Gathering with generous authority

Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering offers leaders a rare gem.  
“A gathering run on generous authority is run with a strong, confident hand, but is run selflessly, for the sake of others.” 

 Generous authority? It feels counter cultural at a time when nuance, listening, and kindness are rarely celebrated.  

 Yet for Parker, gatherings should not exist to serve those in power, but others like customers, employees, and community members.  

 Audiences love a speaker who’s there to give of themselves for the benefit of others. The platform is not a therapy session for those holding a microphone. 

 In business, it’s an idea that syncs with big picture ideas like “customer-first” and creating excellent customer experiences.  

 And yet, there’s a twist! Parker says those in leadership roles still benefit when we put others first to create compelling experiences.  

 “Gatherings really take off when there’s some invisible structure, but there’s also an organic life to it. You start to cede your power to guests, but they’re still operating within a context that you’ve laid out for them that they agreed to.” 


It’s an approach that helped shape Social Impact Summit, our first annual gathering of corporate, government and social sector leaders in Sydney, 3-4 July.  

 (For those of you who attended, sponsored, and partnered with us, thank you! And if you missed it, get ready for 2024!) 

 For example, our editorial board inspired us to create and share a “wellbeing mindset” that framed the entire experience. We invited attendees to embrace three simple ideas for the benefit of everyone: 

  1. Value safety – Psychological, physical, emotional 
  2. Imperfect is ok – We’re all still learning 
  3. Listen, reflect – Deep listening inspires better solutions 

 These ground  rules had the effect of placing emphasis on kindness, openness and dialogue over grand standing. Attendees ultimately benefited from more generous connections.

But what about other contexts? We don’t attend live events every day. Can every meeting, webinar, customer call or staff gathering run with the spirit of generous authority? 

 Ideally, yes. But practically, how? 

 Every leader, and each organisation will have their own take – the amount of structure required versus “ceded power” will vary.  

 But for me, that’s the joy of gathering. The “organic life” Parker speaks about looks and feels like meetings that take surprising turns, uncover new ideas, or solve problems in creative ways.  

 We don’t know exactly how things will turn out, and it turns out that’s the point.