letter from kansas leadership center president & CEO Ed o’malley
We at the Kansas Leadership Center work with a number of private companies and each is concerned with the dreaded “silo mentality.”
“We must break people out of their silos!”
“Our silo mentality is stifling our innovation.”
Or, my favorite: “We prefer the term ‘silicones of excellence,’ rather than silos, but regardless they are getting in the way.”
The danger of silo thinking is obvious. People fail to see the whole picture, missing out on crucial pieces of data needed to solve tough challenges. Others fail to be exposed to your thinking and data, which keeps them from seeing the whole picture.
Silo thinking is so dangerous that we are often asked to work with companies for the primary purpose of helping people learn how to exercise leadership to knock the silos down.
What’s true in our companies is also true in our civic life. Our silo thinking threatens everything.
We live in liberal and conservative silos, rich and poor silos, rural and urban silos, university educated and high school educated silos.
Much like the CEO who knows that silo thinking threatens her company, silo thinking in our society threatens everything we care about.
The education of our children, our roads, our tax structure, economic policies and safety net duties all suffer.
Like the CEO who realizes that unless marketing and production get on the same page, the company is doomed, our silo living – our division – is now so bad that I believe “division” itself is an issue.
Why do all these silos exist in our society? Cultural anthropologists will explain it to us someday. I can only assume it has something to do with technology giving us the ability to isolate ourselves. I also assume it will take a generation or more to bring us back to a less divided society. So, for the time being, working across these silos – factions – or working to bring together those who are divided is a necessity. It is part of the work of civic leadership. It might be the work of civic leadership.
Will everyone hold hands and be on the same page? Of course not. Civic life is rough and tough and it’s not for the faint of heart. One-hundred percent consensus is rarely possible. But winning issues with your faction alone isn’t sustainable. If it’s adaptive work, other points of view – other silos – have information and ideas needed for defining the problem and imagining the solutions.
What do we do about it? My answer comes from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I read that to mean: “help me bridge the divides.”
And the way to be an instrument of peace is described later in the prayer: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.”
Breaking down the silos, decreasing our division, is a paramount issue for civic leadership. Progress will be made when we quit defending our silo, when we quit trying to get others to understand our silo and when we start consoling and understanding others. My experience tells me that when we do that, we receive the same in return. And then, the silos are a little lower, we are less divided, and we can make progress.
president & CEO
kansas leadership center
This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe