If authoritarian leadership is about rigid control and strict rules in a work environment, laissez-faire leadership is to the other spectrum. The term is French for “let it be” or “leave alone,” and the title fits. Leaders who subscribe to this style believe in building capable teams and then leaving them to their own devices. Employees are trusted to get work done in a manner that makes sense for them. Workers are given the ultimate freedom of choice in how they tackle workplace projects and duties, and in a traditional sense, leaders are mostly absent from the workplace lives of employees. However, like many other leadership styles, significant decisions can still be made by the leader.
For this method to work, there has to be a considerable amount of trust between workers and their superior.
- The Importance of Laissez-Faire Leadership Part 1
- 5 Main Principles and Qualities of Laissez-Faire Leaders Part 2
- Advantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership Part 3
- Disadvantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership Part 4
- Laissez-Faire Leadership Best Practices Part 5
What Is the Importance of Laissez-Faire Leadership?
As with most of the other leadership styles, there are pros and cons to this approach to leading employees.
However, there is one quality from it that will likely be a favorite of any worker: autonomy.
Workers enjoy feeling as if their decision-making is trusted enough to where they do not have to be continuously monitored by leaders. A 2013 Workplace survey conducted by Gensler, an architectural firm, revealed that when employees are allowed to utilize choice in their work environment, workplace satisfaction was 12 points higher than those who did not have a choice. A survey conducted by Trinity Solutions further solidified this statistic by revealing the effects of micromanaging. Seventy-nine percent of respondents experienced micromanagement, and 69 percent considered changing jobs because of it. Ultimately, 36 percent transitioned to other positions. While there are statistics that reveal that workers like to have some involvement from their bosses, many enjoy the feeling of freedom. Therefore, it is essential to understand that while all of the methodologies of laissez-faire leadership might not be favorable for workplaces, the level of autonomy that it promotes is something all employers should consider implementing in their work environment.
5 Main Principles of Laissez-Faire Leaders
A Strict Hands-Off Approach
Laissez-faire leaders are there to give their workers the tools they need to solve problems on their own. They do not try to push the group in a particular direction, but they allow them to create their objectives and criteria for decision-making.
Training and Support
Leaders leave a lot of responsibility in the hands of their workers. As a result, they are very concerned with the experience and educational level of employees. Therefore, many laissez-faire leaders will step into the role of support and provide the training, educational opportunities, and resources that workers need to make to perform and make decisions.
Trust in Those They Hired
Laissez-faire leaders are relaxed in their approach, but this should not be mistaken for lack of caring: they care deeply about the direction of the team and show this by hiring the best people for the job. They search for those with specialized expertise in the duties they will assign to them. Therefore, these leaders feel they have a team they can trust because they have handpicked the talent.
Decisions Are Left to Employees
Laissez-faire leaders recognize how important it is to hire the right people because those individuals will be making the decisions about how they work. Leaders assume the role of support and help employees come together to consult one another or others about decisions. They act as consultant and mentor when needed.
Comfortable with Mistakes
Laissez-faire leaders establish an environment of creativity where it is alright for employees to make mistakes in the pursuit of innovation. Employees feel comfortable knowing that they can pursue innovation freely since they will not receive a reprimand for mistakes. Instead of everything resting on “getting it right,” the atmosphere shifts to learning.
The Qualities of Laissez-Faire Leaders
- Laissez-faire leaders are good at showing compassion and keeping the big picture in perspective.
- They are also resourceful and creative in how they approach situations.
- They are good at using what they have, taking advantage of technology, and creatively solving problems.
- These leaders are excellent at putting teams together. They look for the best and brightest and do their part in examining whether someone would work in their environment.
- As a result, they can take a page from the charismatic leader in inspiring others to want to be a part of what they are doing.
- All in all, laissez-faire leaders are confident and thoughtful individuals who bring those qualities to leadership.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership
The qualities of this leadership style may seem positive, especially for employees. However, there are some elements that leaders and their subordinates need to be aware of if they decide to implement this style.
