Have you ever had a boss who took a hands-off approach? Who let team members take the reigns and make decisions about how things needed to be done? This type of boss or manager might be described as having a laissez-faire leadership style.
This leadership style is characterized by giving group members lots of freedom, but also lots of responsibility. It can be freeing for those who crave autonomy and are skilled in their roles. But it can be challenging for people who need more guidance, direction, and feedback.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the traits that make the laissez-faire leadership style so unique. We’ll also learn more about the pros and cons and the impact this style can have on group members.
What Is Laissez Faire Leadership?
Laissez-faire leadership is a leadership style in which leaders provide minimal direction and allow subordinates to make most decisions. The theory behind laissez-faire leadership is that group members are better equipped than their leaders to make decisions about their work.
What does ‘laissez-faire’ mean, exactly? Laissez-faire is derived from the French term meaning “to let it be.”
Also known as delegative leadership, leaders with this style tend to trust group members and rely on them to meet the teams’ goals. While this can sometimes be helpful, research suggests that the delegative style tends to be the least productive. In practice, laissez-faire leadership can lead to employees feeling unengaged and unchallenged. It can also lead to problems when managers cannot provide guidance or support.
Laissez-faire leadership is best used when employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to make decisions independently.
Understanding your style can help you learn to recognize when the laissez-faire approach may be the most effective. It can also help you tailor your leadership so that both you and the members of your group can be more effective.
Characteristics of Laissez-Faire Leadership
There are several key characteristics of laissez-faire leadership:
- A hands-off approach that allows members to work independently
- While leaders may be supportive and encouraging, they provide little guidance
- Group members are often given access to many different resources and tools
- Group members can make decisions on their own
- The leader trusts group members to recognize and fix their own mistakes
- Leaders offer constructive criticism and take charge as needed
- The leader remains accountable for the group’s performance
While this approach is known for being very hands-off, this does not mean that leaders don’t play a role. They often offer feedback, guidance, and support whenever it is needed. In many cases, they may be more involved during the early stages of a project but then hand the reigns over as subordinates become more skilled and knowledgeable.
Trust plays an essential role in laissez-faire leadership. When leaders feel like group members are capable of working on their own or would benefit from greater independence, this style can be the most effective.
Examples of Laissez-Faire Leadership
Consider examples of this type of leadership style to learn more about how it works. A few examples include:
- A software development team in which each team member works on their part of the project with little interference or guidance from the lead programmer.
- A marketing team in which the team leader provides broad objectives and allows each member to develop their own campaigns and strategies.
- A customer service team in which the supervisor sets performance goals but allows team members to decide how they will meet them.
- An accounting department in which the manager provides guidance on financial reporting standards but allows individual accountants to determine how they will meet those standards.
- A human resources department where the director establishes policies and procedures but allows individual HR managers to determine how they will be implemented.
Advantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership
There are several potential advantages of laissez-faire leadership:
Greater Individual Empowerment
For example, when a company is experiencing rapid growth, it can be helpful to have a leader who allows employees to make their own decisions and take on more responsibility. This type of leader can create an environment of trust and empowerment, which can help the company to grow and thrive.
Showcases Expertise and Skills
Additionally, laissez-faire leadership can be helpful in situations where employees have a lot of experience and knowledge about a particular issue. In these cases, it can be beneficial to let them make their own decisions rather than dictating every step of the process.
Fosters Creativity and Innovation
Employees will be more likely to come up with new ideas if they feel they are in control of their own destinies.
The advantages of laissez-faire leadership include encouraging personal development, empowering group members, and increasing creativity.
Disadvantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership
There are also some potential disadvantages of laissez-faire leadership:
Can Lead to Confusion and Conflict
If team members are not on the same page, it can lead to confusion and conflict. This is because each person may work towards their own objectives rather than a common goal.
Can Be Difficult to Implement
Laissez-faire leadership can be difficult to implement, especially in large organizations. This is because it can be hard to establish trust and communication among all employees.
Can Be Ineffective in Times of Crisis
This type of leadership can also be ineffective in times of crisis. This is because leaders need to be able to take charge and make quick decisions when necessary.
May Lead to Lower Productivity
Laissez-faire leadership may also lead to lower productivity overall. This is because team members may not feel motivated to work if they feel like they are not being supervised.
The downsides of laissez-faire leadership are well-documented and include increased confusion and decreased productivity.
