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How do you manage a Jeremy Clarkson on your team?

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Similarly, what should you do if the “star” of your own organisation continues to push the boundaries?

Worldwide success

Clarkson is extremely entertaining and this has seen Top Gear become a worldwide sensation with a global audience of 350m. At its heart the show is about three middle-aged men doing things that many of us would love to do. They are having fun, being cheeky and pushing the boundaries; all aspects that have been a key part of Top Gear’s – and Clarkson’s – success formula.

But pushing boundaries on camera for a TV audience is one thing; pushing boundaries inside the organisation by having an altercation with another member of staff is another.

Let me ask you…

  • What would you do in your own organisation if one employee were, for example, to punch another?
  • Do you make exceptions if they are a high revenue-producer?
  • Which do you value highest – moral behaviour or revenue?

As a business leader, this is a situation you may face, so what do you do if you have a Clarkson in your team? Someone who gets incredible results but who doesn’t live the organisation’s values and whose actions negatively impact the wider team?

Read more about Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson:

Values

Over the last few years, Clarkson has been at the heart of a number of contentious incidents. Many of these events have caused public outrage, but at the same time the popularity of Top Gear as a show has continued to grow. This causes a potential dilemma for BBC bosses as remaining a respected, trusted brand is of course critical to the BBC. And if you have a Clarkson in your own organisation then you face a similar decision.

To let them off and turn a blind eye to their negative behaviour may not be living your stated values and this in turn can lead colleagues and customers to lose trust in the organisation. To staff, if this situation is not managed extremely carefully, it sends out some potentially terrible messages: “one rule for important people, one rule for others”, “certain people can do what they like” and “money is more important than principles”.

In your own business you may have a “star” player, such as a senior leader, who is guilty of one of the following:

  • Being extremely negative, leading others astray, causing division
  • Erratic and temperamental behaviour towards others
  • Not living the company values
  • Drunk and irresponsible out-of-hours behaviour
  • Fiddling the figures or breaking rules
  • Being sexist, racist or homophobic

All too often leaders may be tempted to turn a blind eye to the behaviour of their top or most important performers. They may let them get away with it because their results are so valuable. Leaders can also be afraid to be tough, even when it’s the right thing to do.

Read more on bad hires:

There is huge power in standing by your values in the face of a tough situation, but it is often not easy. By making a morally correct decision, perhaps needing to let your “star” go, may mean you risk losing revenue and face having them snapped up by the competition. But in the long-term, there will be a greater gain for the organisation and your brand.

Whatever you decide, always try to:

  • Have clear expectations in the first place of what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable, with clear ramifications
  • Be consistent. Treat all people equally and fairly regardless of position
  • If you have organisational values then use them to make your decisions. The impact of not living your values is way larger than you may realise

Time to punch out?

So if you find yourself with a Clarkson in your team then you must deal with it powerfully. Clarkson may be exceptional and exceptionally valuable, but no one person can be bigger than the organisation.

Martin Palethorpe is executive coach at The Pragma Group.

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