Preventing Steamrollers from Destroying Your Team

Mike Figliuolo, Co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results

Preventing Steamrollers from Destroying Your Team

“Steamroller” personalities can be caustic. They get results but at the expense of relationships and morale. Sometimes they’re outright aggressive and roll over people. Other times they’re passive aggressive and get results with no regard for the emotional or personal consequences of their behaviors. Regardless of how it manifests, these folks border on being office bullies who get results no matter the cost.

Your job as a leader is to prevent their behaviors from destroying your team.

This can be a tricky leadership challenge. You face two risks in trying to change a Steamroller’s performance. First, you may push them to become more aggressive.  “Oh yeah? You think I’m pushing too hard? I’ll show you what pushing too hard looks like…” That’s a horrible outcome.  The second risk is they simply stop generating results. “Well if you don’t like the results I’m delivering and how I’m doing it, I’ll just stop working so hard at generating them.” This behavioral change is going to be a delicate dance.

Your entire focus with leading a Steamroller needs to be on helping them understand they’re turning out great results but the way they generate those results needs to change. This requires getting them to empathize with the casualties of their bad behavior and pointing out they can probably get better results if they change their approach to interacting with their coworkers.

Approaches for Leading a Steamroller

An effective way to lead Steamrollers is to “Reduce Friction.” You want to continue getting great results from them while reducing the toll their actions take on others.  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. See if there were damaging effects on operations, personal relationships, or other intangibles like morale and culture. 

Next, make sure the Steamroller understands the impact of their behaviors and give them a clear understanding of the problem. See if they’re surprised by the feedback. If so, their main issues could be their empathy and communication skills. Do they understand – and do they care about – how their actions impact others? If they don’t, get them training and coaching on these skills. Set clear goals and deadlines for them to apply these skills. Hold them accountable by rating them on their progress in demonstrating those skills.

If the Steamroller isn’t surprised by the feedback but is focused on sharing their side of the story, you have a different challenge to deal with. Make it clear that these behaviors have negative consequences for others – including you – and that they have to start dealing with those negative consequences too.  At a minimum, stop fixing the problems they create. When you solve problems for a Steamroller, you’re enabling their bad behaviors because they don’t have to deal with the problems they cause. A Steamroller needs to exert the effort and feel the pain it requires to fix those problems. If they decide not to change their behaviors, make sure their performance ratings reflect the negative impact they’re having on others. If they’re unhappy with these ratings and don’t want to put forth the effort to improve, find them a new role better suited to their attitude. That may mean putting them in a role with less responsibility on another team.  

Finally, ensure you factor in the negative impacts a Steamroller has alongside the positive results you note in their performance reviews. If the source of their problems was a lack of awareness or skills in working relationships, provide them a plan for building those capabilities then gain their commitment to that plan.  If they don’t care about the negative impacts they’re having, spell out the consequences for continuing to demonstrate these behaviors. Consequences could include withholding bonuses, raises, promotions, and reassignments.  Ultimately their behavior could result in termination of their employment. 

Steamrollers can destroy your organization’s culture if you don’t get them to stop behaving badly.  You may have glossed over these issues in the past – “that’s just how they are” – so be disciplined in the future about giving a balanced rating and meting out consequences. This feedback should make them aware that it’s not only important that they deliver results, but their rating is also a function of how they get those results. By forcing the Steamroller to clean up the messes they create, they should learn to avoid causing problems in the first place.

[Image courtesy of franky242 at]

About the Author

Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results – a new book that spells out approaches for leading Steamrollers and other difficult personalities on your team. He’s also the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership and the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm.  He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.