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 dysfunctional, self-protective behaviors of the leader based on their Striving Style.

Leaders with the self-protective Permissive Persona are those whose dominant function is Extraverted or Introverted Intuition, which resides in the right rational brain. The Striving Styles and MBTI types associated with this function are Performer Intellectual (ENTP), Performer Artist (ENFP), Visionary Leader (INTJ), and Visionary Socializer (INFJ). They lead using the functional qualities of the right rational brain, including envisioning, seeing how things can work, developing the potential of others and moving toward their vision for the future. They have a need to be recognized and to be perceptive, relying on others seeing them the way they want to be seen (image-driven) and seeing people the way they need them to be. This function doesn’t gather information based on reality. It relies on what it can perceive.

All leaders have strengths and blind spots based on how their brain is organized. It is through the overuse of these strengths and the absence of development of self-awareness and leadership skills that they create ongoing issues for themselves, their employees and their organizations. They become limited by the unconscious use of their brain functions, and while they present the image of being a “great” leader, it is often at the expense of timelines, redundancy and development. 

Any time a leader overuses their preferred function without developing leadership skills and emotional self-management, they resort to dysfunctional patterns of behavior that get in the way of their success. While they are meeting their emotional needs, it is at the expense of those around them. By understanding patterns of dysfunction that emerge from the brain of each of the Styles, we can get to know these tendencies and what to do to avoid acting in a way that hurts our reputation and interferes with our effectiveness as leaders.

Permissive Leaders

When leading from their Permissive persona, these leaders detach from what they really need to do and allow employees to do whatever they want, when they want to do it. These leaders are involved as little as possible and believe they don’t need to tell employees how to do their job. They act like employees have earned their trust and as though they are responsible enough to do their job independently of involvement from them. This serves them because they avoid the discomfort they feel when directing or correcting performance.  

The Permissive Leadership Persona holds the belief that employees should be empowered to do their job the way they see fit, whether they are ready to take that responsibility or not. Leaders prefer their employees to be self-directed and competent, and they behave as though they are. They are excessively “hands-off” and delegate responsibility and authority to subordinates, making people feel they are capable and trusted. While this is a strong motivator for the right kind of employee, most flounder without adequate direction, coaching and support. They use this rationalization because they aren’t confident or trained to lead based on what employees need.

Tips for Dealing with the Self-Protective Permissive Persona

1. Know Yourself and Your Self-Protective Persona

Dealing with a Permissive boss, peer or employee means that you have to know yourself and your own self-protective persona. Permissive behavior can and will trigger your self-protective behavior. Remember that it’s not your job to meet your boss’s need for you to validate their image of being a “wonderful, amazing” leader because they let you do what you want. It’s your job to keep focused on your objectives and fill any gap they create when they don’t define things clearly. If you work for someone with a Permissive Persona, you must learn to help them with the details and defining things and not react because they aren’t doing it for you. Identify your “triggers or buttons” and your self-protective responses and stay objective. 

2. Manage Up

If your manager isn’t defining expectations, timelines, etc., do it for yourself. You can engage your boss by showing them your draft of the expectations to gain alignment. This will meet your needs for definition while providing them with options so they have a choice rather than giving them one thing to agree to as they may say yes, just to look agreeable. Remember, leaders who prefer the intuitive function are big picture people who don’t like going into the details and can appear irritated when asked for a definition, specific expectations or tactics. Facilitate discussions about specific dates and timelines to pull them into the details.

3. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

People with this personality type and self-protective persona tend to become who they think you want them to be. Because they don’t like anyone to define things for them, they don’t do it for others, believing that everyone wants the freedom to do it their own way. Not all personality types feel that way, and this leadership persona creates a power vacuum by not asserting their authority. Always remember that their behavior and gaps are about them and not a reflection of how they feel about you. While frustrating because you can feel like you are failing to meet their expectations, they really aren’t giving you enough guidance for you to deliver what they envision. 

