#225 – “Choices” REWIND: Covert or Overt

CHOICES REWIND:  We are taking a bit of a sabbatical in May travelling to places with little or no Wi-Fi or cell service.  We thought it would be a good time to look back at a few posts that focused on the choices a faithful leader must make in pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  The posts will be substantially as they were when originally published–but not exactly.  We hope you have forgotten enough to still enjoy.

In this post, the choice we are rewinding is Covert or Overt.

When a faithful leader is weighing the practical steps to take in order to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing, discernment as to the Covert/Overt choice requires a continual balancing of the call to be courageous and the need to be wise.  Here are two verse to anchor those guideposts:

Courageous: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Wise: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  (Matthew 10:16)

But it may be Ecclesiastes 11:9 that best reflects the necessary balance of Courageous and Wise:

Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.

The Two Choices: Covert or Overt

Just as our culture tends toward “the bigger, the better”, many in the faith/work movement tend toward “the more Overt, the better”.

In fact, a leader who institutes practices like prayer at meetings, workplace Bible studies and prayer groups, corporate chaplains, Bible verses on packaging, giving out Bibles to workers and customers, and including “God” or “Faith” in the mission and values will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and is certain to receive affirmation from others in the faith community.  These leaders will definitely get put on stage at faith/work events and written about in books to share the practices they have instituted.

In our current culture, an Overt leader is certainly embracing the call to Courage.  But are they being Wise?  We believe the answer is “it depends”.  Being Overt about faith is neither inherently good nor inherently bad for an organization.  Both the idolization of “overtness” and the fear of being Overt may push a leader down a “faith as usualSide Road and off the ancient path of business a better way.

A faithful leader is called to steward the organization they have been given to lead by God.  Being Overt may be absolutely the wrong execution–poor stewardship–for a particular organization, given factors such as the industry, geographic location, customer base, employee base, and regulatory environment.  For example, being Overt may alienate key stakeholders or create an “us-them” culture.

You may be wondering why so many people approach faith/work integration with a “the more Overt, the better” mentality.  We believe a truism attributed to John Hayes, former Chief Marketing Officer of American Express offers an insight:

We tend to overvalue the things we can measure, and undervalue the things we cannot.

It is easy to see, record, tally and celebrate the overtly faithful actions an organization embraces.  We like Courage–it is “loud”–it “ROARS”!  In a culture that has been getting more and more secular (and even hostile to faith), people of Biblical faith are encouraged and energized when they can celebrate Courageous acts in the name of faith.

It is much harder to identify Covert initiatives in pursuit of Biblical flourishing, because they can look just like initiatives that an enlightened secular organization might implement.  The difference–and it is a BIG DIFFERENCE–is the WHY behind the initiative–because that makes ALL the difference.  But WHY is much more difficult to recognize.  A faithful WHY behind a Covert initiative is not evident from a website.  If it is more difficult to see, then it is also more difficult to record, tally and celebrate.

Wisdom isn’t as celebrated by the faith community as Courage, but it is critical to discern the right balance between the two if a leader is to honor God’s command in the Creation Mandate to steward creation.

An Approach to Covert vs Overt: Flexibility

We think an insight on how to balance Courage and Wisdom in choosing Covert or Overt can be found at Amazon.com:

It may seem ironic (or even inappropriate) to look to Amazon in a post about faithfully aligning an organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, but one of Jeff Bezos’s key leadership principles captures a way to think about the Covert/Overt decision:

Be stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

“vision”=Purpose and Values=WHY.   “details”=Execution=HOW.  As we have repeated over and over (and over and over) again in prior posts, the WHY of an organization and its leaders is at the heart of leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  WHY is reflected in a Re-Imagined PurposePurpose is the cornerstone and Values are the foundation that must define and drive Culture, and Culture needs to reflect and reinforce Purpose and Values. 

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way requires a Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values that align with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, but we believe it does NOT require expressing or implementing that Re-Imagined Purpose or those Re-Imagined Values in overtly “faith” language.

