Caretaker Leadership

By | November 5, 2020

[November 5, 2020]  I’ll begin by noting that the term caretaker leadership is almost never used.  The reason is that the two terms are an oxymoron when used together.  I have discovered, however, that caretaker leadership happens all the time when a leader is unwilling or unable to fulfill the inherent duties of leadership and yet remains in position.

We’ve all seen caretaker leadership take hold.  Whether it be through the reluctant new team leader who only wants to make it to the end of the rating period and can find another job.  Or, perhaps it’s the military commander who was chosen to command yet has not yet developed his leadership skills sufficiently.  Perhaps this leader was put in a new assignment to purposefully fail.

A good leader is one who develops a vision, a set of principles by which to accomplish specific goals, develops a plan, gathers resources, and communicates what needs to be done.  A great leader is one who motivates sufficiently that people “want” to get the job done.  Everyone wins in this scenario.  Caretaker leadership, on the other hand, rarely gets anything done.

A caretaker leader does none of these things.  Relying upon the most minimally acceptable action, this leader is assisted by others close to him, those who can provide any strong recommendations or guidance; irrespective whether it works.  In such a situation, we find someone less qualified step into a sub-leadership role that mimics what a real leader would do.  This person gains the ear of the caretaker leader and can become a powerful surrogate.

There is nothing more frustrating than having this type of “leader” out front where only a real leader is needed.  Often unable to make decisions for fear of making a job-killing mistake, this caretaker leader is hesitant when real decisions are most needed.  If a decision is made, it is often without proper analysis or planning beforehand.  This leads to basic mistakes that lead to serious disruption.

Learn to recognize caretaker leadership.  Avoid it when possible.  And encourage that anyone in such a position to voluntarily step down as soon as reasonable.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Caretaker Leadership

  1. Mikka Solarno

    A caretaker leader doesn’t have a vision or the motivation to develop one or, if they do, no desire to achieve it.

  2. Army Vet

    Good article. You are likely to see this type of caretaker leader in Central and South America. These leaders make a lot of noise, preen themselves in front of others, puff up their chests, and try to look important. Everyone sees that the emperor has no clothes. I’ve seen it and occasionally had the mission to kick them in the butt. Satisfaction is seeing them cry.

    1. William DeSanto

      You’re the best Army Vet. Thanks for what you do and a small little glimpse into the world of dictators.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      LOL, you made my day, Army Vet. Please write another article for Gen. Satterfield’s blog. We all love it.

    3. Dennis Mathes

      Big fan of yours Army Vet. Thank you for the comment. When will your next article be out? Soon? Maybe you could write about the US presidency. Would be wonderful to read your thoughts.

  3. Darwin Lippe

    Yes, I’ve seen this kind of leadership. Like others have noted, we called that person a figurehead. Apt title.

  4. JT Patterson

    Bottom line, caretaker leaders are cowards. I had a boss like that one time and he was too scared to come out of his office for fear of making a bad decision. So he just stayed there, hidden away. No one could get anything worthwhile out of him. But he did have a nice office and parking space.

    1. Linux Man

      Was he hiding in his basement when not at work? Maybe his momma made him a box lunch everyday? Maybe his dad drove him to work?

  5. Karl J.

    When this kind of ‘leadership’ prevails, the organization will begin its decline. Even when policies are enacted, they will largely be ignored.

    1. Forrest Gump

      Yes, like the plastic bag ban we see in so many “woke” cities. The privileged elite want to control every aspect of our lives. But I think caretaker leadership is actually worse. Stupid is as stupid does! ha ha ha ha ha ha……………

      1. Tom Bushmaster

        When leaders begin to nitpick small things like the example of plastic bag bans, you immediately recognize the leader as a nobody that is perfect for the NITPICERS award.

        1. Dead Pool Guy

          Funny this morning, Tom. Another reason why I read not just Gen. Satterfield’s articles but also the comments section. It is amazing how much rethinking can get done here.

  6. Tom Bushmaster

    Caretaker leadership, interesting concept. I see what you mean, Gen. Satterfield. It is clear that this type of leadership is not really leadership at all but just a figurehead. Maybe that is what others are calling it? Think about it. We have all witnessed a figurehead in govt or at the top of an organization and see what it brings. The real power is elsewhere.

  7. Ronny Fisher

    If Joe Biden actually wins the US presidency, which it appears so at this point, he will be a caretaker leader. Nothing will get done other than by executive order and he will have to find someone to take care of his declining mental capacity. His party will forever regret that he was president.

    1. Army Captain

      Joe Biden will be worse than Jimmy Carter. Always making the wrong decision for the country, enriching is friends and esp. his family, and being a non-starter on foreign affairs.

    2. Newtown Manager

      Yep, he will need a caretaker. No one really thinks he will fulfill duties of the presidency. It will be the radical Kamala Harris and her radical friends.

      1. Max Foster

        So true! Pres. K. Harris, first woman US president will soon be reality and folks will see for themselves how bad it can be. She is a whinner just like Carter and Obama. She will blame everything that goes wrong on the deplorable American citizen and everything that goes right on her “genius” and “skill.” The press will fawn over her and be in love again.

        1. Stacey Borden

          You are so right Max that anyone with a brain can see this. Most however will lie to themselves.

          1. Kenny Foster

            How sad, if this really comes true. Most pundits seem to think so. Me, I believe it and the whole reason Harris was run as VP.

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