In all spheres of our lives, we experience some form of leadership. Whether at home, school, government, or workplaces. There are several methods or styles that leaders can adopt while executing their duties depending on the most suitable for a given goal or environment such as autocratic, bureaucratic, charismatic, collaborative, democratic, and laissez-faire leadership.
The laissez-faire leadership style places emphasis on the freedom of employees in managing themselves while performing their duties as they deem fit but following company policies. The company executives take a back seat and allow the different departments or teams to manage themselves as best as they can with little or no intervention from them. The following are some characteristics of the laissez-faire style of leadership.
Characterisitics of Laissez Faire Leadership
The leaders create departments or teams and give them corresponding duties to undertake. The decisions and actions necessary to make them operate are left to the team members. Some departments found in most companies include finance, sales, ICT, human resources, among others and each operates independently.
The leader has almost complete confidence in the abilities of the team members to drive the company’s agenda in respective areas. For example, they will provide finances to the departments and trust that they will account for them appropriately.
The leader offers constructive criticism when the need arises. This is to reveal loopholes and shortcomings in the team’s abilities. It helps the teams improve on their strategies. For example, if there are team members who are not following plans, they can be summoned for corrective action to maintain teamwork.
The leader provides all the necessary resources in advance and when the need arises to assist the team meet their department goals. These resources may include finances, tools, and equipment needed for fieldwork. They are normally dedicated and not shared with other teams to keep deadlines and avoid time-wasting.
The leader provides advisory service whenever there is a challenge to avert a crisis. This need for intervention can be prompted by the team or directly detected by the leader. For example, when the team encounters a difficult client the managers or executives will make personal visits to the client to resolve the issue so that the teams can continue with their work.
Proponents of Laissez Faire Concept
- Queen Victoria
She was the Monarch of the United Kingdom (Great Britain and Ireland) in the late 1800s. Her reign was described as the Victorian Era, the longest in history. She used laissez-faire leadership in her governance of the Kingdom. She encouraged entrepreneurship and individualism in boosting the economic status of her people.
- Kurt Lewin
He was a social psychologist in the 1930s. He was among the first people to conceptualize laissez-faire as a management style in his organizational studies and research at the time.
- Martin Van Buren
He was the 18th American President. He was also a Lawyer by profession. He proposed the Independent Treasury Bill which was passed in 1840 to initiate the separation of the banking system from the government at the time. This was one of his laissez-faire efforts.
- Herbert Hoover
He was the 31st American President. He was a trained engineer with minimal previous political leadership experience. He relied on his team and ensured that they were seasoned persons in their area of expertise to run the affairs of his office.
- John F. Kennedy
He was the 35th American President. He is mentioned as an authority in laissez-faire leadership due to the Apollo project in 1961. He allowed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to manage it and successfully place them in history books for landing on the moon.
- Ronald Reagan
He was the 40th American President who emphasized the free market and capitalism concepts to “rescue” the American economy in the 1980s. This was to encourage free movement of supply, demand, and related forces. This would in turn restrict government involvement in the economy of the country.
- Warren Buffet
He is one of the world’s most successful and wealthiest investors presently. He is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, an American multinational conglomerate holding company. He uses the laissez-faire approach in managing his business ventures.
- Steve Jobs
He was an American business magnate, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. He also used the laissez-faire leadership style. He hired highly professional leaders and let them manage their specialization areas in his businesses.
- Donna Karan
She is an American fashion designer. She leads her businesses using the “hands-off” approach. Her focus is on the management team. She allows them to run independently as much as possible.
- Andrew Mellon
He was an American banker and philanthropist amongst other titles in the early 1900s. He reformed their tax structure system among other accomplishments. He also embraced the free economy excluding government interventions.
Application Areas of Laissez Faire Leadership
- Remote Workers
With the new normal due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more companies have resorted to the working from home policy. In this scenario, the employers are using the laissez-faire approach in managing the teams. For instance, educational institutions and teachers resorted to online classes to keep the school curriculum going.
- Research Workers
These teams are expected to conduct fieldwork which consumes a bigger part of their working hours. This is to facilitate field studies and data collection in various locations where the target groups or samples may be found. While the employer would wish to monitor their every move, it’s practically impossible. For example, employees working in research institutions conduct social research, market research, and scientific research.
- Information Technology
The ICT companies allow software developers or computer programmers to work away from the office as long as deadlines and submissions are met. These employees are more productive while working independently. Their creativity is optimized without interruptions that may be received from their colleagues when operating from the office.
- Entertainment Industry
These are creative professionals such as actors, musicians, artists, among others. They have to go on production sets away from company premises to make the “magic” happen on the screens and studios. These categories of professionals work best and concentration is improved when they work in isolation or remote locations. Once again the leaders don’t have much control over them; instead, they wait for the finished masterpiece. We often hear of these individuals or teams going on a retreat to work on a certain project or piece of work. Examples of such companies or establishments include production companies, filming corporations, media houses, and art galleries.
