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Laissez-Faire Leadership: Definition, Tips and Examples

February 14, 2020

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Loosely translated as “leave it alone” or “let it be,” laissez-faire leadership is much like it sounds. Relying on trust above all else, laissez-faire leadership exists for people and industries that involve those who are independent and creative with initiative. Rather than micro-managing employees and making every aspect of the job definitively outlined, laissez-faire leadership leaves leeway for the employee to exercise their own creativity and use their resourcefulness to accomplish organizational goals.

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What is laissez-faire leadership?

Also known as delegative leadership, laissez-faire leadership is a method that assesses the unique talents of each employee, and assigns responsibilities accordingly. In other words, as long as the actions of an employee are not adversely affecting the company, employees are allowed to use their own skills and ideas to complete their tasks how they see fit. These work environments can be ideal for those who are not only forward-thinking and resourceful, but also intelligent, dependable and confident in their skill sets. This leadership style can be incredibly useful for industries that champion innovation and individuality.

Related: Guide to People Management: Definition, Tips and Skills

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Characteristics of laissez-faire leadership

Unlike traditional authoritarian leadership, laissez-faire leadership is not as  structured. Rather, this method of leadership is marked by the following characteristics:

  • Effective delegation: Managers using this method are capable of delegating each job or task to the most qualified employee. This is imperative as the proper delegation is vital to workplace efficiency.

  • Freedom of choice: As long as employees efficiently complete tasks, those working with laissez-faire leadership can choose how they wish to get the job done. This is a great feature of this type of work environment due because it builds autonomy, self-confidence and productivity. 

  • Sufficient resources and tools: Although the methods used to complete each task are left up to each employee, management must be able to provide each individual with all the tools and resources necessary to complete each task most effectively. 

  • Constructive criticism: Regardless of the fact that employees are able to make their own decisions, leaders and managers must be prepared to provide constructive criticism as needed. 

  • Taking control as needed: Although employees mostly have free rein to make their own decisions when completing tasks, those who use laissez-faire leadership must be prepared to step in and take control as necessary.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (With Examples)

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Common characteristics of laissez-faire managed employees

In addition to common traits of laissez-faire management, there are several usual characteristics of those who work well under this management style. 

  • Highly creative: Laissez-faire employees tend to be creative thinkers. Unlike those who function better when taking more instruction from others, laissez-faire employees tend to enjoy or even prefer work environments that allow them to think of unique ideas for workplace issues.

  • Seasoned employees: Given the lax nature of laissez-faire work environments, seasoned employees are highly sought after when using laissez-faire leadership. Individuals with proven experience in a self-directed environment can be easier to rely on when assigning responsibilities. Inexperienced workers typically require much more guidance, which is counterintuitive to the laissez-faire style. 

  • Self-motivated: In order to be successful under laissez-faire management, employees must be highly self-motivated. In a laissez-fair environment, employees should be able to set goals and adhere to timelines to effectively complete their duties. 

  • Demonstrated excellence: Hiring employees with a proven track record of achieving great things in their fields can translate to high-performance in your organization. This type of employee typically exceeds their expectations for success. If you are recruiting employees for a laissez-faire work environment, consider looking for industry leaders.

Related: Character Traits: Definitions and Examples

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Advantages of laissez-faire leadership

Laissez-faire management offers the following benefits:

  • Accountability: One of the top benefits of laissez-faire management is that it allows workers to assume responsibility for their successes as well as their challenges. This makes them more invested in the overall process. However, ultimately, accountability remains with the leader of each team. 

  • Great environment for creatives: A laissez-faire management system can be ideal if you are creating an environment that fosters creativity. A workplace that values innovative thinking can help foster teamwork and potentially new and compelling products and services. 

  • Greater retention: Because creative environments hold employees accountable while also allowing them to be creative, this typically leads to employees staying longer in the company. 

  • Relaxed work environment: Since laissez-faire work environments tend to have less structure and rules, employees are likely to be more relaxed. A low-pressure workplace can often lead to higher job satisfaction and productivity. 

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Disadvantages of laissez-faire leadership

In addition to the various advantages of laissez-faire management, there are various disadvantages to beware of.

  • Not for newcomers: One of the biggest challenges of laissez-faire leadership is that it may not work well for up-and-coming professionals. While it is tempting to use this method with those who show promise early in their careers, some individuals lacking guidance may become overwhelmed and fall short of their goals. 

  • Leadership confusion: Given that employees have control over their own workloads, it can be difficult to pinpoint what roles leaders need to play. This confusion can lead to power struggles and other issues associated with imbalanced power in the workplace. 

  • Lack of structure: Although a less-structured environment can have its benefits, a total lack of structure can be detrimental. Leaders must find the proper balance between having a rigid structure and no structure at all to have the best chance of being successful. 

  • Lack of support: The lack of structure can also cause employees to feel unsupported in their roles. This may cause lower morale and increased turnover rates. In order to foster a successful laissez-faire work environment, leaders must allow their employees to work alone but also let them know that it is appropriate to reach out for support. 

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Environments in which laissez-faire leaders thrive

The following is a list of examples in which laissez-faire work most effectively:

  • Retail buying: Given the unpredictable nature of the fashion industry, allowing fashion buyers the freedom to choose their own products often works best. As long as they are knowledgeable and passionate, individual buyers are typically much more in tune with fashion trends than management.

  • Entertainment: Music, film and other entertainment-related industries can be ideal for laissez-faire leadership. Given that these industries are highly driven by creativity, working in a low-pressure environment serves to foster productivity. Using laissez-faire leadership allows these creatives the opportunity to showcase their creativity to the fullest extent.

  • Technology: Given the extensive steps required to create technological advances, laissez-faire leadership is great for those who wish to create or invent new technological products. For instance, cell phone technology is constantly in high demand. Fostering a laissez-faire work environment in this industry allow employees to be more creative and potentially innovate new cellular products.

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Tips for laissez-faire leadership

Here are a few ways to develop laissez-faire leadership in your workplace. 

  • Observe performance: Leaders may have to take the time to observe the performance of individuals and teams. This is because deadlines must be optimized in order to effectively compete in most markets. Rather than simply allowing employees to report when they are finished, leaders need to take the time to observe various aspects of the project and give feedback and guidance to boost efficiency.

  • Address problems: Rather than allowing employees to find their own remedies to their issues, leaders may need to help address challenges as they arise. Otherwise, this will delay results.

  • Increase incentives: 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 successfully 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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