Self-Protective Caretaker Strategies 

Social or Supportive Leadership approaches lead by helping and supporting employee and team members’ development. People who use this approach to leading are empathetic and people-oriented. Unlike the more task-driven approach to leadership, those who prefer Supportive leadership prioritize the needs of the collective as well as the development and engagement of employees. They try to align meaningful tasks to employees and will alter job requirements to meet their likes and dislikes. Supportive leaders don’t like imposing their thinking or decisions on employees without asking for their input and getting everyone on board. They treat each employee as an equal, whether they have demonstrated expertise and competence or not.

Some personalities naturally enjoy this approach to leadership and naturally and easily collaborate and cooperate. While this style is used by many females, it can also be used by males. These leaders get employees to conform to their defined social order and standards of behavior. They create emotional security for themselves and others by creating an atmosphere of “one big happy family”. The family culture has values and rules they have to conform to be a part of it. They talk about their values and the way they expect people should treat each other. They tend to lead by example, expecting everyone else to behave the way they do.

This type of leadership is most effective in situations where there is a need to build employee bench strength through hands-on learning and involvement. It also helps with the reduction of employee stress and frustration in the workplace. This approach is not really effective when employee work tasks are intrinsically motivating and can be done independently. It also doesn’t work in industries where it is more important to lead with efficiency, direction, and result orientation.

Hard-Wired to Protect Ourselves

We all have self-protective personas that we use to survive difficult experiences. Wired in our brain from birth and developed during our formative years, it ensures we are psychologically safe and that we survive the rigours of childhood. All self-protective personas are “I” focused as its sole agenda is protecting the self from harm. It’s an instinctual, human response with the brain set to “call in the troops” to defend against a perceived or real attack. As we develop, our authentic self becomes stronger and our persona becomes a part of who we are.

Leadership behavior can be predicted based on a leader’s Striving Style or MBTI type. With the Striving Styles, you can also identify the function of the brain that will be used to decide and gather information, and the predominant, emotional need that must be met for a leader to perform optimally. It also determines both the leadership style and the self-protective leadership persona they will shift to when their needs are frustrated. Each leadership style has a self-actualizing and self-protective set of behaviors.

Leaders with the self-protective Caretaker Leadership Persona are those whose dominant or second function is Extraverted Feeling, which resides in the right emotional brain. The Striving Styles and MBTI types associated with this function are Socializer Visionary (ENFJ), Socializer Stabilizer (ESFJ), Stabilizer Socializer (ISFJ) and Visionary Socializer (INFJ). The Socializer Striving Style has a predominant need to be connected. This means they lead using the functional qualities of the right emotional brain including bonding, connecting with others, creating harmony, assigning value judgements to people, situations, etc., and social competitiveness.

Supportive leaders, when self-activating or leading from their authentic self, have learned to be directive and to make decisions without input, for the sake of meeting timelines and achieving results. They don’t feel responsible for the emotions of their employees, nor do they feel it necessary to adapt to meet everyone else’s needs at the expense of their own and the goals of the team. They hold their authority as leaders and expect employees to demonstrate competence before giving them authority. They have developed their task leadership skills and recognize the impact of their behavior on others.

When self-protective, Supportive Leaders shift to a Caretaker Leadership Persona. They become, like their Patriarchal counterpoint, emotionally demanding, autocratic, insisting on conformity. When leading from their Persona, the normally supportive and collaborative leader becomes excessively helpful to employees (whether they need it or not) at the expense of planning. They foster dependence on themselves by having to be right, and they use their emotions to manipulate the behavior of their people. They have little tolerance for anyone who isn’t like them or willing to take their help or support.

Those with a Caretaker Leadership Persona use it to varying degrees. Without development, they can use it most of the time, thinking this is who they are. They behave the same at home and in personal relationships as they do at work. Others use it situationally to mask incompetence and inexperience, to demonstrate authority when feeling threatened, when they are opposed, or when they are stressed or run-down.

Caretaker Leadership Persona: Characteristics & Behaviors

The behaviors of the Caretaker Leadership Persona are characterized by a pervasive need to be seen as a “good” leader. They assume responsibility for the feelings of employees, trying to be helpful rather than leading them, and fostering co-dependency in their working relationships by trying to be everything to everyone. If not able to connect this way, they can resort to emotional manipulation. When leaders are unaware of having a self-protective leadership persona, they are at the mercy of their behaviors. While there are many Caretaker Leadership behaviors, the following are examples of the more frequent ones and the type of organizational issues they create.

1. Intolerant

When in the grip of the Caretaker Leadership Persona, this leader can’t tolerate individual differences and demands conformity. They judge anyone who is independent as “not a team player” or “not one of us”. They feel that anyone who isn’t with them is against them. They are only able to tolerate like-minded individuals who meet their need to be connected. Caretaker Leaders will also distrust ideas or solutions to issues that others come up with that are different from their own. When someone puts forward an idea, they take it personally, as though they are telling them they are wrong or their idea is stupid. It doesn’t matter whether the ideas are good or not. It just wasn’t the same as theirs, thereby frustrating their need to be connected.

