Office clowns and bulldozers: 5 ways strong leadership helps with challenging staff.


We’ve all worked with people who are distracted and disengaged, or those who dominate by pushing their ideas over the top of others. Yet there’s a lot a strong leader can do to keep challenging employees (and the rest of the team) to keep them on track.

We’ve all likely worked with or managed challenging people in the past.

If you’re nodding your head or rolling your eyes in agreement, you’ll probably recognise a few of the most common characters. The office clown using humour to distract others. That person who’s in the office…but never fully there, or the one who struggles to work with others.

Then, there’s the bulldozer. The person who constantly pushes their opinions on others, who finds it difficult to really listen and be part of the team.

Sound familiar?

In our corporate programs, the horses’ actions and reactions closely mirror humans’ interactions in a work environment, without the judgment we as humans are prone to. As you can imagine, with their mere survival resting on the strength of their teamwork, they don’t have time for anything but honest, immediate and unbiased feedback. They are the ultimate example of team cohesion. This is what makes working with them so effective in developing leadership skills.

Our office clown is Bart. He’s a small, white Australian Stock Horse but you don’t want to judge this book by his cover! He is smart and sassy, with a big personality. He has a huge amount to contribute to any team, however, when not stimulated or supported with strong leadership, he becomes distracted grabbing hold of buckets, throwing signs and chewing the arena equipment.

When we encounter this behaviour with Bart while navigating our leadership courses, it’s easy to sit back and laugh (he is a funny clown!). Yet what it really does is provide an extremely valuable learning experience. Participants discover that clear, inclusive leadership skills help Bart become a far more focused, engaged and effective team member.

Meanwhile, Darcy, our beautiful big, black-and-white Gypsy Cob is a real attention seeker. He is charismatic, bold and larger than life. He is our office bulldozer! Without clear direction and support, Darcy can get pushy and dominate the team activity. If his teammates don’t step up to the challenge, Darcy will assume the role of leader, without the leadership skills to do so. Our participants soon realise that this bulldozer is actually crying out for direction, motivation, respect and clear communication.

Using this knowledge, I’ve developed some tips to best motivate and support the clowns and bulldozers in your office.

1. Recognise Personality Types

The first step is to identify the different personality types in your team. Think about how certain individuals’ behaviour may impact efficiency and productivity. Is this limiting the full potential of the team?  An effective leader makes it a priority to know each team member well.

2. Role Model Effective Communication

A lack of clear communication is surprisingly common and still a primary reason team dynamics fail. As a leader, be crystal clear in communicating your expectations to the team. That means being cognisant of the differing styles of communication among your team members. Without clear direction it will be difficult to meet objectives.

An office clown left without a clear direction will distract others with their antics; a bulldozer will take over, flattening others as they go.

The Economist Intelligence Unit and Lucidchart found that communication breakdowns in the workplace lead to:

  • Higher stress levels (among 52 percent of the respondents)
  • Delay or failure to complete projects (among 44 percent)
  • Low morale (among 31 percent)
  • Missed performance goals (among 25 percent)
  • Lost sales (among 18 percent)

(Examples of Miscommunication at the Workplace, M.T Wroblewski, September 1, 2018)

3. Develop Trust and Respect

“If I made a commitment, I stood by that commitment – and try to make it real. Because when you become leaders, the most important thing you have is your word, your trust. That’s where respect comes from.” Michelle Obama.

In a 2019 article on the importance of building trust in the workplace, Accenture cites research that found people at high-trust companies reported:

  • 76% more engagement
  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 40% less burnout

An effective leader demonstrates respect for their team by being consistent, responsive, flexible and empathetic. These key leadership skills build and maintain trust. Without mutual respect and trust the office clown will play and the bulldozer roll on.

4. Be Authentic

A survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Management last year found that employees see the most important personal behaviours of a leader as: authenticity (42.12%), trustworthiness (36.38%), and inspiring others (26.22%).

  1. Incorporate a Little Horse Sense

Horses know no other way than to be one hundred percent authentic. In our leadership programs, they immediately sense and respond to incongruence between actions and intentions. Horses do not know, or care, whether a person is the CEO or the Intern. They provide feedback in an honest, immediate and non-judgemental way.

Similarly, a lack of authenticity in the workplace will lead office clowns and bulldozers towards their more challenging behaviours. If you think about it, the class clown and bulldozer are being authentic, however they are not engaging with the workplace in an appropriate way. Effective leaders will focus their energy in the right direction.

Where do you stand on leadership? Are you up for the challenge? Ask our horses whether you’re a true leader…

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