in this time means giving not only ourselves a lot of grace.