A promise of receptive leadership

A promise of receptive leadership

Nine years ago I sat for four days in a learning circle with 15 other people from the U.S. and Canada. We had gathered to practice scenario thinking—creating plausible stories of alternative futures in 2030. We had chosen to use philanthropy as our principle topic of inquiry. What emerged were four stories of very different futures, each compelling for its possibilities. 

Something else emerged from that gathering, which some (all?) of our participants carry with us to this day…perhaps very intentionally on this day. 

What emerged from our four days together of storytelling and imagination was a growing sense of shared resolve, a higher calling or stronger purpose, if you will.

One of those participants, Tom Soma, has an uncanny gift of listening to the spirit beneath a conversation—to sense and give voice to its most resonant source. His gift includes an ability to capture that spirit in poetry and prose (which he did for every day of every GHC Conversation from 2009 – 2013, and again in 2019).

Tom reminded me this weekend of how relevant those words from 2011 feel today.

With love and admiration for Tom, and for the other people who contributed their spirit to birth this Hilton Head affirmation1, I want to lift up this earlier work.

Catalyzing the Future: A Promise of Receptive Leadership
Our Hilton Head Affirmation


The future dawns.

We prepare by turning to wonder. 

We understand that we are part of a current that began long before our arrival and will continue long after we depart. We do not control its course—so we must learn to flow with it. 

We believe that world-changers are self-changers first.  We lead not mainly by leaps, but by small steps. The way may be uncertain, but the ground we share is hallowed. All we need is here, and it’s all important. The greatest promise exists in the smallest seed. We belong to each other. We can feed each other.

We feel an energy around and about us that we don’t necessarily understand and can’t quite articulate—but which we can increase and extend by our presence.

We recognize that power emerges from spirit, from intention.

United by a sense of responsibility, and a desire to improve the landscape, we commit ourselves to dropping old baggage, opening fresh eyes, and finding new ways to examine, reflect, and shift.

Further, we pledge to:

  • Take the long view, adopting an unfettered vantage point from which to see the horizon.
  • Round the square tables, holding safe spaces where all are seen and heard.
  • Listen attentively and well, inviting and welcoming disparate voices.
  • Observe and discern wisely, knowing that some of our best teachers are least like ourselves.
  • Perceive that there is no such thing as failure.
  • Be worthy of trust, deeply reflective and authentic, flexible, humble, and grateful.
  • Remind others of their dignity and hold their stories tenderly.
  • Laugh heartily and often, especially at ourselves.
  • Act nobly—with care, compassion, respect, and grace.
  • Plant seeds, confident that they will germinate and blossom in their own time.
  • Become a liberating force, unlocking barriers to passion and unleashing the vitalizing power of creativity and courage.
  • Go gently down the stream, leaving only love in our wake.


1Created in collaboration of 16 participants at GHC Conversation 2011 - Learning From the Future: The Personal, Organizational, Community, and Societal Interrelationships That Will Most Deeply Shape The Practice and Promise of Philanthropy in 2030.