4. Assert Yourself

With the Permissive Leader, there will be challenges when your work product doesn’t meet their vision. This communication gap between your manager and yourself need to be closed, and this requires you to take steps to close the gap. Don’t assume they know how to define the specifics of their vision. Make sure you get enough definition upfront for you to produce work consistent with what they are looking for. Ask for what you want and need. Probe with questions like, “Is it more like this, or this?” “Do you want this today or Thursday end of the day?” If you need something more than what you are being told, ask. Ignore any irritation they may show or you may perceive. Most important is you get what you need upfront so you avoid the unpleasantness of doing it wrong.

5. Get to Know Their Goals

While the Permissive Leader will act like it’s their job to validate your ideas and approaches, realistically, both of you should be working toward their goals and the goals of the department or organization. By understanding your boss’s goals and objectives, you can initiate certain things the way they would do it. Don’t wait for your boss to take the lead. If you aren’t clear on their priorities, set up a meeting to discuss them. Resist the impulse to tell them what you think ahead of them, telling you what their priorities are as they might agree with you which supports their persona. It doesn’t help you to get what you need. Set up the circumstances in which you get to know what they want.

Develop from Your Permissive Self-Protective Persona

1. Identify Your Beliefs about Leading 

Consider your underlying beliefs about leading and how these beliefs get in the way of your effectiveness as a leader. For example, here are some common things Permissive Leaders will say about how you should lead: A good leader lets people do what they want. The best leaders are empathic and don’t get upset with employee behavior. A great leader always collaborates with employees. A real leader never micromanages. Write down 2-3 beliefs about being a “good” leader that are getting in your way of developing effective leadership skills and developing a strong team.

2. Notice Your Self-Protective Permissive Behavior 

The Self-Protective behaviors of the Permissive Leadership Style stop you from being as effective as you have the potential to be as a leader. It’s easy for you to rationalize and talk yourself out of setting boundaries or correcting performance. Notice when you are putting more energy into being a “good” leader and managing the feelings/perceptions of employees than you are focused on leading employee behavior. Commit to not compromising your integrity for short-term emotional payoffs that lead to long-term performance issues.

3. Build Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to observe oneself and to recognize feelings as they occur. Like other self-protective personas, the Permissive Leadership persona is triggered by fear, and you may not even be aware of it. A fear of looking incompetent, upsetting others, and employees not liking you. Whatever it is, learn to acknowledge and accept your feelings, especially those that are difficult. Build awareness about yourself and your needs by being curious rather than judgmental. Strengthen your self-esteem and self-confidence by noticing and eliminating negative self-talk.

4. Stop Trying to be an Ideal Leader

As a Permissive leader, you run the risk of depending on positive mirroring from employees that you are a great leader to feel good about yourself. You need to develop an internal feedback mechanism that lets you know when you are being permissive to make others happy so they will look at you favorably, instead of leading. This allows you to say no to others when they want to do something you don’t want. Recognize that you are more than the image you are striving to project and perfect to make you feel successful. It’s easy for you to mistakenly believe that everyone liking the way you lead makes you an effective leader. 

5. Stop Making Excuses

Catch yourself making excuses as to why you can’t say anything to an employee who is blatantly opposing, disregarding your instruction or expectations. It’s up to you as a leader to hold the line and to define expectations for behavior. Refocus your attention on actions that will course correct or redirect their performance regardless of how difficult it may be to do so. The more you excuse poor performance and don’t address it, the harder it is to deal with it as you have. Through allowing employees to behave a certain way, it has given them the idea that it is okay to do so.

We Can Develop from Self-Limiting Self-Protective Behavior

Self-protective behavior is a normal human response to a threat. But when we don’t know we have become self-protective or when we react to the self-protective behavior of others, we prolong issues and limit our own growth and that of others and the organization. Whether it is managing ourselves through self-awareness or managing others through social awareness, understanding and humanizing emotionally driven behavior allows us to respond to issues and not react to behavior. 

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 episode #24 of our podcast, entitled “Dismantling the Permissive Dysfunction”.

For more information on leadership coaching and how to break free of the grip of the Permissive 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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