This article describes the Laissez Faire leadership in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful type of leadership style.
What is Laissez Faire leadership?
Of the many different leadership styles, Laissez Faire or Free-rein Leadership is one of the more remarkable. Translated from French, it literally means ‘to let it do’. Laissez Faire is the imperative, meaning ‘let it do’. Both forms are used when referring to this leadership style.
In most management and leadership styles, employee participation is paramount.
When there is little or no participation, the leadership style is authoritarian. If employees are allowed a lot of room for participation (voicing their opinion and sharing their decision making process), the leadership style is democratic.
Between these extremes, there are many other leadership styles. However, a Laissez Faire leadership style is considered to be at the extreme end of the democratic leadership style spectrum. The idea of ‘let them do whatever they want’-management could imply that it is a negative style, with the manager involving him or herself as little as possible. This is partially true.
Characteristics of Laissez Faire leadership
Laissez Faire leadership is often associated with leaving employees to their own devices. It is about giving employees freedom.
Managers have very little personal influence and delegate almost everything. In that sense, it is similar to facilitative leadership. Facilitating leaders trust that with the resources they offer, their employees are able to function independently.
Laissez Faire leadership is an extremely passive leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders also offer certain resources, but do not supervise the process and trust that employees can work towards solutions on their own. That means that employees are on their own. They decide for themselves what the right and wrong ways of doing things are.
Laissez Faire leadership is about giving employees freedom. The danger of this style is that the manager may come across as uninvolved, indifferent or unengaged.
Generally, a Laissez Faire manager has a lot of faith in his employees. He observes how the work is done and checks the results, but does not intervene.
Employees’ self-reliance is put to the test. Because there is very little or no supervision or support of the employees, they have to do it themselves.
This increases the chance for informal leadership. However, Laissez Faire leadership can cause uncertainty among employees and in the group as a whole. Employees need a central leader, someone to stimulate them and help them flourish.
Without leadership, employees have a tendency to do only what is expected of them and what they were hired to do. They might get the impression that they are not being taken seriously, and neither are their ideas and wishes.
That makes it more likely that subgroups will form within the main group, leading to increased internal rivalry and risk of conflicts. When employees are free to make decisions as they see fit, they can become lazy, resulting in reduced productivity.
Therefore, it is a good idea that a Laissez Faire leader initially gives his employees a direction. That way, group members will know what course they should follow and what is expected of them.
When using the Laissez Faire leadership style, employees may be less focused on working in a results-oriented fashion. Another danger is reduced harmony, undermining the group-effect.
Some employees are simply not able to set their own deadlines, motivate themselves and/ or activate themselves.
They need a leader to do that for them. This makes it difficult for them to be responsible for their projects, manage them and solve problems on their own.
The risk is that projects will not be completed on time or at all.
The main disadvantages of Laissez Faire leadership are described below:
- Lack of role awareness – the employee does not know what is expected of him within the team.
- Lack of commitment – the employee does not feel committed to the group. There is no cohesion, making it less likely that group members hold each other accountable.
- Lack of responsibility – nobody supervises employees. This may lead to employees showing up for work, but not feeling responsible for how they perform their tasks.
- Passivity – when employees are unfamiliar with their task and/or the process as a whole, they will not make as much of an effort as they might have otherwise.
Application and examples of Laissez Faire Leadership
Laissez Faire leadership does in fact have certain benefits though, making it a valid leadership style.
Laissez Faire leadership can be an excellent choice of leadership style when working with a team that is capable of operating completely independently, takes responsibility and is not afraid to make decisions. The team will be self-guiding and self-regulating and knows exactly what is expected of them.
There are also certain situations in which the (temporary) deliberate use of this style will pay off. One example would be a new manager that comes from the existing group. It is a good idea for him to initially take a wait-and-see approach. After making his observations, he can determine how far the group has progressed and what exactly they are capable of.
Even in the case of team decisions, Laissez Faire leadership can work well. By giving a group the room to make their own decision and remaining on the sidelines, leaders can increase the confidence of the group members. The leader should make it clear that he is available for advice and information, and he should monitor the process to make sure there are no problems.
These examples all refer to temporary and deliberate use of this leadership style.
Furthermore, it would be wise to only use this style in the case of professional and experienced employees who like to work independently. Laissez Faire leadership is also an excellent leadership style for employees who appreciate working alone.
However, this does require them to be passionate and intrinsically motivated about their job.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is the Laissez Faire leadership style still applicable in today’s modern business world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good leadership in relation to employees who work alone?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Bass, B. M., & Stogdill, R. M. (1990). Handbook of leadership. Free Press.
- Chaudhry, A. Q., & Javed, H. (2012). Impact of transactional and laissez faire leadership style on motivation. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(7).
- Deluga, R. J. (1990). The effects of transformational, transactional, and laissez faire leadership characteristics on subordinate influencing behavior. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 11(2), 191-203.
- Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & Van Engen, M. L. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: a meta-analysis comparing women and men.
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