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What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?

By Osmand Vitez
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Management represents both the individuals who help guide a company and the style used to oversee workers. Many different types of management styles exist, from more authoritarian to those styles that take a hands-off approach. Laissez-faire leadership is a nonauthoritarian management style that allows employees to work without much supervision. The style often works best where employees are self-starters and have personal motivation that leads to their working successfully. Laissez-faire leadership also has drawbacks, where employees may run amok without proper guidance from managers.

Classical management instruction tends to focus on three important attributes: planning, directing, and control. Planning is the tasks leaders use to move the company through the current business environment. Laissez-faire leadership often concerns itself with the latter two activities: directing and control. Directing involves coordinating resources and employees into the positions necessary for completing specific tasks and activities. Control represents how a leader or manager keeps the various parts of the company on track.

Laissez-faire leadership attempts to achieve the control activities in a subtle manner. For example, rather than being directly involved with how employees complete daily activities, the laissez-fair leader leaves the workers to their own devices. These leaders tend to believe that employees work better when given a set of directives and then left alone to accomplish tasks. In short, an employee’s self-interest for creating methods to work in a company is best under laissez-faire leadership principles. Leaders monitor the workers from a distance and communicate with them to ensure the achievement of goals and opportunities.

Companies with highly motivated and skilled employees tend to find laissez-faire leadership a proper management tool. Skilled workers are often the best type for working in this environment. A skilled worker has the personal traits and education to complete tasks and activities and often with great results. In some cases, skilled workers may bristle at too much oversight. They may see this as a lack of faith in their abilities to work in a specific position.

Drawbacks do exist in laissez-faire leadership. The biggest drawback may be giving up too much control to employees. Workers may not complete tasks in a timely manner or work as hard if they were under direct management. Employees may also not exhibit the ability to retain a budget or work within specific standards set by the company. Companies need to define a way to overcome these drawbacks and others with laissez-faire leadership.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Mar 18, 2013

This style of leadership is almost always going to be a disaster, because there simply aren't very many people who can truly do it well. And those that could don't become leaders.

Most of the time you end up with people like the boss in The Office, who think they are taking this approach, but in reality, are just encouraging bad habits and making people feel like they aren't supported.

Frankly, I'd rather have someone who was a little bit tough on me, than someone who acted as though they didn't care if I showed up or not.

By indigomoth — On Mar 17, 2013
@Mor - I don't think bosses or teachers should be constantly hogging the leadership role, but I do think there is a place for them there and I don't like the idea of just allowing everyone to get on with it. Humans respond well to a good amount of discipline. The important thing, to me, is to find the balance between too much and not enough.

It's the rare person who won't take advantage of a laissez-faire approach to leadership, because, quite frankly, we are hardwired to be selfish. That's the point of being a leader. To show people and keep reminding them, that it's more to their advantage to work for the group.

By Mor — On Mar 16, 2013

Laissez-faire leadership sounds similar to one of the approaches to teaching I've learned about recently, which is to create a "community of learners" in which the teacher is more of a facilitator, rather than an authority figure.

The idea is to get the students to be so interested in what they are learning about and so supportive of each other, that they can basically work out their own course of action and implement it, with little or no input from the teacher, who merely tries to maintain the balance.

This could probably work in places where the employees are very interested in and motivated by their jobs, but it would be difficult to implement in places where this wasn't true.

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