What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership?

The Pros and Cons of the Delegative Leadership Style

Laissez-faire leadership
Laissez-faire leadership involves giving group members the freedom to make their own decisions. Paul Bradbury / OJO Images / Getty Images

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is a type of leadership style in which leaders are hands-off and allow group members to make the decisions. Researchers have found that this is generally the leadership style that leads to the lowest productivity among group members.

Characteristics of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is characterized by:

  • Very little guidance from leaders
  • Complete freedom for followers to make decisions
  • Leaders provide the tools and resources needed
  • Group members are expected to solve problems on their own
  • Power is handed over to followers, yet leaders still take responsibility for the groups decisions and actions

Benefits of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Like other leadership styles, the delegative style has both a number of benefits and shortcomings. Laissez-faire leadership can be effective in situations where group members are highly skilled, motivated and capable of working on their own. Since these group members are experts and have the knowledge and skills to work independently, they are capable of accomplishing tasks with very little guidance.

The delegative style can be particularly effective in situations where group members are actually more knowledgeable than the group's leader. Because team members are the experts in a particular area, the laissez-faire style allows them to demonstrate their deep knowledge and skill surrounding that particular subject.

This autonomy can be freeing to some group members and help them feel more satisfied with their work. The laissez-faire style can be used in situations where followers have a high-level of passion and intrinsic motivation for their work.

While the conventional term for this style is 'laissez-faire' and implies a completely hands-off approach, many leaders still remain open and available to group members for consultation and feedback.

Downsides of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is not ideal in situations where group members lack the knowledge or experience they need to complete tasks and make decisions. Some people are not good at setting their own deadlines, managing their own projects and solving problems on their own. In such situations, projects can go off-track and deadlines can be missed when team members do not get enough guidance or feedback from leaders.

In some situations, the laissez-faire style leads to poorly defined roles within the group. Since team members receive little to no guidance, they might not really be sure about their role within the group and what they are supposed to be doing with their time.

Laissez-faire leaders are often seen as uninvolved and withdrawn, which can lead to a lack of cohesiveness within the group. Since the leader seems unconcerned with what is happening, followers sometimes pick up on this and express less care and concern for the project.

Some leaders might even take advantage of this style as a way to avoid personal responsibility for the group's failures.

When goals are not met, the leader can then blame members of the team for not completing tasks or living up to expectations.

If group members are unfamiliar with the task or the process needed to accomplish the task, leaders are better off taking a more hands-on approach. Eventually, as followers acquire more expertise, leaders might then switch back to a more delegative approach that gives group members more freedom to work independently.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

References:
Lewin, K., Liippit, R. and White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301.

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