The word laissez-faire is a French word that means “Let (people) do (as they choose). Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is when the leader has a more “hands off” approach to supervising employees. Leaders who use this type of leadership style lets people use their own skills and talents to succeed, and the leader would only intervene when necessary.
Leaders who practice the laissez-faire leadership style can be characterized as:
• Employees are given little direction
• Employees are allowed to make decisions
• Employees are provided the tools and resources needed
• Employees are empowered to solve problems on their own
• The leader still takes responsibility for their employees decisions and actions
Like all leadership styles, this type of leadership can have both positive and negative aspects. A laissez-faire leadership style may be appropriate for some situations/cultures, but not for all. Knowing the different leadership styles and the right situations to use them is important for leaders who want to succeed.
Here are some examples of when laissez-faire leadership style works well:
• When employees are highly skilled, motivated, and capable of working on their own.
• When employees are more knowledgeable and skillful in a specific area than the leader.
• When employees are passionate and intrinsically motivated to do the work.
Examples when a laissez-faire leadership style may not work:
• When employees lack the knowledge or experience they need to complete tasks and make decisions, which can lead to poor job performance, low leader effectiveness, and decreased motivation.
• When employees struggle to set deadlines, manage projects and solve problems on their own, without guidance an employee may miss deadlines and their performance may decline.
Some possible negative sides of the laissez-faire leadership style:
• Employees may lack the knowledge of what their responsibilities are because the leader didn’t properly outline their job duties and expectations.
• Laissez-faire leaders are often seen as uninvolved and withdrawn, and can appear to be unconcerned with what is happening. Employees may also care less about how well they do their job or the outcome of a project.
• Some laissez-faire leaders may even use this style to avoid responsibility for their employee’s failures. These leaders may blame their employees when deadlines are not met and goals are not achieved satisfactorily.
• Laissez-faire leadership may even be so passive that they avoid their role as a leader and make no attempt at getting to know their employees, they fail to recognize employee’s efforts and accomplishments, and may not even try to motivate employees.
Most employees require direction and guidance when they first start a job. But as the employee becomes more consistent and efficient at their job, the leader can adopt a more hands-off, or laissez-faire style of leadership. There will be some employees that will never be able to work well under a laissez-faire type of leader due to continuous performance and behavior issues.
Laissez-faire leaders may work better with people who tend to be highly motivated, skilled, creative, and dedicated to their work. An effective laissez-faire leader will provide their employees what the information and resources they need for an assignment and minimal guidance. Although laissez-faire leaders need to still ensure that their employees set milestones and performance metrics that the leader agrees with to track the project or employee’s progress.
This is why an employee performance appraisal process is so important, especially the quarterly follow-ups. The Mastering Leadership Skills seminar, Performance Appraisals – It’s an Ongoing Process outlines the performance appraisal process and why quarterly follow-ups are so critical to not only the success of the employee, but to the organization.
Laissez-faire style leadership may be effective when a product or idea is being brainstormed or created, the leader only provides the vision. This allows employees who are specialists in specific areas to join other employees to brainstorm and develop ideas on how to achieve the vision. Once the design, or goals have been identified the leader still needs to approve their decisions. This isn’t for the leader to show that they still control the process, but for the leader to buy into the plan and agree to provide the resources for the employees to accomplish the goal or project. Leaders need to feel confident that their employees have the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to follow through to complete a project without being micromanaged. The leader will still need to periodically review the team/employees progress on an agreed upon time frame.
If you tend to be more of a laissez-faire leader, you may find it helpful to think about the sort of situations where you might excel in a leadership role. In settings where the group needs more oversight or direction, you may find that you need to consciously focus on adopting a more authoritarian or democratic approach. By examining your own style, you can hone your skills and become a better leader.
Well-known political and business leaders throughout history who have been characterized as a laissez-faire leader includes; Steve Jobs, President Herbert Hoover, Andrew Mellon, Martin Van Buren, Queen Victoria, and Warren Buffet. How did these successful laissez-faire leaders do it, they hired people smarter then themselves in those areas that they needed those talents, and then let the experts do their job. But, they also followed the progress of what they were responsible for, whether that be a company, industry or country. When leaders who are not experts in certain fields get to involved, making the experts feel micromanaged, may reduce their performance because they think they need the leaders approval for every decision.
Is laissez-faire style leadership good, or bad? That all depends on the leader’s ability to know when it is most effective. In order to do this leaders need to learn more about their natural style of leadership, leaders also need to when to use a different style of leadership.
The Mastering Leadership Skills Seminar series teaches employees what their responsibilities are, how to successfully coach, counsel and confront employees, documenting their performance to achieve results and what the different styles of leadership are and when to use the appropriate style in the right situation.
What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership? – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-laissez-faire-leadership-2795316
5 Famous Laissez Faire Leaders, https://futureofworking.com/5-famous-laissez-faire-leaders/
Effects of Laissez-Faire Leadership on Staff Motivation and Work Ethics’, https://sites.psu.edu/psy533wheeler/2017/06/16/unit-04-effects-of-laissez-faire-leadership-on-staff-motivation-and-work-ethics/
Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles, https://youtu.be/9VooVmwytS0
Laissez-Faire Coaching Style, https://youtu.be/Lcjto1eaQmY