Creative Leadership

When Hiring Your Family Is the Smart Thing To Do

When I wrote a recent post about nepotism, I received a lot of feedback – particularly on my Facebook page – from people defending hiring family members. It’s true that family-run businesses have a great track record. In my defense I did mention that I’m not 100% against hiring your children, plus I wrote that “In many cases, certain family members are doing excellent work.” In fact, I love it when my children help me in my own business. However, in retrospect, the post came off as a generalization, and I should have been more focused.

So in balance, I have to say that when great and thoughtful leaders hire family members it can be an excellent move.  So the question becomes, what’s the difference? When we see multi-generational families leading churches, ministries, and nonprofits well, how does that happen?

1) Hiring your family works when leaders demand the same level of excellence from family members as they do other employees.  Successful family organizations work when expectations are the same across the board.

2) Hiring your family works when leaders plug their family into jobs that match their gifts.  No matter how much you’d like to promote your relatives, it’s important to make sure they’re doing a job they are qualified to do.

3) Finally, hiring your family works when leaders don’t show favoritism.  I’ll never forget many years ago when Johnny Carson of “Tonight Show” fame hired his son at NBC. With Johnny Carson for a dad, he could have placed his son anywhere at the network. But his first job? The set painting department. Johnny wanted him to learn the business from the ground floor up, and thought the paint department was the best place to begin. That earned them both an incredible amount of respect.

I was wrong to make a blanket statement either way about hiring family. The truth is, when poor leaders hire family it often turns out to be a catastrophe. But when great leaders hire family, it’s almost always a smart move.

So ultimately, like so many other areas, it’s not about hiring family, it’s about the quality of the leader who does the hiring.

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