Laissez-Faire Leadership: Definition, Tips and Examples
Laissez-faire is a phrase that means 'Let it be' or 'Leave it alone.' A laissez-faire style of leadership is suitable for people who prefer to work independently and in industries that encourage creativity. Instead of providing employees with detailed instructions or procedures to follow, managers using laissez-faire leadership leave it up to employees to decide how to complete tasks and reach organisational objectives. In this article, we'll discuss the important characteristics of laissez-faire leadership and suggest which industries benefit most from its use.
What is laissez-faire leadership?
Sometimes called 'delegative leadership,' laissez-faire leadership takes the strengths and talents of each employee into account when deciding who should work on a task or project. Employees get the freedom to choose how to perform their work and meet a company's goals, so long as their actions do not harm or directly conflict with the organisation's interests. This approach contrasts with autocratic leadership, where a chief executive or other leading figure specifies in detail how they want you to complete the tasks.
Employees who are confident in their abilities and enjoy taking responsibility for their actions can thrive under laissez-faire leadership. Industries that require creativity and innovation, such as the arts, technology and entertainment sectors are suitable for a laissez-faire leadership approach.
Related: The Ultimate Guide To Management Styles
Features of laissez-faire leadership
In contrast to the highly structured style of leadership used by an autocratic leader, laissez-faire leadership is likely to have the following characteristics:
Effective delegation: Leadership staff knows how to delegate projects to employees and allows them to complete their work independently. This can allow employees to complete their tasks more efficiently.
Freedom to choose: As long as they accomplish their goals, employees have the freedom to choose how to approach their work. Employees who enjoy this style of working value this autonomy, which can help them feel more invested in what they do.
Appropriate support and resources: While giving employees the freedom to decide how to complete their assigned tasks, the organisation still needs to offer adequate resources and professional support so staff can get the job done.
Constructive criticism: Receiving constructive criticism and advice from managers or other leading personnel can help employees work more effectively in the future. Finding a way to balance this need for feedback with the freedom of an employee to make their own decisions is a critical element in a successful laissez-faire leadership model.
Stepping in when required: Despite preferring to give employees the freedom to work independently, a laissez-faire leader needs to know when it is appropriate to step in and take control. This may occur, for example, if a project is not producing the desired results or if an employee feels overwhelmed with responsibilities.
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Common characteristics of laissez-faire managed employees
Employees who benefit from a laissez-faire management approach often display the following traits:
Highly creative: Employees working under laissez-faire leadership may enjoy being creative and finding unique approaches to solving problems. This contrasts with an employee who excels at following precise instructions to complete an assignment.
Experienced employees: A laissez-faire work environment can benefit employees who have experience in their field because they know to make their own decisions. For example, someone who has worked in a museum for 15 years may find it easier to manage its day-to-day operations than an employee who only started the role six months ago.
Self-motivated: An employee needs to be an excellent self-motivator to work well under laissez-faire leadership. This is because their employer expects them to take full ownership of their tasks, set their own deadlines and manage their time effectively to ensure they get the work done.
High performance: Employees who have proven their ability to work to a high standard can flourish under a laissez-faire leadership style. They are used to surpassing goals and taking the initiative to
Benefits of laissez-faire leadership
A laissez-faire work environment offers the following benefits:
Every employee is accountable for their work and performance under a laissez-faire management style. This makes it more likely that employees will take on responsibility for their assigned tasks and do their best to accomplish their goals. However, it is important to remember that final accountability for an organisation's work still rests with senior management or the leadership team.
Ideal environment for creatives
A workplace where employees need to think creatively may work well with laissez-faire leadership. A company may want employees to think innovatively to create new products, launch a marketing campaign or complete an artistic project. An employee may accomplish these tasks more efficiently with the freedom to work independently.
Loyalty to the employer
If an employee feels responsible for their work or that their employer welcomes their unique input, they are likely to feel more attached to the organisation they work for. This may encourage an employee to stay with the company for a longer period of time.
Disadvantages of laissez-faire leadership
Some disadvantages of a laissez-faire leadership style include:
Work can get duplicated
Managerial oversight or structured procedures sometimes help employees to carry out work more efficiently. For example, a home insurance company may use a specific procedure when an employee hires a contractor to repair damage in a customer's home. Laissez-faire leadership in this environment could create a situation where the correct procedure is not always followed, requiring an employee to revisit the task to complete it properly.
Unclear decision-making process
When employees work independently, it can prove difficult to determine who has overall responsibility for a decision or a project. For example, a marketing professional tasked with preparing promotional material for a public event will benefit from close consultation with the event organiser to make sure that the material they create is appropriate. An event manager who leaves a marketer to do their own thing without providing adequate input may receive promotional material that does not reflect what their event is about.
Lack of structure
An absence of structure can be detrimental to the workplace if it causes employees to feel uncertain about what they should be doing or unclear as to what their tasks are. Laissez-faire leaders therefore must balance their desire to give freedom to their employees to work independently with the need to provide appropriate levels of guidance and direction to ensure that projects and tasks are completed efficiently.
Employees feel overwhelmed
Employees working under a laissez-faire manager may not know when and how to seek support. This can create problems if the staff member thinks they are being left to deal with tasks or responsibilities that they cannot manage. Managers can counter this challenge by communicating effectively with their employees, so they know when they need to step in and help.
Related: What Are Communication Skills?
Ideal environments for laissez-faire leaders
Here are some examples of settings where laissez-faire leadership can produce great results:
Hairdressers use their sense of style to decide what hairstyle would best suit a customer. The type of work they perform usually requires them to be free to follow a customer's instructions or their own creativity. They do not need to consult with a manager before cutting each customer's hair. This type of work environment is therefore well suited to a laissez-faire management style.
Musical and artistic professions
Cultural institutions like museums, the music industry and the film industry are areas where creativity and flexibility are paramount. This makes laissez-faire leadership a preferable management style because it allows employees to showcase their talents and creativity in their work.
Science and technology
Scientific experiments and technological innovation require employees to carry out highly complex procedures based on their knowledge and training. For example, a medical researcher gathering data on the impact of a vaccine is likely to work well independently because they have a thorough understanding of their area of research and the procedures they need to follow.
Related: 13 Leadership Styles and Their Characteristics
Tips for laissez-faire leadership
Here are some ideas to help develop laissez-faire management:
Onboard all employees
By making sure that all new employees learn the procedures and guidelines in your workplace from the beginning, you can create a strong basis for them to work independently under a laissez-faire management style. Providing all employees with a common starting point can also help them approach their work in a way that fits with your company's ethos.
Related: Positive Feedback: Why It's Important and How to Give It
Provide feedback and advice
Giving your employees feedback at appropriate times can build their confidence and encourage them to take more independent initiative. For example, mentioning to an employee that they completed a task particularly well lets them know that they have the necessary skills to do their job well. Pointing out areas for improvement lets them know which areas of their job they need to work harder on.
Leaders may need to offer more incentives to keep employees motivated and boost productivity. Whereas a typical laissez-faire work environment may reward or acknowledge employees only when they have completed a task, outstanding laissez-faire leaders can create other rewards and incentives to keep employees motivated from the beginning of the process to the end.
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