What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?

Outstream Laboratory® on February 23, 2022

Laissez-Faire leadership is a leadership style in which leaders remain hands-off and delegate decision-making to group members. Laissez-Faire literally means ‘leave it alone’ or ‘let it be’(translated from French). Much like its translation, this leadership style prioritizes trust as a foundational factor in building a good team. In practice, this implies that leaders entrust their subordinates to carry out their requisite roles without requiring them to adhere to rigorous rules or protocols.

This leadership style is important for building a strong team which is often seen as a key to success in the corporate world.  It has wide-ranging benefits since it propels the personal growth of all team members, encourages originality, creativity and innovation. To implement this leadership style, all the leader has to do, is to hand over the reins to their subordinates. Basically, you have to leave decisions to your subordinates. This leadership style necessitates you to develop a high degree of trust. So, it is important for leaders to have faith in their team’s ability to accomplish a job without constant supervision.

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What Are The Qualities Of A Laissez-Faire Leader?

The key qualities and traits of a Laissez-faire leader include the following:

  1. Lack of authoritative and time-bound leadership guidance.
  2. Empowering employees to make their own decisions.
  3. All team members are required to carry out their roles and responsibilities while dealing with problem-solving on their own.
  4. Providing access to multiple tools and resources for team members to carry out their tasks meticulously.
  5. Giving constructive criticism to improve productivity.
  6. Over-seeing tasks and taking command as and when required.

What Are The Examples Of Laissez-Faire Leadership?

The examples of Laissez-Faire Leadership are as follows:

1. Laissez-Faire Leadership In Government:

Typically, a political leader with this approach to leadership will delegate decisions to subordinates and give little to no guidance.

Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States of America (USA) popularized laissez-faire leadership in politics. He employed this leadership style because he placed complete trust in his people and their experience. He achieved incredible success with this strategy.

To execute this leadership style in government, ministers should let the workers in their cabinets carry out their tasks without dictating the procedure or assigning a deadline.

2. Laissez-Faire Leadership At Work:

Leaders and supervisors step aside and let their staff have the autonomy to make their own decisions and let them set their own deadlines. Leaders who follow this style at work do not provide much guidance as to how to get the task done. Such managers primarily focus on the end result rather than the process of getting there.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple was famous for following laissez-faire leadership style at work. When Steve Jobs gave orders to his staff, he left it up to them to find out the best method to carry them out. His employees often remarked that under his leadership, they were able to use their creative abilities and attempt new things.

To execute this leadership style at work, you need to let your employees make active decisions and handle the problems that they might encounter on their own.

3. Laissez-Faire Leadership In School: 

Students are free to do as they choose while the teacher remains more of an observer.  In the classroom, there is a lack of discipline and expectations. The focus is on free expression of thoughts. Such an approach is mostly utilized in lower standards as it motivates young students to be innovative.

To execute this leadership style at school, teachers should allow students to navigate through tasks on their own without dictating them step-wise.

What Are The Advantages Of Laissez-Faire Leadership?

The advantages of Laissez-Faire leadership entail personal growth of team members, encouraging wholesome creative endeavor and creating a space for faster, effective decision-making.

1. Personal Growth:

It promotes personal development. Because leaders are so hands-off, employees have the opportunity to deal with the obstacles they encounter on their own. This causes them to take work in a more personalized manner. This fosters an environment conducive to growth and development.

2. Innovation:

Since Laissez-Faire leaders are open to ideas. Such leadership fosters creativity, innovation, and originality at its core. Employee autonomy leads them to become more ingenious and deliver tasks with inventiveness.

3. Faster Decision-Making:

It enables more rapid decision-making. Due to the absence of micromanagement, people working under laissez-faire leadership have the freedom to make their own choices. They can make judgments quickly without having to wait weeks for clearance from the higher-ups.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Laissez-Faire Leadership?

The disadvantages and drawbacks of Laissez-Faire Leadership include the leader’s significantly distant involvement in the decision-making process with the team members, a considerably low level of accountability among workers, and passivity towards meeting goals with a set deadline.

1. Poor Involvement With The Group:

Laissez-faire leaders are frequently perceived as uninvolved and disengaged, which can contribute to a lack of group cohesiveness. Because the leader appears disinterested in what is occurring, employees can pick up on this. This will cause everyone in the team to slowly become less concerned for the enterprise as a whole. The workers will simply focus more on getting the job done at an individual level rather than ensuring that the project is flawless from all nooks and corners, including the work done by other members of the organization. This will lead to a lack of inclusive work culture where members will actively be invested in each other’s tasks and exchange ideas.