- Publishing Industry
These include authors, writers, and editors. They work remotely most of the time to increase their effectiveness on the project they are working on similar to the entertainers. They also tend to retreat to their nooks to be more creative and efficient. With minimal interruptions, they can generate high output. For example, literature bureaus and publishers use this concept when working with authors, writers, and editors.
- Construction Industry
This can include professionals such as project managers, engineers, architects, foremen, decorators, designers, and artisans. The building owners float their ideas in form of blueprints and preferences for them to be transformed into structural enigmas! The owners will only make periodic visits to the sites to check on the progress or make clarifications. They entrust the projects to these experts and hope that the end product will meet expectations.
Advantages of Laissez Faire Leadership
- Staff Development
This refers to both the personal and professional development of the employee(s). By giving them the independence to practically apply their knowledge and skill, they learn on the job and develop self-esteem. This molds them into seasoned professionals in the long run. They also acquire additional skills and strategies to maneuver problematic issues and business obstacles.
- Staff Retention
Employees who perceive that they are relevant in the company and their presence is critical will rarely want to change jobs. This reduces the high staff turnover in the company which implies highly experienced persons with an internal insight into the operations continue to support the company. This also gives the organization a strategic advantage over its competitors. This also reduces costs associated with recruitment and onboarding such as job adverts, interview panels, reference checks, and training.
- Staff morale and motivation
It is often quoted that, “an appreciated person will always do more than expected”. Valued employees are more committed to their duties and the company. This increases their productivity at work that ultimately will make the company more profitable and give it a good reputation in its industry. When companies are passed positively in society, clients seek them out and profit margins increase.
- Improves Cohesiveness
Team members are more responsible since they know their livelihood depends on their decisions and actions. This enhances teamwork amongst them and dedication to work as none of them wants to be blamed for any failures. When team members enjoy working and being together they derive satisfaction from their duties and both individual and group performance levels increase. A collaborative and coordinated team is more productive and handles operational problems better compared to a dysfunctional one.
- Manageable workload
The business owners are not overwhelmed with duties and responsibilities since they have been delegated to respective departments and teams. This reduces stress levels and the chances of burnout occurring at the workplace. A healthy employee is more focused and agile while conducting their duties. Work specialization is enhanced making operations transition faster and smoother. The complex tasks are broken down into smaller tasks that are easily understood and completed. This influences performance and productivity levels positively.
- Quality of decisions
Consultative approaches to anything including decision making improves the quality. When teams are in charge, each of the members provides input into the matter and the issues are seen from multiple perspectives. As a result, multiple solutions are developed to tackle problems or projects. This further ensures that there are no loopholes and all risk areas are planned for in advance. The team is better prepared in case of crisis while the work or project is ongoing by reducing the element of surprise which can stall the assignment.
To overcome new problems teams must think outside the box. When left alone, they will have no other option but creative ways of tackling the problem as they want to get recognition and appreciation from the leader. They also want to preserve their source of livelihood since they are committed to the organization and realize the importance of business survival. This approach develops a sense of ownership and responsibility among the team members. All of which are essential in the continued existence of the establishment and employee job security.
- Nurtures Leadership
Delegation fosters job specialization, where the employee acquires education, knowledge, and experience in their respective area of specialization or department. The employee develops a better understanding of the scope of work and responsibilities associated with their role. This awareness makes them more responsible as they conduct their business. It builds their character and improves their outlook on issues and problems. It makes them develop a caring attitude towards their colleagues as they form an essential part of the company. They become more ethical in their dealings and are cautious about the resulting consequences of any action. They are also more critical and strategic-minded as it forms the basis of successful investment. All these are characteristics of a potential leader and help to identify the leadership instinct in an individual.
Disadvantages of Laissez-Faire Leadership
- Power struggles
Each of the team members might want to be recognized for their performance. They might also want to be placed in charge of the rest. This lack of a clear chain of command easily brings conflict and tension. The teams become dysfunctional and can no longer fulfill the purposes they were intended for. The team members start losing trust with each other and everyone becomes selfish, serving their interest instead of group or corporate goals. They no longer freely interact because they are afraid of confrontation and conflict with the next person. Their commitment level reduces if not entirely removed since they no longer believe in the common cause that initially created a bond between them. None of them wants to accept responsibility and be accountable for any action. They are also less concerned about the outcome of processes, projects, and results.
When team members have equal authority it is difficult to make them work as one unit. Nobody wants to listen to the other since they are at the same rank. The outcome is each of them will focus on what they think is important instead of working as a team to achieve a common goal. No one will also own up for a mistake or flaw in operations, instead, blame games start. There is no coordination of activities and tasks take longer to complete or remain unfinished.
- Increased risks and litigation
With dysfunctional teams, the probability of industrial and employee relations disputes is high. Accusations and counter-accusations for a looming crisis are a common thing with such an arrangement. These easily deteriorate to assault cases, discriminatory treatment, and all manner of abusive tendencies within the teams.
