The Power—and Danger—of Silos

As a child, I spent many summers at my grandparents’ farm in the tiny town of Jonesboro, Texas. Waking up at dawn to the crow of roosters, playing with kittens and chasing chickens as grandma picked green beans, and eating my fill of fresh peaches and plums from the threes in the orchard was an adventure for a girl born and raised in the city. But my favorite thing was helping my grandpa take care of the Hereford cattle that roamed the pasture. We’d set out salt licks and give the cows a special treat called “cow cake,” (a bovine version of a granola bar that I thought tasted pretty awesome too), and fill the feed troughs with hay and grain. The silos that stood next to the barns fascinated me, and I couldn’t understand why grandpa wouldn’t let me play in the grain that was stored inside them. “It will save the lives of the cattle in a hard winter,” he said. “But it could kill you in an instant.” He taught me about the value of silos in safeguarding the wheat or milo or corn and providing quality food year-round, and he also taught me about their dangers—and how the very air inside can actually become poisonous if the silo is kept shut up.

Maybe it’s because of that healthy fascination—and fear—of silos as a child, but I’m not one who shies away from them or demonizes them in the business and ministry worlds. I think there’s value to be found in specialty and in propriety, and I’ve thanked the good Lord over and over again that I’ve had partners who are silos filled with the grain of finance or technical production or human resource law. We are not designed to know everything about everything, and we do well when we see ourselves and others who provide expertise in a particular arena as life-giving rather than threatening to success.

Like the silos on my grandpa’s farm, we each have the power to safeguard and provide. But far too often, we focus on the first and forget the second piece of that equation—and we become poisonous to those around us and to the health of the organization we are called to serve. We refuse to reach out to others for guidance, and hoard our time and our expertise for any number of reasons—fear or pride or intolerance or simply to avoid the tension that might exist as we submit to others. As leaders, we come across as heady, aloof, or uncooperative. And we become poison to the gospel we say we are demonstrating.

So, what do we do as leaders to encourage those in our organizations to safeguard and provide well? It starts with us. Yes, we can be the biggest—and potentially most dangerous—silos in our ministry when we extract ourselves from the life of the community and the people we lead.

S-et the example by being available. Develop an environment of trust by trusting your team with your time. If you say you don’t have time for those you lead, your silo is likely poisonous.

I-nvite people into conversations when decisions are being made about the life of your organization, and include the voices of those who will be directly impacted by decisions.

L-et others lead. Reward collaboration and cooperation, and let the world know about the leadership you see in others.

O-pen silo doors by allowing others to share their expertise. Let those who are charged with safeguarding also provide insight and wisdom with others. Encourage round-table discussions, cross-training, job shadowing, and special staff meetings to let everyone see the value that lives within your ministry.

Reggie Joiner gets it. His words about the silos we’ve built in caring for kids ring true for ministry overall. “Church has believed that parents probably won’t assume responsibility for their own children’s growth, so they have tried to become a parent substitute. This in turn has fostered parents to adopt a ‘drop-off’ mentality. Maybe the greatest gift a church can give parents is the confidence and courage to do what God has wired them to do.”

That gift of confidence and courage begins when we SILO well.

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