Episode #15: Dysfunctions of Caretaker Leadership

Cooperative, collaborative, and supportive leaders are the kind of bosses or managers that most employees say they wish for. These idealized leaders seem to know how to provide employees with the type of nurturing environment needed for them to grow and reach their potential. They spend time listening, empathizing, offering advice, and helping direct reports however they can. Don’t they sound wonderful?

But when we look at the shadow side of what we call the Caretaker Leadership Dysfunction, we see how it’s their own need to be helpful and supportive that drives their collaborative behavior. They foster dependence on themselves, while frustrating independent decision-making and overall organizational efficiencies because they insist on excessive inclusion. Caretaker leaders personalize conflict and are not above using emotional manipulation to get what they want. They insist on cohesive group functioning and decision-making to meet their social needs and need for connection. In essence, these leaders are (without realizing it) prioritizing their personal needs and agendas over the needs of the business.

In today’s episode, Anne & Heather explore the Dysfunctions of Caretaker Leadership and share some real client stories that illustrate just how common it is to find this type of leadership behavior in organizations today. They’ll also share some practical tips that you can use if the Caretaker Leadership Dysfunction is causing your organization’s leaders create inefficiencies by playing “rescuer”, “counselor”, or even “therapist” for their employees.

If you want to know more about Anne & Heather’s work with dismantling dysfunctions in organizations and leadership behavior at Caliber Leadership Systems, check out:




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  • [02:12] Episode introduction and overview 
  • [06:25] How leaders can demonstrate caring without fostering dependence 
  • [09:07] Caretaker Leadership approach is similar to parenting 
  • [11:27] Caretaker Leaders are overly concerned with the employees’ feelings 
  • [17:49] The narcissistic side of the Caretake Leader 
  • [21:48] Dysfunctions that Caretaker Leaders can cause: playing favorites, creating anxiety 
  • [44:13] Episode gem & practical takeaway 
  • [45:27] Episode wrap up



  • Caretaker Leaders will try to find a vulnerability or area of weakness in others so that they can help them. This creates a type of one-sided pseudo-intimacy, where they expect other people to reveal all without exposing anything about themselves. 
  • Caretaker Leaders expect direct reports to conform to their cultural and societal norms. When employees know what the “rules of the family” are and follow them appropriately, they are welcomed into the inner circle of the Caretaker Leader, their contributions are valued and they can do no wrong. 
  • Caretaker Leaders are collaborative and insist on inclusion to ensure everyone is conforming. While this approach can help encourage employee buy-in, its usefulness erodes when everyone is involved in even the smallest decisions. 
  • Caretaker Leaders take things personally. They can run into difficulty when there is discord or conflict among team members because they need harmony within the team. They tend to get too involved with people issues and take things too personally. 
  • Caretaker Leaders tend to be right-brain dominant, and their dysfunction arises from the excessive use of this side of their brain to make sure the workplace is harmonious, and everyone is happy. As a result, they are bound to the positive and negative behaviors associated with that side of the brain. They believe that relational leadership behaviors are correct and preferred while other behaviors and ways of expressing oneself are wrong. 



Autocratic Leadership is a survival strategy that is based on the flight or fight mechanism in the brain quote
Autocratic Leaders decide who is and isn't valuable to them based on their usefulness - Anne Dranitsaris quote
As autocratic leaders need to be in control, they make their people into minions and then complain about them - Heather Dranitsaris-Hilliard quote
Directive leadership behavior that has no emotional charge to it is not autocratic - Anne Dranitsaris quote

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