2. Demand Collaboration

When self-protective this Leadership Persona insists on inclusion to ensure everyone is conforming. While this approach helps get employee buy-in, it is not useful when overused and everyone has to be involved even with the smallest of decisions. They will call everyone to meetings for fear someone will feel left out and complain about it. This is frustrating for many employees who feel their participation is a waste of time. The Caretaker leader will insist on ensuring everyone has had their say and feels good about the experience. Those employees who complain about how long meetings take or inefficiencies can be made to feel guilty or punished by the Caretaker Leader. They can take it personally when others do not feel the same way they do and can be punitive to those who upset the harmony of the team.

3. Manipulation & Martyrdom

When acting from their Caretaker Leadership Persona, these leaders use emotion to manipulate others to reach their goals. They will demonstrate sincere caring and hold direct reports in high esteem; however, they are not above using flattery or charm to get them to do things they want them to. They will also use guilt to get people to do things for them, bemoaning how much work they have on their plate. They keep a scorecard of favors they have done as a currency that will be used at some point to get what they need. Should someone say no to something they ask of them, they react emotionally, leaving people afraid to say no again. The Caretaker Leader will act like a martyr and say things like, “After all I have done for you, this is what I get?” They can also personalize this further by telling others that their direct reports act like children —not surprising when they have gone out of their way with their caretaking to act like a mother.

4. Disorganized & Impulsive

Leaders who use the Caretaker Leadership Persona become increasingly disorganized and reactive rather than planful. They abandon their plans and are distracted and impulsive. Anyone who comes along with a problem is a diversion that is easier to attend to than their planning. They create a chaotic work environment where no one is really sure where they stand or what they are supposed to be doing. They jump in and do things themselves and react to issues instead of resolving them. The Caretaker Leadership Persona spends more time talking than planning, leading their direct reports to believe that there is no urgency to achieving goals. They are so focused on helping and doing things for others that they fail to plan, organize or complete their own work on time. They say yes to projects for the team and take on too much on everyone’s behalf and fail to deliver all of the things they have committed to. Even though they are overworked, they refuse to let go of work, causing things to fall through the cracks. They try so hard to be all things to all people that they harm their reputation.

5. Take Behavior of Others Personally

Caretaker Leaders need to be connected and are driven by their image of being “a good leader.” They have an image of themselves as all-giving, selfless, benevolent and ever-helpful human beings. They flatter people, thinking that others want praise as much as they do, and they are easily hurt when others don’t do the same in return. They will also take any type of dissension personally and don’t see the value in creative tension. The Caretaker Leadership Persona tends to get too involved with people issues and take things too personally. They are upset at people who don’t share their values or when others come at things from another perspective. They take this as a personal rejection and respond emotionally. Caretaker Leaders will become visibly upset, lash out, or even cry. They also become cold toward the offending party and are known to carry a grudge against the team members who have created the opposition or disagreement. They cast silent disapproval, a behavior that comes across as maternal, and shaming the employee in the process.

6. Lack Boundaries

They focus so much on meeting the needs of others that direct reports feel they are the Caretaker leader’s friend. These leaders are normally caring and concerned, but when self-protective, they extend themselves beyond what one would normally expect from a boss. They make their direct reports feel there is no hierarchy and that they have permission to treat the Caretaker Leadership Persona as an equal. This can create an emotional overreaction from such a leader. It is one thing for the Caretaker Leader to extend his or her boundaries and be friends with direct reports. However, it is not okay with them when direct reports cross the boundary and give feedback or criticism the way a friend would. Corrective feedback from a direct report to the Caretaker Leadership Persona is most likely to be met with tears and accusations.

You Can Change Caretaker Behavior

Caretaker Behavior is a form of self-protection. Long-standing self-protective patterns of behavior can be changed and new, productive responses and patterns can be put in their place. Remember, this is a self-protective persona used by leaders whose brains are wired to use extraverted feeling Socializer Visionary (ENFJ), Socializer Stabilizer (ESFJ), Stabilizer Socializer (ISFJ) and Visionary Socializer(INFJ). Without development, we continue to use our self-protective persona instead of developing our authentic leadership potential. Becoming a conscious leader requires you to step out of your comfort zone, learn new skills, engage with people in different ways and put the agenda of the organization and its people ahead of our survival agenda.

Leaders’ self-protective behavior can negatively impact every aspect of organizational life. It creates dysfunction and gets in the way of productivity, employee development, achieving business goals and team cohesiveness. Find out more about how you can develop powerful, authentic leaders to drive your organization’s success by listening to the latest episode of our podcast entitled “Dismantling The Caretaker Dysfunction“.

For more information on leadership coaching and how to break free of the grip of the Caretaker Leadership Persona, contact Anne at [email protected].

Learn how you can lead with authority. Get a copy of So You Think You Can Lead? on Amazon. 



Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals.

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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