An Excerpt from "The Leadership Arena!"
As a leader or future leader, you may one day be in a position of power and influence over setting company policies or standards that will ultimately affect company culture. I had initially struggled with where in the book to include this next section. I could have easily fit this topic just about anywhere, but nepotism, being an issue that births its pretty head during the hiring phase, I thought it best be discussed here in the “being the Boss” or Directorship chapter of The Leadership Arena.
I have had many teaching discussions around the topic of nepotism and have done extensive research on whether it’s a good practice or not in the workplace. I have heard some very valid arguments from both sides of the coin and have witnessed firsthand some situations that have worked out wonderfully. As a matter of fact, when I approach the topic, people have stated to me things like “My brother and I work great together” and “even though he’s my nephew, I don’t cut him any slack.” or “my sister works over in purchasing… I have no effect on her career as the Director of Sales”. I’ve also heard some genuine statements like “I don’t base my hiring decisions on whether someone is family or not… they better be able to do the job”. While all these stated situations are valid points, the real problem with nepotism is seldomly realized. It is kind of like all these arguments are simply addressing the symptoms and not the disease.
The real problem with nepotism is not about the brother, the sister, or the wife who’s related to someone else at the company. Let me explain. I’m sure we can all agree that hiring someone based purely on the fact that they are family is wrong. All hiring decisions should be based on one’s qualifications and ability to do the job successfully... period! It should never be based on race, gender, age, or any of the wonderful “protected classes” the government has carved into law, and rightly so. The problem with nepotism doesn’t rest with whether the person is qualified. Even if you were to put aside the fact that a potential candidate was related to someone else in the company, it doesn’t matter. Even if the candidate was the most qualified and the best fit for the job, it doesn’t matter. You see, it’s not the candidate that’s the problem; it’s the perceptions of everyone else. The real damaging effects of Nepotism are its effect on everyone BUT the family member(s) involved!
Regardless of how you justify it or explain it to employees, they will always think favoritism was somehow involved. For example, if the said person is given a promotion in the future or given an award for Employee of the Month, the fact that they are related to someone else of influence will always be a question in the minds of others. Feelings like this are unavoidable and will constantly come up affecting morale and company culture and can lead to animosity, producing an atmosphere not conducive to growth and success.
Furthermore, it’s not fair to the recipient of nepotism either. Do you think it’s fair to that person when people begin to say, “Be careful what you say around Bill; he’s the boss’s nephew.” Or, “Joanne only got that award because she’s the president’s daughter.” Whichever side of the argument you may sit on, one fact is indisputable: Nepotism brings sometimes-undetected feelings of jealousy, resentment, and overall bad blood, neither of which contributes to effective leadership or teamwork. For this reason alone, and it's a big one, nepotism is never a good idea in any organization that genuinely strives for a culture of solidarity, so why take the risk? As leaders, I believe we have a responsibility to educate others on the real effects this can have and why such rules against nepotism should be more commonplace whenever possible.