As a kid, I spent most 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 trees in the orchard was an adventure for a girl born and raised in a well-manicured suburb. But my favorite thing was helping my grandpa take care of the Hereford cattle that roamed the pasture surrounding the sprawling farmhouse with the wraparound porch. We’d set out salt licks, 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 tall metal silos that stood next to the barns fascinated me, and I couldn’t understand why grandpa wouldn’t let me play in the hills of grain that was stored inside them. In my mind’s eye, those silos were castle turrets awaiting a treasure map adventure.
“It may look like fun, sweetie,” he said. “But it’s not safe at all. What’s in these silos will save the lives of the cattle during a hard winter. But it could kill you in an instant.”
My grandpa taught me about the value of those silos’ strength in safeguarding the wheat or milo or corn and providing quality food year-round. He also taught me about their dangers—and how the very air inside can actually become poisonous if the silo is kept closed tightly for too long.
While I may have graduated from college with a passion to break down barriers and establish myself as a leader who could do it all, I now am far more appreciative of what my grandpa taught me. That healthy fascination with — and fear of — silos has made me one who doesn’t shy away from them or demonize them when they show up in organizations. That’s right. Silos aren’t simply large metal towers used to store grain on farms, or underground chambers that hold missiles in military operations. Silos have the potential to exist in businesses and community groups.
The Business Dictionary defines the word as “a mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”
If I could tell my 25-year old self anything about the power of silos, I would say that there’s value to be found in specialty and propriety. In fact, I’ve thanked the good Lord, time and time again, that I’ve had coworkers and ministry partners who are silos of expertise, filled with the grain of finance or technical production or human resource law.
You and I are not designed to know everything about everything, and we thrive when we see those who in a particular discipline as life-giving rather than threatening to our success.
Like the silos on my grandpa’s farm, we each have the power to both 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 lock up our talent because we feel threatened. We refuse to reach out to others for guidance, and we 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. We come across as heady, aloof, or uncooperative. We become those poisonous silos.
So, what do we do to encourage those in our organizations to safeguard and provide well, and keep talent and expertise available to others? It starts with us.
Yes, we can be the biggest—and potentially most dangerous—silos when we lock away the talent and expertise we have been given and claim them only as our own, rather than gifts to be shared.
You and I have an opportunity to SILO well, no matter our position or vocation.
Here’s are four ways to keep the silo doors open!
Set the example by being accessible.
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni
Develop an environment of trust by sharing your talent and expertise with others. If you say you don’t have time to support those you work with, your silo is likely poisonous.
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Invite experts into your world.
“Asking for another’s guidance helps you see what you may not be able to see. It’s always important to check your ego and ask for help.” – Ken Blanchard
Reach out to those who have complementary skillsets and road-tested wisdom, and then take time to actively listen. Welcome conversations that begin with things like “In what ways might we…?” to help find the best solutions that showcase not only your talent but the talents of those around you.
Let others lead.
“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” – Booker T. Washington
Celebrate collaboration and cooperation, and let the world know about the leadership you see in others. Learn the power of leadership through serving others well.
Open silo doors by allowing others to share their expertise.
We cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together. – Bill Richardson
Encourage round-table discussions, cross-training, job shadowing, and mentorships. You’ll help build community, so that everyone can bear witness to the talent that lives within your organization.