You Know You’re A High-Maintenance Leader When…

She doesn’t think she’s high-maintenance. After all, she’s just trying to do her job. In the meantime, eyes roll, stories are shared, the team loses productive time catering to her needs.

“You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
~ Harry (When Harry Met Sally)

It’s not all her fault, “that’s the way she likes it” has morphed into “that’s how she must have it.” It works, so she continues to let them cater. 

The team doesn’t seem to mind: “oh it’s no big deal”, “Of course I understand”, “You have so much on your plate”. And more requirements get added to the list. We’ve all got a bit of high-maintenance within us.

High Maintenance Leaders

  • don’t mean to be
  • “pose” just in case someone wants to take a picture
  • work to be “liked” above all else
  • have a different focus goal for every day of the year
  • distribute every leadership book they read as “personal development” assignments
  • relentlessly pester the team about how they can help you succeed.
  • have a motivational saying for every situation
  • won’t take “no” for an answer, even when “no” IS the answer.
  • demand the team provide alternatives with justification, but have no intent to accept any solution different from their own
  • never hear the truth
  • have food brought to them on a regular basis.
  • demand fancy updates and complicated Powerpoints, even when their team is slammed with work
  • triple book their calendar, as a line forms outside their office
  • want the Powerpoints to match their eyes (true story)
  • ________?

Lower Your Maintenance Threshold

Check for signs of high-maintenance in your leadership. Determine what your teams think you “need” and why. If it feels high-maintenance, it is.

  • Start with helpful. Make your team’s job easier.
  • Talk about what you really need and why.
  • Ask what else they think you need. Scratch a bunch off their list.
  • Resist the urge to cater to ridiculous needs for those above. Your team is watching, and think you want such treatment too.
  • Find ways to meet your “maintenance needs” outside of work (hire folks to help.)

A special thanks to the Lead Change, with a special shout-out to John E. Smith, and Harvard Business Review communities for jump-starting this conversation.

What would you add?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Energy & Engagement
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Steve Borek   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

High maintenance leaders, through their behaviors, encourage the team to do the minimum.

Nobody on the team is confident enough in being themselves. They’re afraid to make mistakes.

In the end, these types of leaders never tap into discretionary effort.

letsgrowleaders   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

Steve, So agree… love your add about destroying confidence.

Josh   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

One thing I have learned managing people is that people communicate in different ways. Some want you be very exacting with your mandate and others want as little oversight as possible.

As a manager, I have to, as much as possible, adapt my communication style to each employee so that they understand what I need them to accomplish. They have the talent and resources to accomplish the goal, I just act as a guide. The onus is on me to make the effort

Steve Borek   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

Important distinction Josh.

I’d say 75% of leaders/managers don’t adjust their behavioral style to the person.

If only they knew, what could happen, if they modified their behavior one degree with the person they’re communicating with.

letsgrowleaders   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

Josh, Such an important point. One person’s high maintenance may feel just fine to another. Thanks for expanding the conversation.

Bill Benoist   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

I would add high maintenance leaders expect you to know what they meant, even though they failed to communicate it properly. (pet peeve of mine)

letsgrowleaders   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

Bill, oh yes! That drives me crazy.

Sky   |   28 November 2013   |   Reply

This is a thought provoking topic. Within the construct of corporate culture, we’ve seen this play out again and again. The complex interplay of self image vs. effective leadership/ethical leadership is an art of a different kind. The subtle but powerful ability to know what the pulse of a staff is and what they feel realistic expectations are vs. what the expectations of that particular leader are…..

letsgrowleaders   |   28 November 2013   |  

Sky, thanks for joining the LGL conversation. You raise important points… it’s a subtle dance.

Stacy Elwell   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

I enjoyed reading this post and reflected back to a leadership book I read last year called “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box.” High maintenance leaders are “in the box.” Success as a leader depends on being free of self-betrayal and creating an environment of openness, trust and teamwork, where people work hard for the collective good, not individual accomplishments.

letsgrowleaders   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

Stacy, GREAT book, and yes, I fully agree with you. Terrific connection.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

Maintenance leaders have a deep reason for behaving as such. Like a brand core, the core dictates how the brand interacts with individuals and teams. I believe without changing the inner core of a maintenance leader his/her actions to others shall not change. Bravo, Karin for challenging our hearts and minds with great topics.

letsgrowleaders   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

Ali, Agree… that’s a tough one. To truly change we need to get underneath what’s really going on… what is motivating this behavior? Including if the high-maintenance person is us or a member on our team.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke   |   13 November 2013   |   Reply

– need to be the smartest people in the room
– use the word “little” to describe work assignments and projects
– pass on information that isn’t relevant to their followers

letsgrowleaders   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

Renee, Such perfect additions to the list. All of those drive me batty… particularly the irrelevant info. Always love your ideas.

LaRae Quy   |   14 November 2013   |   Reply

A great list, Karin. I thought “work to be liked above all else” describes a lot of high-maintenance folks I know…and I think that goes to a deeper issue of ego. Leaders with ego issues also have a tendency to hold back vital bits of information so they are the sole possessors of the “key that unlocks.” This makes them indispensible because others will always need to come back to them for the rest of the equation.

It’s such a lame game….