Building Better Leaders Together

Ascent Leadership Network’s managing director explains how leaders can improve by collaborating.


LEADERS AREN’T ALWAYS born – they can and often have been made through effort and dedication instead. Stephen Kelner, managing director of Ascent Leadership Networks, spoke about the roles that constructive feedback and focused training play in building effective leaders at the 2019 World Economic Forum.

Kelner has over 25 years of experience in evaluating and developing executive leadership. Prior to joining Ascent, he served as the global thought leader for assessment and development at the global executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart. He also previously held the position of global knowledge manager at the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder. Kelner now oversees leadership assessment and developmental practices at Ascent.


Ascent’s mission is to help leaders keep abreast of the rapid pace of progress by putting CEOs and other leaders in conversation with each other and creating programs that address pressing leadership challenges such as technological disruption or stakeholder engagement. “We bring leaders together from diverse backgrounds to have intensive, immersive experiences together over time that are tailored to them,” Kelner said. “That allows them to develop each other as well as themselves over the long term.”

One of Kelner’s personal leadership heroes, Abraham Lincoln, exemplifies the idea that leadership potential can be cultivated into greatness. Although “he didn’t start out as a great leader,” according to Kelner, he eventually grew into one in part because of his willingness to listen and learn from the input of others. In fact, he was known to bring those who opposed him into his administration so he could learn from their perspectives.

Ascent aims to utilize honest, constructive feedback as effectively as Lincoln did by forming networks of diverse leaders who can keep each other from falling behind the curve. Kelner pointed out that once leaders reach a certain level of power, their employees tend to be more hesitant about offering help – whether it’s because they believe leaders don’t need, want or welcome it. Through these networks, Ascent provides executive leaders with “objective and supportive” feedback from other changemakers that they can use to boost innovation and efficiency.