Gill Corkindale, executive coach, explains the dangers of nepotism.
Paul Michelman: Hello, I'm Paul Michelman, Director of Content for Harvard Business Digital and I'm here today with Gill Corkindale, executive coach and author of the Letter from London blog on Harvard Business Online. Gill, thanks for joining me today.
Gill Corkindale: Thank you, Paul. It's pleasure to be here.
Paul Michelman: So, Gill, our theme for today is nepotism. A hot button topic in business if there ever was one. You recently wrote an entry in your blog about nepotism. Tell us about your point of view.
Gill Corkindale: The point about nepotism came to me really by way of nothing. It just, something occurred to me from the past. And I was actually away on vacation and I was thinking about work and the kind of work I used to do. I used to be a journalist. And the work I'm doing now. And I was looking at my career path, really. It was going pretty well I thought. Until one day I went to work and I found that a new guy had arrived. He seemed quite inoffensive, quite charming, quite engaging, wanted to be shown the ropes a little bit. All happy to do that, showed him the ropes.
And this went on for three or four weeks, a short period of time. Until I came in one day and found he's suddenly been made my boss. And I suppose it was a delayed sense of outrage emerged while I was on holiday. Because I wondered if my career path had gone in a particular direction from that moment. Because this guy suddenly, from being a colleague and a rather junior colleague, was now telling me what to do. And I found that very hard to deal with.
And I wondered if there were people out there in our community who were perhaps working with bosses who they couldn't quite understand why they were bosses, where they'd come from. And this is the part of my understanding of nepotism is they suddenly just appear fully formed, ready to go and nobody quite understands why. So I really wanted to engage with the community and find out if other people had this experience. And whether like me 10 years on they suddenly were feeling bit annoyed about it.
Paul Michelman: So just to backtrack for a moment. This person was the nephew, I believe?
Gill Corkindale: He was the nephew of the editor. And before he actually became my boss we were quite friendly and he actually confessed to me that his uncle had been told by his mother -- his uncle had been told by this guy's mother he had to find him a job because it was time he started work on a paper newspaper. So he was quite open, quite candid about it. And I thought, well, that's quite nice, looking after the family. Why not?
But when your career starts to get involved, when suddenly you see somebody leaping four or five steps up, you suddenly start to question this person and the system and how about how people get away with that. I think he had quite an easy ride of things, actually. I think people didn't challenge him as much as perhaps they should.
One of the things about British newspapers is that they are not democracies. They're actually more like dictatorships. So you don't tend to challenge as much. You don't tend to challenges as much internally the politics as you would challenge the companies you're dealing with externally. So the challenge seems to have disappeared a little bit inside and we all fall into line. As I say, it's not a democracy.
Paul Michelman: So the situation described I'm sure will engender feelings of outrage in lots of people who are watching our conversation today. I think we in the West tend to have a pretty negative view of nepotism. I guess occasionally, unless we are the beneficiaries of that. But it's not the case worldwide as I understand it.
Gill Corkindale: No, it's not the case. And we have accepted levels of nepotism in the West in and fields such as acting. I mean, acting dynasties. We have writing dynasties. Huston, John Huston. The red craze in the UK, and I mentioned Saul Bellow's son. He wrote a book called, In Favor of Nepotism.
And it's sort of understood, those creative perhaps painters, artists, the literary creative fields. Maybe people accept in the West that there's a sort of maybe the creative gene there. That's fine. But when it comes to business or to law or to medicine, yes, families do pull strings but actually there should be same qualifications. There should be some meritocracy on America fanning values of American sightism. Meritocracy, everybody should be able to get on.
So it's deeply – deep antipathy I'd say in the West to this. In other regions China, for example, family structure is very important. And also in India. In India you don't have the state doing so much for families. The family structure becomes the banking system, it becomes the social system. There's no surprise then that it becomes the business, the commercial system, because people work together. So you'd find that you have great business dynasties there where sons would be groomed in organizations.
Also in China. It's very difficult to get business done without a sponsor or without relationships. And family networks are very important. In fact I've coached a lot of Chinese managers who actually believe that they are an in loco parentis. They are the father figure or the mother figure to their people.
But that's very deeply rooted. And there's a side and there's no surprise if people's nephews, their sons, their daughters, their wives, come in. And not just family-owned businesses. Make a distinction. Proper state-owned businesses or private businesses. This is not a taboo in the way it is in the West. I'll take family companies aside because I think they are a slightly different issue.
Paul Michelman: Right. So I think we can understand how what we might refer to as nepotism is more prevalent in certain cultures just based on the roots of those cultures. But ultimately as emerging capitalist societies like China, like India to some extent, continue to develop, and in this era of global competition and just intense forces, does nepotism hold an organization back from being as potentially creative or effective as it might be?
Gill Corkindale: I believe it does. In fact, one of people who commented on the blog said that he'd been an ex-senior manager of a Fortune 500company. He said he has absolutely nothing to recommend about nepotism. It speaks of opening -- it speaks privilege, opening doors for people. It's also I've worked with many companies where you find there are people who are just there because somebody found them a job. And their performance isn't good. Their motivation isn't good. They can become quite negative people in organizations.
They can create a negative feeling around them. And I think unless we really open up our companies, our markets, our opportunities to everybody at every level, I believe this is quite an insidious – that is an age-old problem. I guess if you're beneficiary of nepotism, I mean there's probably a lot to be said for it. If you've got a great job and a great career opening up.
But that's one in a million. For other people this means a barrier to your skills, your talents, your life, your career. Getting on. And sometimes also being part of the machinery that keeps this person in their comfortable zone, doing the work for them, covering for them. Making allowances for them. I don't think in our very dynamic or global, extremely competitive world that there really is a place for this any longer. And I'd vote to ban this.
Paul Michelman: Ok. Gill Corkindale. Thank you very much.
Gill Corkindale: Thank you so much. Thanks.