3 Dangers of Hiring Someone Who Has Something to Prove

by vernsanders on June 15, 2010

I might have titled this “3 Dangers of Hiring Someone who was a second banana but is now in a position of power.”

Now I’ve served in the church for a long time, and I’ve also had “regular” jobs, including being an academic. And, as I’ve said before…child of the 60s, change the world, yada…so don’t take what follows wrong…I’ve been young, and new at a job too.

But one of the things I have learned is that a change in staff/team/group of employees…even one new person…can cause seismic changes in an institution, or at least the part of it that is directly affected by the staff change. It’s not that a church staff can’t learn to work together, or that a new hire is not accepted. In fact the opposite is generally true. There has been a great deal of time and energy (and, often, money) invested in the process. In my experience, the new hire is eagerly anticipated. Often there are no problems.

But there is one specific instance that my experience shows is, more often than not, toxic: hiring someone for whom this is their SECOND job, and they were a second banana at their first position, now ascending to being in charge.

The three dangers are:

Eagerness to prove they are capable of being in charge, and its corollary, Lack of understanding and experience in the art of wielding power. This latter is often accompanied by an unrealistic sense of how much power they actually have. I’ve watched (and lived through, in one case) dozens of inexperienced Senior Pastors “clean house” only to discover that the replacements they hire are more expensive, less qualified, and out of touch with a congregation’s corporate culture. In many cases, the Pastor responsible for the upheaval then leaves (either by choice, but often not), and the congregation spends years recovering…or not. There are countless tales of this kind of toxicity, so there is no need to go into detail here. If you haven’t directly experienced it, just read your google and weep.

The third problem with a “second job” hire, though, is rarely talked about, and, in many ways is more insidious: Assuming that what worked at their one and only previous job will immediately transfer to the new position.

Because of the inherent turnover, and the nature of the position, this is more commonly found in youth ministry. It is not unknown in music/worship ministry, however. Here are some of the examples I’ve personally experienced:

  • Changing a graded children’s choir program to one based upon twice yearly large-scale musical productions, or vice versa
  • Changing an adult choir program from anthem based to “worship choir”/backup singer based, or vice versa
  • Shutting down choirs for lack of understanding about how to deal with them
  • Eliminating handbell groups because of objections to the “sound” of the instruments
  • Changing an ensemble based ministry to one centering around soloists, or, even worse, a soloist (the new hire)
  • Replacing a pipe organ with an electronic organ, just to have access to midi sounds
  • Marginalizing a keyboardist because a band is more comfortable
  • Implementing a youth worship philosophy even though the congregation is blue-haired (“let’s stand and sing a 30 minute worship set”)

There are more, but that’s enough to make the point.

What is at the heart of these actions? Either not caring enough about the new congregation/ministry to figure out what, if anything, can be selectively and positively applied from the first position, or lack of knowledge about any alternative from the one with which they have experienced somewhere else.

If there is blame to be assigned, my experience has been that the hiring process that led to any one of these three big problems was either short-circuited (“I know the perfect person…trust me…”) or shepherded by people who didn’t know the right questions to ask (“This person comes from [important, well-known church X] so they can lead us to the next level…”).

Has this happened to you? What has been your experience, either as the new hire, or someone who watched the carnage? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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Vicki Carr June 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Wow! Have you hit the nail on the head! I’ve been both the concerned staff, afraid that the new guy would drop what we had worked hard to build, and the new hire who thought she had all the bright new ideas. The best advice I ever received was when I joined the changing staff at Knotts Berry Farm. My boss told me to keep a low profile for awhile. So glad he didn’t let me embarrass myself.

vernsanders June 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm

One of my friends says one of the best pieces of advice he ever got was “go slow, lay low, and don’t blow” (up/it)

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