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ATD Blog

The Ambassadors


Wed Apr 13 2016

The Ambassadors

One powerful way to develop new leaders is to enlist senior leaders to do the developing. It’s common for executives to feel marginalized at the end of their career, regardless of where they sit in the pecking order. But when the old guard shares their insights and wisdom with the next generation of leaders, it not only accelerates the development of new leaders, but also honors the experiences and contributions of senior leaders.

For example, one company reduced the scope of a number of senior executives while increasing the scope of the newer execs to make room for younger, aspiring execs. A few of the veteran leaders were vice presidents who had been running large divisions. Although they retained their titles, the bulk of their responsibilities and decision authority were shifted to the less experienced leaders. The shift ended up making the VPs feel devalued, to the point that they started griping about it with one another.


Before long the owner of the company got wind of their complaints. Fortunately, he understood their plight. He had just turned 60 and, despite being the company owner, had also started feeling less needed, valued, and important. He too was feeling marginalized. He didn’t want things to erode, especially because the company had set an ambitious growth goal of doubling revenues within the next five years.

The company—and its next generation of leaders—needed the wisdom and perspective that only longevity provides. He worried about his aging execs becoming like those grumpy geezers you see at your local diner, constantly complaining about the young whippersnappers who were doing things the wrong way.

So the owner did something truly unique and special. Something that might not have been imaginable were it not for his own feelings of diminishment. He established an ambassador program at the company, consisting of execs who are older than 60. The company reinvigorated senior executives by having them:

  • Help assimilate new executives into the company culture when they are hired externally. 

  • Co-teach the company’s leadership and training workshops. 

  • Mentor newly promoted executives. 

  • Conduct safety audits, quality inspections, and job-site visits.

The establishment of the ambassador program, led by the company owner, sent a message to the entire workforce that company longevity is valued and wanted. It showed the older executives that their contributions were still needed. Experience matters, and the company’s growth goals and future benefit from drawing on the past experiences of the company’s senior executives.

On May 23, at the ATD 2016 International Conference & Exposition, I’ll be joined by Craig Atkinson, the vice president of strategic initiatives and communication of Walsh Construction, to share ways to supercharge your organization’s leadership development efforts. Join us!


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