The Hands-Off, Delegating Laissez-Faire Leader

This article on the laissez-faire leader is the final entry of our 12-part series on the different leadership styles. You can check out October’s Monthly Huddle to get a general overview and catch up on our past articles!

What Defines a Laissez-Faire Leader

In French, the term “laissez-faire” literally means “allow to do,” and that’s exactly what this kind of leader does for their employees. Instead of micromanaging or giving directives, they out their complete trust in their employees, with the expectation that they will use their own experiences and expertise to solve problems. 

One must be cautious not to confuse a genuine laissez-faire leader with an uninvolved leader. The former has created a culture of independence, supported by access to resources and expertise as needed. The latter cares little as to whether or not their employees have what they need to get the job done, and don’t necessarily offer any resources to achieve tasks.  

Personality

It takes a certain strength to be a laissez-faire leader, as you must be willing to take responsibility when something goes wrong, despite having very little active participation. This is because this type of leadership is cultivated through trust and high expectations for communication. 

Instead of checking on their employees, the laissez-faire leader does their job at the fringe of the team, available if they are needed, but rarely stepping in. They are not micromanagers or busybodies. They have faith that the people they hire to get the job done are responsible, hardworking, and honest team members who will do just that. 

Decision-Making

Laissez-faire leaders are masters of delegation, and that includes decision-making. While they are interested in what decisions are made, it’s unlikely that they’ll step into the fold to dictate what route the team should take. 

This type must also be willing to step in when problems arise with either a quick solution or the tool needed to help the employees solve it themselves. Choosing the right level of intervention is a laissez-faire leader’s bread and butter, at least in terms of their daily decision-making practices. 

Situations Where Laissez-Faire Leader Thrive

  • Within a company with few deadlines. Laissez-faire leadership works best when there is plenty of flexibility for people to play with new ideas. Deadlines create rigidity, which is counterproductive for these types of leaders. 
  • Overseeing a team of passionate creatives. In many cases, laissez-faire leaders walk into their role expecting their team to be resourceful, with big ideas and a plan to pursue them. They want to be on board with the tools they need to get the job done and find joy in facilitating employee growth through independence. 

Wrap Up: The Pros and Cons of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Pros

  • Employees feel empowered and motivated by their work. They often thrive creatively, as they have the room to try out new solutions to old problems without the pressures of explaining themselves until they are ready to report back. 
  • Teams thrive when they are allowed to breathe and create their own dynamics. People share and work in a way that is comfortable to them, which in turn leads to higher productivity in the long run. Employees work harder when they feel empowered. 

Cons

  • Often, those with a dominating personality will try to fill the perceived gap in leadership by “taking charge.” This can lead to resentment and ostracism from the group as a whole for the person who oversteps boundaries. 
  • It is not a productive working environment for talented employees who thrive on structure. The lack of check-ins and rules can leave Type A team members adrift in an ocean of uncertainty about where they are supposed to go next as they progress through a project. 
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