Steamrollers get things done but they run people over in the process. Leading them is an exercise in reducing the friction they cause. Learn the key techniques for dealing with their challenges and make your team interactions smoother and less stressful.
Hank joined your team six months ago. You hired him because his résumé was great and he projected high levels of competence and confidence in the interview. He was clearly the best candidate for the job. The only warning flag you saw was from your calls to Hank’s references. While they confirmed the glowing results on his résumé you sensed reticence on their part. You heard their answers trail off leaving an unsaid “but…” hanging at the end. You attributed it to your inner pessimist looking to find flaw with the outstanding candidate you were hiring.
Hank got off to a fast start once hired, immediately producing great results and even instituting new, best practices he learned from prior experiences. However, within a few months, every single one of his peers mentioned Hank was challenging to work with and creating problems for them. They said he tended to barrel along and do his work without coordinating with others. What you saw as confidence in his interview came across to others as arrogance and an unwillingness to listen. The angst and problems he produced eroded your team’s morale and performance and piled stress on you. You found yourself making excuses for his behavior and soothing hurt feelings. You got the sense the frustration your team felt toward Hank began to apply to you as well. Hank was performing like a “Steamroller” high-cost producer – he produced results, but also produced a lot of unnecessary cost in his wake.
How to Lead a “Steamroller”
The goal with Steamrollers is to “reduce friction.” You want to continue getting great results from them while reducing the toll their actions take on others.
Step 1 – Begin by making sure you understand the costs your Steamroller is incurring. Reach out to key stakeholders for feedback about the Steamroller’s bad behavior. Ask them to provide you specific examples of negative situations they’ve created. Ask feedback providers to explain not only the Steamroller’s behavior in terms of their words or actions. Ask them to explain how that behavior had a negative impact. See if there were damaging effects on operations, personal relationships, or other intangibles like morale and culture. One “watch out” to avoid is to try to explain away the Steamroller’s behavior and make excuses for it. Gather the right feedback from these examples instead of solving the problems being shared with you.
Step 2 – Next, communicate that feedback to the Steamroller to ensure they understand the impact of their behaviors and the problem.
If they’re surprised by the feedback, their main issues could be their empathy and communication skills. Do they understand how their actions impact others? If they don’t, get them training and coaching on these skills. Active listening and reading social cues are fundamental skill requirements in the workplace. Set clear goals and deadlines for them to learn and apply these skills. Treat those goals like you would any other expectation you have of them. Hold them accountable for their progress in demonstrating those skills.
If the Steamroller isn’t surprised by the feedback, your leadership challenge is more about attitude than a skill gap. Make it clear that their behaviors have negative consequences for others and for them. Stop covering for them and make them fix the problems their behavior causes so they can see and learn first-hand. Clearly incorporate the negative impacts of their behaviors to net out in their overall performance review. Spell out the long-term consequences of their behaviors on them – e.g., lower bonuses or raises, difficulty in getting promoted or hired elsewhere, or maybe even termination of their employment.
Dealing head-on with a “Steamroller” can be hard, uncomfortable work for a leader, but the results are worth it. Ideally, the Steamroller follows your lead and fixes their problem behaviors while continuing to produce great results. By doing so, you not only have improved your overall team performance, you have also helped the “Steamroller” become an “Exemplar” and improve their own career prospects. (I still appreciate the honest feedback one of my first managers gave me that stopped some of my “steamroller” behaviors before they got deep rooted.) Alternately, if the “Steamroller” does not fix their behaviors, you have begun to hold them accountable for their negative behaviors instead of covering for them. Even if your “Steamroller” does not appreciate that, their teammates will.
Victor Prince is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (CLICK HERE to get your copy). He’s a thoughtLEADERS instructor and teaches leadership, communications, problem solving, and strategy.
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