2. Low Accountability:

Certain leaders can use this method to absolve themselves of responsibility for the group’s failings. When objectives are not fulfilled, the leader might point the finger at team members for failing to complete tasks or live up to expectations. This negatively impacts the organization as instead of focusing on problem-solving, much crucial time needed to minimize loss can be wasted unproductively on passing the blame.

3. Passivity: 

Laissez-faire leadership exhibits apathy or even an explicit rejection of actual leadership. In such circumstances, such leaders make little attempt to stimulate members. There is a general failure to acknowledge team members’ contributions as well.

4. Lack Of Role Clarity:

In certain instances, the laissez-faire attitude results in a lack of clearly defined duties within the organization. Due to the lack of guidance provided to team members, they may be unsure about their duty within the group and what they are expected to be doing with their time. This leads to miscommunication, mismanagement, and misunderstandings. Often, the pace of getting work done seems to be disrupted with no clear goal in sight.

When Should You Avoid Laissez-Faire Leadership? 

Laissez-Faire Leadership should be generally avoided in situations in which efficiency and productivity are paramount. Certain individuals struggle with setting their own deadlines, managing their own tasks, and resolving difficulties alone. When team members do not receive adequate advice or input from leaders, projects might go off track and deadlines may be missed.

Moreover, it’s best not to implement this leadership style even in situations that need a high level of supervision, accuracy, and attention to detail. A more authoritarian or managerial style leads to better results in high-stakes and high-pressure work environments where every detail must be precise and delivered time-bound.

How To Improve Laissez-Faire Leadership?

Here are some tips and tricks to improve the effectiveness of laissez-faire leadership, as stated below:

  • Monitoring group performance.
  • Providing pertinent and consistent feedback.
  • Developing incentives to aid in the growth and maintenance of motivation.
  • Ascertaining that team members are aware of their respective duties within the group.
  • Assembling a team of personnel who possess the necessary knowledge and experience for the project or job at hand.
  • Recognizing the effort of each team member.
  • Encouraging members to collaborate with each other to finish tasks flawlessly.
  • Instilling accountability to meet goals.

Who Are The Famous Laissez-Faire Leaders?

There are several well-known instances of laissez-faire leaders who have left their mark in the world. Some of them are:

1. Herbert Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) the 31st President of the United States of America (USA) was well-known for his distinguished approach to politics through laissez-faire. He employed this leadership style because he placed complete faith in his cabinet of ministers and their experience. He was incredibly successful with this strategy.

2. Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Victorian Period is named after her, and this era is characterized by an attitude of laissez-faire. In part, Queen Victoria’s leadership enabled the laissez-faire style in economics and leadership to spread across society. The Queen empowered specialists to lead and perform to their full potential throughout a range of industries, from military to commerce.

3. Warren Edward Buffett is an American business tycoon, investor, and philanthropist. He is presently chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway. He is well-known for his success, which he attributes to his ability to surround himself with individuals he trusts. He employs a Laissez-Faire leadership style to ensure that the individuals he works with can perform their duties efficiently so that he does not have to foresee every minuscule detail, intervening only when absolutely required.

4. Steve Jobs (24 February 1955 – 5 October 2011) was the chairman, chief executive officer (CEO), and co-founder of Apple Inc. He was well-known for giving directions to his staff and then leaving them to find out the best method to carry out his intentions. Members of his staff frequently stated that they were able to exercise their creativity to new heights working under Jobs.

What Are Other Types Of Leadership?

Apart from Laissez-Faire Leadership, the other types of leadership styles can mainly be categorized as authoritative, democratic, and paternalistic.

1. Authoritative/ Autocratic Leadership Style: 

Also referred to as autocratic leadership, authoritative leadership is a management style in which the leader exercises total control. An authoritative leader establishes the objectives, maps out the processes, and supervises all actions necessary to accomplish those objectives with hardly any input from team members. These leaders guide and coach their staff at each stage of the process to ensure that they become successful.

2. Democratic/ Participative Leadership Style: 

Like its namesake, democratic or participatory leadership style encourages members of the group to have a more active role in the decision-making process. All members of the team engage equally and express ideas, regardless of who is in charge.

3. Paternalistic Leadership Style:

Paternalistic leadership is a management style in which workers and partners are treated as if they were members of a big family by a strong authority figure who assumes the role of patriarch or matriarch. Workers are expected to show loyalty and trust, as well as compliance, in return for this.

To read more about different leadership styles, check out this article “Four Different Types of Leadership.”

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