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 Caretaker Persona are those whose dominant or second function is Extraverted Thinking, which resides in the left rational brain. This function has a predominant need to be in control. The Striving Styles and MBTI types associated with this function are Socializer (ENFJ or ESFJ), Stabilizer (ISFJ) or Visionary (INFJ). When leading from their Caretaker persona, they control others by establishing the way they want things done, dominating and expecting others to submit to their will. They have little tolerance for being challenged or opposed. While they appear similar to the narcissist in how they expect others to adapt, the difference is they know better and regret outbursts of emotion, will feel ashamed and will listen when they are not stressed or otherwise wound up. 

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 social awareness 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 look like they are in control, it is often at the expense of others. 

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.

Caretaker Leaders

Social or Supportive Leadership approaches leading by helping and supporting employee and team member 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.

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 being anyone who isn’t like them or willing to take their help or support. They will forget their own plans and spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own work done. They rely on emotions to get people to conform to the way they want everyone to act and become domineering as a result of stress, uncertainty and opposition.

The Caretaker Leadership Persona is driven by a pervasive need to be connected. They use passive-aggressive approaches to get their need met and to get their employees to perform. It ends up creating a chaotic culture where employees don’t know how their boss is going to behave next. Productivity and individuality end up being squashed.

Tips for Dealing with the Self-Protective Caretaker Persona

1. Know Yourself and Your Self-Protective Persona

Dealing with a Caretaker boss, peer or employee means that you have to know yourself and your own self-protective persona. Caretaker behavior can and will trigger our own self-protective behavior. Remember that it’s not your job to meet your bosses need to be connected. It’s your job to keep focused on your objectives and be really clear about what you can and can’t do. Emotional reactions can trigger us to become emotional and if you work for someone with a Caretaker Persona, you must learn to build tolerance to their emotion and not react to it. Identify your “triggers or buttons” and your self-protective responses and stay objective.

2. Don’t Go Over Their Heads

Becoming emotional causes direct reports to either fear the Caretaker Leader or lose confidence in them. It is difficult to understand their subjective reasoning and emotionally driven behavior. While you like your Caretaker Leader, despite their behavior, don’t try to help him or her by going to their boss for advice. This will be seen as an act of disloyalty or public shaming should they find out. They take things personally and will cause greater problems for you if you take this approach.

3. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

People with this personality type and self-protective persona tend to disconnect from their own emotions, focusing instead on everyone else’s. They put their own needs and agenda second to others. When triggered, they will dump their bucket, becoming irrational and confrontational. When operating from the self-protective Caretaker persona, they are at the mercy of their emotions. Practice self-management and non-defensive communication. Respond, don’t react. Strong emotional reactions will cause them to become more emotional. Notice your feelings about their behavior and figure out how to approach their behavior objectively and consistently.

4. Find Common Ground

If you don’t understand why the Caretaker Leader is behaving the way they are, try to look at what disharmony or misalignment is going on. When introducing something to them, start by putting the two of you on common ground. For example, starting a conversation by saying, “I know we are both frustrated by having missed the deadline” will get you further than saying, “You didn’t make it clear we were supposed to have this project finished today.” Remember, a direct confrontation is adversarial, making it seem as though you are against them.

5. Refocus their Attention

Caretaker Leaders can be impulsive and easily distracted. They love to talk and gossip and can get caught up in an emotionally compelling story during a planning meeting. Empathizing with how they are feeling and then refocusing them on the needs of the business can help you get on solid ground with them. Without help from employees to refocus them; define the issues, the Caretaker Leader can get lost in how they feel about the issues, rather than coming up with a solution.

6. Influence, Don’t Oppose

Challenging or disagreeing with the Caretaker Leader publicly is a sure way to get turfed from their good graces. Go to them after the fact to discuss the possible fallout from their ideas and approaches. The one-on-one approach is less threatening. Don’t be intimidated by their emotions or take responsibility for creating problems by presenting a different way of looking at things. Influence the Caretaker leader by presenting things in a way that has them seem like it is their idea. Don’t be territorial when an idea can improve the work life of you and your colleagues. At the end of the day, if your idea is adopted, you and the business will benefit. You never know when the Caretaker Leader will refuse something of benefit just because they didn’t think of it and feel threatened. Don’t add to the problem by getting into a power struggle with them. 

Develop from Your Caretaker Self-Protective Persona

1. Recognize the Impact of Your Caretaking

 Not everyone wants you to take care of them. Many employees crave autonomy and independence and you need to let them grow. Try to understand your own needs and why you try to get everyone to conform. Build self-awareness and realize the impact your caretaking behavior is having on your business and employees. You spend so much time making sure that employees are happy or doing their work for them that your business can fail to thrive.

2. Develop Relationships

Focusing on your feelings and how employees feel leads to subjective decision-making that interferes with business goals. By putting energy into understanding or rationalizing employee behavior, real issues don’t get resolved, nor does it prevent problems from happening again. Taking your direct reports failures and misbehavior personally causes you to become more emotional and less effective at leading your team. Learn to focus on issues, not on feelings.

3. Don’t Take Everything Personally

 If someone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Stop thinking that everything is about you, including when your employees don’t perform well. Everything is not your fault and it is not helpful or useful to your business to see problems as arising from something you did or didn’t do well.

4. Create Boundaries

You need to learn to say “no” for the sake of your business. Too often you can find yourself being a martyr, doing your employees’ work for them when they fail to meet performance targets. Assertiveness training helps you develop the skills you need to be objective and lead without apology.

5. Develop Empathy

 You prefer to spend time talking to people rather than planning and organizing. Although dissatisfying to you to have to do this, the result when you don’t is a chaotic, undisciplined work environment where employees excel. Hire a consultant to provide training on strategic planning, goal setting, and performance management.

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 #26 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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