- Gives Employees the Chance to Succeed – Since leaders are hands-off in their approach to leading employees, this leadership style allows them the opportunity to show what they can do. If they have always wanted to try a new idea, or collaborate on a particular project, this style gives them the opportunity to do that.
- A Freeing Atmosphere – As stated above, employees value workplace autonomy. People enjoy when their employers do not micromanage and trust them enough to allow them to control their work environment. For highly-skilled employees that are engaged in the work they do, this leadership style can be an excellent way to acknowledge their talent.
- Can Facilitate New Ideas – The company can significantly benefit from laissez-faire leadership. If employees are given the opportunity to be creative and come up with new ideas, then this can benefit the organization. These ideas can help promote better processes, policies, or a more streamlined work environment for everyone. Giving highly talented people the opportunity to stop their regularly scheduled work day to figure out problems can benefit everyone.
- Frees the Leader up to Handle Other Issues – If leaders are not always having to stand over employees and provide constant guidance, then they can be engaged in other pertinent matters. Leaders who engage in micromanaging are likely unable to get to managerial duties that need their attention. Laissez-faire leaders bypass this issue by letting employees handle the work they need to so they can handle more pressing situations.
- Faster Decision-Making – Since there is no micromanagement, workers do not have to wait around for feedback from management on each and every small step. In a fast-paced work environment, this means the frustration of needing a “yes” from everyone is non-existent.
- Lack of Role Clarity – There may come a time when employees do not know what is expected of them. If a new project is being entered into, a laissez-faire leader may not provide all the details needed for teams to get started. Therefore, employees can become frustrated with not being in the know regarding what they are supposed to accomplish.
- Everyone May Not Be Able to Handle the Responsibility of This Style – Some employees may take advantage of this method and slack off or miss critical deadlines. Others might not break the rules, but they need more guidance than what is given. Laissez-faire leaders can only work with a specific personality type that is comfortable with this arrangement.
- Indifference – If leaders are seen as not caring about the work because of their lack of involvement in day-to-day happenings, then workers could take on the same attitude. Laissez-faire leaders could come off as uncaring and unconcerned about the happenings they are supposed to be managing. It is important for a successful laissez-faire leader to maintain a healthy level of involvement, usually by providing guidance and coaching.
- An Increase in Conflict – Without a guiding voice, different groups of employees might engage in interdepartmental conflict. Employees can start acting in their own self-interest and begin to fight over resources. Without something to manage these disputes, departments could start to descend into chaos.
- Lack of Accountability – While these leaders are supposed to take accountability for the group, some may use this as a means to shirk their responsibility for outcomes. As a result, employees could bear the brunt of the blame for unfavorable issues, making them fearful of trying anything new. Productive laissez-faire leadership is possible when laissez-faire leader takes accountability and accepts mistakes.
Laissez-Faire Leadership Best Practices
Closely Monitor Employees, and Their Performance
These leaders should not go to the extreme of micromanaging employees, but they should take an active role in making sure tasks are done. This can look like a weekly check-in, a weekly meeting where everyone updates the leader and the group on progress, or updates on a company intranet. Either way, leaders need to be aware of how the team is progressing.
Set-Up Regular Feedback Sessions
Every employee might not benefit from the laissez-faire leadership style. Therefore, leaders should have regular meetings with individual employees to see what they could do to support them better.
Make a Personality Assessment a Part of the Hiring Process
It takes a particular kind of person to be comfortable with a hands-off leadership style. Therefore, leaders should employ a personality assessment where they can see what potential employees are satisfied with as far as autonomy, self-monitoring, and minimal guidance.
Find Ways to Thank and Congratulate Employees
While employees do value autonomy, they also enjoy being acknowledged for a job well done. Laissez-faire leaders need to make sure they are engaged in showing recognition privately and publicly to engage and motivate employees.
While this leadership style supports employee self-monitoring, leaders need always to keep an eye on performance and have the lines of communication open so they can stay current on project updates and employee needs. As a result, laissez-faire leaders can instill a balance between autonomy and guidance.