Overcoming Organizational Silos as Steward Leaders: Breaking Silences

Posted by Matthew Thomas

In his “A Stewardship Manifest: A Call to Action,” pages 7 - 8, Design Group International CEO Mark L. Vincent describes three ways in which we work to the detriment of our goals as steward leaders. We talked about the first of those ways in July. The second of these ways is “We expect and enforce silence.”

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matthew-thomas-2In the business world, silence is needed because of the risks associated with trade secrets, including who is collaborating with whom, and how business models work. In non-profit and church enterprises, this silence is often counterproductive.

  1. Organizations with common mission, even with common budget covenants, do not share information so as not to disclose their donor lists to each other. There is some expectation that they “own” their donors. This prevents people who have more gifts to give from giving them as broadly as they could, for the benefit of the whole.
  2. Silence often causes odd alignments of secrets – allowing certain donors to pull strings since anonymity is rarely complete, especially if tax deductions are involved.
  3. Silence prevents expressions of gratitude, which often lead to entitlement and dependency relationships.
  4. Silence can lead to both donors and organizations feeling used.

Let me be clear: there is a difference between secrets and silence on the one hand, and confidentiality and privacy on the other. Secrets and silence lead to power relationships based on knowledge, and confidentiality and privacy give healthy, accountable boundaries as to whose business a particular piece of information is. Confidentiality and privacy are part of the social contract of organizational life, while silence and secrecy are often examples of its dysfunction.

Clearly, organizations must find balance between maintaining appropriate confidentiality and privacy, while making sure that they are not merely enforcing silences and secrets that perpetuate dysfunctions across communities.

What silences does your organization enforce or break?

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, stewardship based leadership, steward leadership