What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?

Have you asked yourself “what is my leadership style?” Well, when it comes to leading, we know that there are many different leadership styles out there, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, a good leader can understand all of the different styles and implement them at different times, when they are most appropriate for each situation.

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These different leadership styles are all appropriate for the right circumstance though many of them have many differences. On one end of the spectrum, you have a hands-on, autocratic leadership style where there is one leader controlling the show and calling all of the shots. On the other end of that spectrum is laissez-faire leadership, a more hands-off approach, laid-back approach to leading.

Today we’re going to look into the laissez faire leadership approach, the advantages and disadvantages of this leadership style, and how to implement it successfully. 

Characteristics of Laissez-Faire Leadership

What is laissez faire leadership and what is strategic leadership? Let’s get started with a quick breakdown of the characteristics of the laissez faire style of leadership and how to implement strategic leadership principles when using this leadership style.  

Hands-Off Leadership that Allows Employees to Make Decisions

The defining characteristic of laissez faire leadership approach is that it’s a hands off approach. It’s been used in different leadership positions like in government or economics, but for today we will look at its implications in a business management sense, and.leadership style.

You might already know the answer to what is the difference between leadership and management, but did you know you can use the laissez faire leadership style in both of these positions? Essentially the laissez faire manager or leader who is implementing this style will sit back and let employees or followers do the decision making and govern themselves in their work. An effective laissez faire leader does the opposite of micromanaging; they allow their employees as much freedom as possible to have agency over their decisions and take personal accountability for their own work.

Access to Resources and Tools to Ensure Success

The key to having employees succeed under this hands-off style of leadership is to set them up for success ahead of time. A good laissez faire leader will first give their employees access to all of the resources and tools they could possibly need while working at your company.

This means they should have access to the leader and any other resources necessary for daily company functions. The employees should also get the necessary training on how to effectively use all of the resources and tools at their disposal and should feel confident in their abilities to do so before they are working independently.

Focus on the Big Picture

Another common advantage to this leadership style is that it moves the focus off of the tiny details and onto the big picture. This allows employees to see what the end goal of the company is and make their own personal choices on how to help the business get there. 

Leaders Can Offer Constructive Criticism and Rewards

Though leaders who use the laissez faire leadership approach take more of a backseat type of approach, it’s important to note that these leaders do offer things like constructive criticism and rewards for positive outcomes.

They may not always seem like it, but successful laissez-faire leaders are taking note of their employees’ performance. They then offer praise and rewards when employees are successful and tips and guidance on areas where employees could use some improvement.

This mentorship is equally as important to this leadership style as the hands-off aspect of it is.

Leadership Always Takes Responsibility and Takes Charge When Necessary

Though ideally, employees will be able to work toward their goals entirely independently, there will come times when more direct leadership is necessary. During these times, it’s essential that the laissez faire leader can step in and offer a bit more of a hands-on approach for a time to get things running smoothly.

It’s also important that this style of leader is hands-on for things like training and welcoming new employees on board. This is also a part of offering the tools and resources necessary for these employees to succeed.

Additionally, the leaders who use this style successfully always understand that they must take responsibility for their employees when it comes to relations with the outside world. If you know what is ethical leadership, then you should also know that this is also a part of ethical leadership that allows for essential accountability.

Benefits of Laissez-Faire Leadership

This unconventional leadership style has quite a few benefits, especially when it’s used in the right settings. Laissez-faire leadership is most commonly used in creative and individualized fields like advertising and IT, and here’s why it’s so successful in those industries.

Empowers Individuals to Take Charge and Take Risks

The biggest positive of this leadership style is that it puts employees in a position of power and agency over their own choices. This allows for a sense of individuality that other leadership styles don’t have, encouraging them to work at their own pace and have the freedom to make choices that are best for their own work style.

Can Inspire More Creativity and Innovation

Since employees have more freedom, they’re able to think outside of the box without fear of failure. This can lead to more creative choices and innovative solutions that could really change the game when it comes to how your business is run.

When people feel like they are trusted, there’s no longer the stress of trying to prove themselves, so they do what feels right.

Employees Feel Trusted and Are More Likely to Stick Around

It comes as no surprise that this leadership style would make employees feel that you trust in their abilities. When people feel that they are trusted and are praised or rewarded when they do a good job that they can take credit for, they’re more likely to stick around and enjoy more of the positive experience.

Employee retention under this style of leadership is phenomenal, meaning you won’t have a high turnaround and can see more projects come to fruition.

Creates a Relaxed Company Culture

Finally, this all allows for more relaxed energy in the office. People don’t feel constantly stressed out or micromanaged, which leads to happy employees. Happy employees make good decisions and help your business see success.

Cons of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Though there are many benefits to laissez-faire leadership, there are also a few cons that we need to be aware of.

Can Create Confusion on Who Is In Charge

It makes sense that if the power is more diffused and the leader isn’t constantly asserting themselves, confusion can arise about who is in charge and what the chain of command is. Without clear guidelines for how people should govern themselves, they could not know where to turn if they need help with something or if they run into a problem.

Difficult for Groups to Work Cohesively

When you think about a time that your last group project failed, you’ll notice something pretty quickly: you lacked a definite leader.

The same leadership style that encourages individuality can make working cohesively in a group a difficult task. People can run with their ideas, but without a leader to delegate work to individuals based on their strengths, it can be hard to get everyone on the same page.

This style of leadership is not recommended for a setting where a lot of collaboration is necessary to get things done since the lack of power structure can cause friction between employees who may think their idea is better than all others.

Could Result in Low Productivity if Employees are Unskilled or Unmotivated

Lastly, one of the biggest issues that may arise when laissez-faire leadership is done incorrectly is a decline in productivity. This is especially difficult when you are working with a group of unskilled or unmotivated individuals who either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care for what they’re doing.

When people aren’t naturally self-starters or are new to concepts, they need a lot of guidance, motivation, and regular reinforcement. Though this leadership style is fantastic for people who can take care of their own work and prefer to do so, it can fall short when employees lack the knowledge and skills necessary to get things done on time.

To combat this, it’s important to make sure that you build a team of people that you truly can trust and then train them well to have everything they need to do the work on their own without you watching. The work needs to be put in on the front end to enjoy seeing them grow and improve on their own.

Figure Out If This Leadership Style Is Right for Your Business

If you’ve been spending all of your time learning how to develop leadership skills for other styles of leadership, don’t worry. Whether it’s laissez faire management style, autocratic leadership, or somewhere in between, Maui Mastermind can help you discover what leadership style suits you and your business best.

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What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?
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What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?
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Maui Mastermind Business Coaching
Business David is a Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestselling author of 11 business and financial books. A syndicated columnist for Inc.com and HuffingtonPost.com, David’s articles have appeared in over 6,500 publications. As the founder and CEO of Maui Mastermind®, David has worked with 100,000+ business coaching clients and community members to buy, build, and sell over $5 billion of businesses.