- Poor service quality
Dysfunctional teams have low productivity and poor customer service. All this can lead to bad publicity within the business environment and reduce client numbers. Unhappy clients can also withdraw their contracts or initiate litigation for breaching service line agreements due to poorly coordinated company functions.
Once teams realize that they can operate on their own, they develop a sense of pride which can be constructive or destructive. In the latter, they can place the executives at ransom since they know they are the revenue generators or they can simply defy instructions since the executives are perceived as irrelevant. Let’s face it, no matter how polished an employee is, they still need a more experienced guide like the executives, so thinking they are irrelevant could be nothing further from the truth. This in turn leads to the termination of these defiant yet productive employees.
- High Expenditure
When functions are decentralized and work specialization is in effect, adequate resources are required by the teams in terms of training, finances, tools, and equipment. For teams to be empowered properly they should not be lacking in anything and sharing of resources only causes delays in meeting targets. The high expenses can be a hindering force in implementing this leadership style since companies may not be in a position to adequately fund the proposed budget. For example, engineering teams normally require fieldwork mobility. This translates into the acquisition of several cars for dispersed site visits. This may require implementation in phases which again causes additional delays and inefficiencies.
- Prone to abuse
Employees can easily abuse the freedom granted to them. Since there is little monitoring some may not be diligent with work schedules and routines. They may report to work late or remain absent for prolonged periods. The employees can also claim they are untrained and refuse to participate in the process. Some team members can also overshadow others because they have aggressive personalities while the rest are timid. In addition, there can be a misuse of assigned resources or budgets where they are inflated or misappropriated by respective team members. Leaders may also get into a comfort zone where they forget to check on their teams that may be struggling or going of the course in terms of the strategic plan. In a nutshell, it can easily foster laziness with both the leaders and teams.
Managing Laissez Faire Led Teams
- Monitoring and Evaluation
The leaders should make routine checks on the team and projects to establish the progress. This will help improve employee relations and reduce conflicts among team members. It keeps the team members alert and focused on its completion. It also identifies areas that are challenging the teams so that early interventions can be made. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to make inventory checks, whether or not resources are depleted or adequate. For example, the leader can have weekly or monthly meetings to get updates from respective departments.
The leaders should ensure there are clear channels of communication between them and the teams and also among the team members themselves. This will aid in proper consultation and intervention techniques to avert any developing crisis. For example, the leader should provide team members with appropriate communication devices at the office, home, or field to make reporting and interaction effects. Real-time communication is important, especially when managing a crisis. Schedules and status reports should be religiously maintained by the teams for compliance purposes.
The leaders should incorporate highly experienced and skilled individuals if their operations are going to be stress-free and seamless with this leadership approach. Professionals know the standards and requirements in their fields. They can manage their time and resources more effectively and efficiently since they are accustomed to these projects. They understand well the nature of their sector and they work with minimal supervision. They can detect and avert problems before they are detrimental. They also do not need additional training like fresh graduates or recruits who have just arrived in the company or field. All these attributes add to the success of this form of leadership. For example, the use of consultants is an extremely problematic area for better intervention techniques and/or advice.
The leaders should ensure that all team members are on the same page when it comes to planning and implementation of the projects. Those lacking in skill should be trained on the requirements, processes, and procedures. This will especially apply to recruits who will be clueless about the laissez-faire concept of the company. For example, the leader can organize short courses on a weekly or monthly basis and emphasize the effective onboarding of new staff.
There are several styles of leadership in management. These include autocratic, bureaucratic, charismatic, collaborative, democratic and laissez-faire leadership, just to mention a few. The laissez-faire style of leadership has unique characteristics including delegation, autonomy, trust, constructive criticism, support, and intervention. Famous and successful people have used this leadership style in their companies and governments proving that it is a workable concept. These leaders include Queen Victoria, Kurt Lewin, Martin Van Buren, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Donna Karan, and Andrew Mellon. In addition, certain industries and professions utilize this method of leadership better than others such as all remote workers, research institutions, information technology, entertainment, publishing, and construction. Like any other leadership style, laissez-faire leadership has both advantages and disadvantages that a leader must weigh before adopting it in their area of operations. For laissez-faire leadership to be successful when implemented, it must be managed properly by all stakeholders.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can you relate laissez-faire leadership with democratic leadership?
We can say laissez-faire is an enhanced version of democracy since it gives even more freedom to the people with further decentralization.
- Why is laissez-faire not popular compared to other styles of leadership in contemporary society?
This is due to the perceived risks. Handing over the reins of your business to a stranger with limited access to them is not a comforting thought to the owner or leader. They also find it to be an expensive method of working due to the resources, monitoring systems, support, and training needed by the teams.
- Which American Presidents used the laissez-faire leadership style while in office?
The most mentioned Presidents are Martin Van Buren, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.
- Do we have any countries that have currently using the laissez-faire economy concept?
These countries include Estonia, Singapore, Bahamas, Chile, and Mauritius but there are a few others on the list.