Tips for Using Laissez-Faire Leadership
Laissez-faire leadership can be beneficial if it is utilized wisely in certain situations. If this tends to be your dominant leadership style, there are tactics you can use to help make your leadership more effective:
- Be clear about objectives: It is essential to be clear about objectives from the outset. This way, everyone knows what they are working towards and can be more focused in their efforts.
- Establish trust: Establishing trust is essential for laissez-faire leadership to be successful. This means being transparent and honest with your team members. It also means allowing them to make their own decisions and mistakes.
- Communicate frequently: For laissez-faire leadership to work, it is essential to communicate frequently with team members. This way, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and reduce the risk of confusion or conflict.
- Be available: Even though you are giving team members the freedom to make their own decisions, it is crucial to be available for guidance when needed. This way, you can provide support and answer any questions they may have.
- Monitor progress: It is also essential to monitor progress regularly. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on track and identify any areas where improvements need to be made.
- Lead by example: As with any leadership style, it is vital to lead by example. This means exhibiting the same qualities that you expect from your team members, such as honesty and transparency.
- Be patient: Laissez-faire leadership can take some time to implement effectively. Therefore, it is important to be patient and give it the time it needs to work.
How to Find Your Leadership Style
In order to lead more effectively, it can be helpful to learn more about your own leadership traits and styles. Some strategies that can help include:
- Consider your strengths and weaknesses
- Find inspiration from effective leaders and model these characteristics
- Consider how you interact with members of your team
- Talk to team members and listen to their feedback about what would help them become more productive and satisfied
- Assess your leadership style
Take the Leadership Style Quiz
One way to learn more about your style is to take our Leadership Style Quiz. This can give you a better idea about your own tendencies and which style tends to be the most dominant.
Who makes the decisions in your group?
How much input do you accept from your followers?
How much direction do you give to subordinates?
How do you respond to mistakes by members of your team?
How often do you check in with members of your team?
What do you do to motivate your team?
What's the most important goal for your group?
How do you define a successful team?
Share your Results:
Frequently Asked Questions
When should laissez-faire leadership be used?
Laissez-faire leadership can be most effective when team members are highly skilled and motivated. This is because they will likely be able to work independently and make decisions without much guidance.
What are the four basic styles of leadership?
There are four basic leadership styles:
Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses that should be considered when choosing a leadership approach.
Which leadership style is best?
The best leadership style for any situation depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the task, the goals of the group, and the personalities of the team members. Leaders should also be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses before choosing a particular style.
For example, if a company is experiencing rapid growth, it may be helpful to have a leader who allows employees to make their own decisions and take on more responsibility. However, if a company is in the midst of a crisis, it may be more beneficial to have a leader who can take charge and make quick decisions.
The best leadership style is the one that will help the team to achieve its goals most effectively and efficiently as possible.
- Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off approach that allows team members to make decisions. This style can be effective when team members are highly skilled and motivated.
- However, it is important for leaders to remain available for guidance and support when needed.
- Additionally, progress should be monitored regularly to ensure that everyone is on track and to identify any areas that need improvement.
- Ultimately, the best leadership style is the one that will help the team achieve its goals as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Anbazhagan, S., & R. Kotur, B. (2014). Worker productivity, leadership style relationship. IOSR Journal of Business and Management, 16(8), 62–70. https://doi.org/10.9790/487X-16846270
Al-Malki, M., & Juan, W. (2018). Impact of laissez-faire leadership on role ambiguity and role conflict: Implications for job performance. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 4(1), 29–43. https://doi.org/10.18775/ijied.1849-7551-7020.2015.41.2003
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. Psychological Bulletin, 129(4), 569–591. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.4.569
Hinkin, T. R., & Schriesheim, C. A. (2008). An examination of “nonleadership”: from laissez-faire leadership to leader reward omission and punishment omission. The Journal of applied psychology, 93(6), 1234–1248. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012875
Lewin, K. (1939). Experiments in social space. Harvard Educational Review.
Robert, V., & Vandenberghe, C. (2021). Laissez-faire leadership and affective commitment: The roles of leader-member exchange and subordinate relational self-concept. Journal of Business and Psychology, 36(4), 533–551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-020-09700-9
Kendra Cherry, MS.Ed., is an author, educator, and founder of Explore Psychology, an online psychology resource. She is a health writer and editor specializing in psychology, mental health, and wellness. She also writes for Verywell Mind and is the author of the Everything Psychology book (Adams Media).
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.