Karin’s Leadership Articles

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

by | Nov 13, 2013 | Authenticity & Transparency, By Karin Hurt, Employee Engagement & Energy |

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.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    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.

  2. letsgrowleaders

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

  3. Josh

    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

      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

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

  4. Bill Benoist

    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

      Bill, oh yes! That drives me crazy.

    • Sky

      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

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

  5. Stacy Elwell

    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

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

  6. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    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

      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.

  7. Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

    – 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

  8. letsgrowleaders

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

  9. LaRae Quy

    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….

Virtual Leadership Training Programs


Join the Let’s Grow Leaders community for free weekly leadership
insights, tools, and strategies you can use right away!

Where in the World are
Karin & David?

Other Related Posts