Advantages and disadvantages of laissez faire leadership
The comprehensive article examines the advantages and disadvantages of laissez faire leadership style. It also explores the characteristics of this type of leadership and shows its application in different fields by providing some examples.
What is laissez faire leadership?
The term ‘laissez-faire’ is French which literally means ‘let them do’. It broadly implies ‘let it be’, ‘let them do as they will’ or ‘leave it alone’. When applied in leadership context, it refers to leaders leaving it to their subordinates to complete their responsibilities in a manner they choose, without requiring strict policies or procedures (St Thomas University, 2018).
Kurt Lewin developed the idea of laissez-faire leadership in the 1930s study ‘Leadership and Group Life’ which was also contributed by researchers Ronald Lippitt and Ralph K. White. Though Lewin developed the concept, he did not regard it as his preferred method of leadership, rather a style opposite of autocratic leadership.
Characteristics of laissez faire leadership
The common characteristics of laissez faire leadership are as follows:
Leaders trust followers and therefore provide them with very limited guidance.
Employees have the authority to make decisions and therefore are expected to resolve their problems on their own.
When required, leaders take charge and provide followers with constructive criticisms and feedback.
Though a hands-off approach, the leaders are accountable for overall actions and decisions.
Examples of laissez faire leadership
Many analysists argue that laissez faire leadership in true sense has never existed in history. However, others argue that some leaders have displayed almost all the characteristics of this type of leadership.
For instance, Warren Buffet is often considered a laissez faire leader who developed a team of people whom he had considered proficient in their activities and creativity. He only intervened in their decisions when adverse circumstances required him to do so.
Similarly, Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, is considered a laissez faire leader because of his hands-off approach to leading people. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, believes that his team members can come up with innovative ideas and therefore leave them to reach their goals. Consequently, this approach demonstrates that his leadership style contains the characteristics of laissez faire leadership.
However, it should be mentioned that examples of laissez faire leadership are very limited in number that supports the idea that there is a lack of application of this style in practice.
Advantages of laissez faire leadership
Laissez faire leaders can save a lot of time which can be dedicated to other activities. They hand over responsibilities to the group. They let followers to set goals, decide on work methods, and set their own pace of work. According to Lewin and his fellow researchers, laissez faire leadership style requires the least amount of managerial oversight. By delegating responsibilities to their teams, managers will be able to have more free time to plan and contribute to the strategic issues of their organisations.
As leaders trust their followers and are confident in their capabilities, they do not need to keep close eyes on them. Consequently, followers feel valued and motivated to complete the tasks they are assigned with. Similarly, creativity is encouraged under this type of leadership.
Labour turnover is low as a higher number of employee retention is achieved under laissez faire leadership. If people are trusted and can do their jobs independently, they feel attached to the team, and may not think of leaving the job so easily.
Some individuals can be highly motivated when entrusted with an increased delegation of responsibilities. The delegation provides them with an opportunity to improve their own skills and develop continuously. This individual development contributes to organisational development as well.
Disadvantages of laissez faire leadership
New members often need guidance and detailed direction to understand the team dynamics. Therefore, they may find laissez faire leadership style difficult to work with at the outset of their assignment.
Under this type of leadership, team members are often selected on the basis of their capability to work independently. However, this approach may confuse some people concerning the leadership of the team. Who is in charge? In addition, some people may start exercising their authority over others resulting in conflicts impacting on the team dynamics badly.
Lewin considers laissez faire a leadership style, but some people may feel that it is non-leadership. Many leadership scholars generally believe a laissez-faire state has never existed – allowing the group to make all decisions. Some writers opine that this is a passive style and indeed in worst circumstance, a tool to avoid true leadership. Carlin (2019) states that without the leader’s input, the group can descend into conflict as members race over roles and responsibilities.
Theory X suggests people needs supervision. Therefore, if the leader is not around, some employees may tend to show less care and concern resulting in low productivity. In addition, if the leaders are not charismatic and expert enough, they may be challenged by the followers every now and then.
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Last update: 30 November 2021
Carlin, D. (2019) Democratic, authoritarian, laissez-faire: what type of leader are you? available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarlin/2019/10/18/democratic-authoritarian-laissez-faire-what-type-of-leader-are-you/?sh=339f74b2a6b8 (accessed 29 November 2021)
St Thomas University (2018) What is Laissez-Faire leadership? How autonomy can drive success, available at: https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/what-is-laissezfaire-leadership.aspx (accessed 29 November 2021)
Author: Joe David
Joe David has years of teaching experience both in the UK and abroad. He writes regularly online on a variety of topics. He has a keen interest in business, hospitality, and tourism management. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management.