This paper investigates what happens when managers’ identity is centred on caring, an underappreciated aspect of leadership. Drawing on a case study of managers in elderly care, we distil an ideal-typical caring leader identity as well as contextualised interpretations that suggest both problematic and constructive aspects. The caring leader identity implies a self-understanding as being highly present, supportive and helpful to subordinates’ development. We find that the belief of making a decisive difference to others’ development by caring for them can be a deceptive fantasy that incites over-dependence among subordinates, particularly for ambitious managers who experience pressing situations and little power. Under better but likely less common conditions, managers can develop more modest expressions of a caring leader identity, leaving space for subordinates themselves to define problems and explore solutions.