A faithful leader leading an organization with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing must be stubborn about a Biblically-aligned Purpose and Values (and a Culture that reflects and reinforces that Purpose and those Values) but flexible on how those are expressed and implemented.  Way back in post #086 (Flexible Approach), we identified flexibility as key to the RE-ALIGN step of Integriosity®–a key ingredient for successful execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.

Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

Integriosity Continuums: An Approach to Flexibility

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we think they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a leading faithfully through business a better way.

  • Covert-Overt Continuums
    • Prayer
    • Proclamation
    • Policies
    • Practices
    • Products
    • People

Each continuum goes from COVERT to OVERT and represents areas in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

Integriosity focuses on heart change, and the continuum approach gives permission to be “wise” about overtness, providing a structure within which prayerfully to consider the most appropriate balance for the particular organization at a point in time.  The most important step is getting on the continuums, because any place along a continuum is better than no place on the continuum.

The Integriosity model breaks the COVERT-OVERT Continuums into six gradations that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

    1. Highly Covert: An action that would be taken by a secular company.
    2. Very Covert: An overtly faith-based action known only to the leader.
    3. Covert: An overtly faith-based action known only to a select group within the organization.
    4. Overt: An overtly faith-based action known generally within the organization.
    5. Very Overt: An overtly faith-based action involving suppliers, vendors or customers
    6. Highly Overt: An overtly faith-based action involving community, website, sales/marketing materials.

No single place along a continuum is the “right place”.  The “right place” will be unique for each organization and leader.  The “right place” for a particular organization and leader will come through prayer and is likely to evolve over time.  It is about ABIDING in the leading of the Holy Spirit–not STRIVING to look “faithful”.

Of course, it is also not an excuse for a leader to “hide” their faith or the heart of the organization.  We believe it is better thought of as Courage tempered by Wisdom rather than Wisdom tempered by Courage.  After all, Ecclesiastes 11:9 mentioned “heart” first and then “eyes”.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I have always been puzzled, intrigued and frustrated by the Covert/Overt balance in films that claim to be aimed at bringing a faith-values message to the “mainstream” audience.  Putting aside the topic of cinematic excellence, it seems many filmmakers of “faith” have a hard time resisting the Overt scene that almost guarantees getting the film labeled a “Christian movie” (and immediately turning-off a secular viewer).  For example, several years ago I had the chance to watch a screening of a movie that seemed to be hitting the faith values/mainstream mark, and then it appeared–a scene with a priest talking to someone in a church about Heaven, Hell and salvation.  Courageous–certainly.  Wise?

I think the 2009 movie The Blind Side did it well.  Others I won’t mention seemed to choose Courage at the expense of Wisdom and ended up getting pegged as “Christian films”, which usually seems to mean limited distribution (e.g., get a church to buy-out a theatre) and limited appeal (i.e., the proverbial “choir”).

Several years ago one of our New Canaan Society speakers was a movie writer/director/producer.  I asked him “WHY?”  He explained that faith-based movies suffer from the same “choir” syndrome as many mainstream movies.  The filmmaker wants the applause from his or her “tribe”.  That means applause from the Christian choir for including “the scene” or criticism for not being Courageous enough to include it.  For the mainstream filmmaker, it means applause from “the Academy” for pushing the envelope of edginess or criticism for being too mainstream (even though secular filmmaking is a business and revenues of “R”-rated movies do not come close to the revenue of “G/PG”-rated movies).

Courage tempered with Wisdom.

ESSENCE: Does faith/work integration require Overtly faithful practices?  Leading an organization with faithful integrity in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities toward Biblical flourishing requires a continual prayerful balancing of the call to be Courageous through Overtness and the need to be Wise through Covertness. Both the idolization of Overtness and the fear of being Overt may lead to poor stewardship. Wisdom isn’t as celebrated by the faith community as Courage, but it is critical to discern the right balance between the two if a leader is to honor God’s command in the Creation Mandate to steward creation, which includes the organization.  We believe it is better thought of as Courage tempered by Wisdom rather than Wisdom tempered by Courage. The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums, giving permission to be Wise about Overtness and providing a structure within which prayerfully to consider the most appropriate balance for the particular organization at a point in time. 

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash (photo cropped)