Celebrating Ascent Fellows


For frequent airline passengers, the words – “Put your oxygen mask on first” – are very familiar and heard before each flight.  Why?  Because if you run out of oxygen, you cannot help anyone else who may be struggling with their own oxygen mask. 

We know leaders drive performance of an organization, but they often spend too much time running from crisis to crisis, providing oxygen to others, while depriving themselves of the oxygen they need to look and act farther ahead, preparing for future crises and changing times. This narrow focus on short-term results can lead companies to underinvest in the future of their leaders, to enable them to better take care of others and the business. 

With the recent conclusion of our inaugural Ascent Fellowship - focused on family-run and founder-led businesses - we have had the honor to spend the past six months with 27 incredible leaders who did take the time to invest in their ability to respond to rapid changes and increase productivity and profits. 

Their organizations understood that developing high-performing employees not only improves their performance but also rewards them, becoming a virtuous cycle to attract, retain, and develop the leaders of the future. When tailored to the specific needs of individual leaders, this development becomes particularly effective and powerful.

“Being a senior executive for 25 years, I believed I knew who I was and how to run my business life. Ascent gave me a much clearer picture of myself and helped me define the path to follow in order to become a better professional.”

— Frederic Vieil, President and CEO, Hexagone

Development of leadership need not be a crapshoot, relying only on the lucky few. Evidence shows that most leaders benefit visibly from intensive development when provided core knowledge, opportunities to grow, and networks to support that growth.

Everyone has the capacity to learn, grow, and strengthen the practice of leadership. We applaud our Ascent Fellows for their commitment to personal learning and development.

The Secret to Great Leadership Programs

March 2019

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As Peter Drucker wisely noted, "Developing talent is business's most important task."  But the truth about leadership development would imply the opposite is happening:  63-65% of companies identify leadership development as their #1 current and future human capital concern, yet only 19% of organizations rate themselves as effective at developing leaders.

Exploring this reality further, we spoke to hundreds of senior executives and discovered that leaders yearn for growth.  We found several universal needs:

  • Feedback that provides deep, honest insight about where they are today, and where they can go from here

  • Knowledge that is relevant and applies immediately to the real world and corporate strategy

  • Experiences that are eye-opening, refresh, and inspire

Thus we believe the six key components of effective leadership development programs incorporate a holistic approach from design to delivery to follow-up:

  1. Curated, applicable content with discussion, simulations, and hands-on learning relevant to strategic objectives

  2. Assessment and benchmarking to craft strategic development plans for tangible, measurable growth

  3. Renowned faculty of expert practitioners, peers, and mentors drawn from diverse world-class organizations

  4. Inspiring places and thought-provoking venues that spark new ideas and connections and reinforce learning

  5. structured network to expand access to thoughtful leaders

  6. Ongoing development with multiple, ongoing touchpoints, check-ins over several months, and scheduled followup and goal setting

If you are looking to bring all these pieces together for your next offsite or retreat, contact Ascent at steve@ascent.net or visit www.ascent.net/programs to explore what transformative, tailored experiences we can deliver uniquely for you.

Inspiration from 10,000-Year Institutions

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To cap this fantastic week of learning with our leaders from the Fellowship for Family-run and Founder-led Businesses, we invited Alexander Rose, Executive Director of the Long Now Foundation to speak. The Long Now Foundation fosters long-term thinking - specifically in 10,000-year horizons. 

For this conversation, Alexander focused on what long-lived institutions have in common, and what lessons we can learn from other systems, such as cities and nature. A sampling of interesting points:

  • Many long-lived organizations have regular infusions of new people, such as universities with new students every year

  • There are lessons to be learned from Japanese Shinto tradition, such as the practice of tearing down and rebuilding at regular intervals to ensure renewal

  • From nature, there is research that trees do better in harsher environments: when entrepreneurs go through tough times, there is hope

His inspiring talk begs the question, what changes do you need to make in your organization to ensure its longevity? This definitely gives us some food for thought as we ponder what the future of organizations, and the world as a whole, could look like in 10,000 years.

A Magical Evening of Visions for the Future


In the David Lean Theater at Summit Skywalker Ranch, Ascent screened for more than 100 specially invited guests the world premiere of its short film, which covers the launch week of its inaugural fellowship program for family-run and founder-led business leaders.  Afterwards, four of the Fellows shared their personal leadership visions for improving the future:

  • Frederic Vieil, President & CEO of Hexagone, is passionate about expanding happiness and healthy eating through the creation of French food halls, starting in Boston.

  • Nell Diamond, Founder & CEO of Hill House Home, is redefining shopping for the new generation of 21st-century women by helping them communicate their values through their purchases.

  • Stephen Bronfman, Executive Chairman of Claridge, Inc., wants to see the adoption of the "happiness index," starting with a simple smile campaign to become a national movement in his native Canada.

  • Gowri Ishwaran, CEO of the Global Education & Leadership Foundation in India, sees how with the huge societal changes caused by new technologies requires us to help young people navigate this new world through new curricula to educate them on necessary ethics and altruism to make right choices.

Ascent is growing a network of like-minded people committed to helping leaders thrive, and we look forward to continue casting individuals for the next scenes of this evolving story.

Technological Disruption Also Disrupts Leadership: In a Good Way


Leaders must constantly navigate the ever-changing state of the world while keeping up with the seemingly daily transformations in technology. 

On Tuesday, November 13, at Techonomy 2018 in Half Moon Bay, CA, Ascent Leadership Networks hosted a lively breakfast focused on leadership and disruption with an excellent panel: Topher White (CEO, the Rainforest Connection), Sung Park (President, Archimedes), Dr. Amit Mukherjee (Founder, Ishan Advisors), Lowinn Kibbey (Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute), and Gina Hadley (Co-Founder, The Second Shift). We often hear about the negative impacts of technology, whereas this discussion touched on the positive aspects of technological disruptions:

  • There is a major opportunity for collaborations to develop new products that enhance business sustainability,

  • Humans have a desire to connect with technology; from tapping into potential uses for good to recovering from the stresses technologies can create

  • We have the opportunity to grow, to provide greater transparency and knowledge, along with improved access to information, that will help all of us make sense of everything in front of us

Sung Park suggested, "Schedule time to think: the quality of ideas is more important than the quantity of work you do." 

As Lowinn Kibbey questioned, "Technology is changing and illuminating human behavior, but can it improve it?"