This article forms part of my Leadership Styles Blog Series and focuses on Laissez Faire leadership. This style of leadership is also referred to as ‘delegative’ or ‘hand-off’ leadership as it is all about the leader allowing staff to make their own decisions about how they achieve objectives. Typically it involves the leader setting an objective and allowing the staff to achieve it in anyway they see fit. This freedom to work independently is thought to motivate and enthuse staff.
Laissez faire leaders provide very little guidance to their staff allowing them to decide who they work with, when they work, what they do and how they will go about it. The leader will provide the tools and resources that are required to complete the job and then leave the staff to complete it. Staff are expected to solve problems, overcome issues and generate work plans by themselves. The leader will ensure they are available should the staff wish to consult them or provide feedback but generally speaking they will leave it up to the staff to complete the work free from interference.
This style of leadership is extremely effective when dealing with highly motivated, knowledgeable and skilled staff whom the leader trusts. For example, if you have an experienced marketing manager you may issue them with an objective and leave them to get on with the job. You believe in their ability and trust they will do a good job. In turn, they will appreciate the freedom to work independently and will feel valued and trusted by the leader.
Staff will feel empowered and take on full responsibility for their work. As they have come up with the plan and the ideas themselves they will want it to work as they will have a personal investment in the project. Staff will see this style of management as a challenge and an opportunity to prove themselves to the leader. They have been trusted with a job to do and they will not want to let the leader down.
If staff members are given a complex task to complete they will find themselves testing, problem solving, evaluating, planning and collaborating with colleagues. This creates a fantastic environment for staff to grow and develop as people and employees. Creative thinking and innovative ideas are often produced using a Laissez Faire approach to leadership.
If the leader is dealing with staff who are not highly skilled or knowledgeable this style of leadership can be disastrous. When dealing with staff who have a low level of skill, Laissez Faire leadership can still be used however the objectives being set have to be suitable and achievable. Complex objectives may be too much for some staff to complete without consistent support and guidance.
Sadly, it is a fact that many staff will not be very good at setting their own deadlines and targets and will be likely to leave things to the last minute. If they encounter problems they may not be equipped to deal with them effectively and if they start to lose track of the project they will only be accountable to themselves.
This style of leadership is wide open for abuse from staff. In order to use laissez faire leadership the leader must really trust their staff, regardless of their skill level. They must not just trust them with regards to their efforts and commitment but also in their actual ability to complete the work.
If the leader is not checking performance until the very end of the project, any mistakes or failures to meet deadlines will not be identified until it is too late. This can be a huge issue if the leader is expecting the work to be completed on time, to a high standard and within the budget allocated.
This is a very free and easy leadership style which can produce some highly innovative and creative work when used in the right context. But when used incorrectly the associated negative impact can be vast. This is not a leadership style many people will be confident utilising across their entire programme but it is one that can be used in certain situations, for certain employees, on certain projects. Knowing when and with whom to use this style of leadership is the trick. Understanding the potential benefits and drawbacks to this style of leadership is very important for any leader who is considering using it.
It may be worth testing laissez faire leadership with unimportant tasks initially to see if your staff are up to the challenge. If they are, you could gradually incorporate more relevant and important tasks over time. This is a safe way to implement this style of leadership into your practice while minimising its associated risks.
Similarly, paired work is often a good idea as it is difficult for people to hide when working in pairs. When working in larger groups, people can socially loaf with relative ease and without detection. However, if placed in pairs it is blatantly obvious if one of the two people are not pulling their weight. These are just a couple of ways you may wish to begin incorporating laissez faire leadership into your leadership armoury.