Laissez-faire Leadership Style

With the laissez-faire leadership style, teams have a high degree of autonomy.  The leader maintains a hands-off approach to leading but provides the needed tools and support to allow them to make day-to-day decisions. The name is based on a French term that loosely translates to “let it be” or “leave it alone.” The term “laissez-faire” is also used to describing the economic system that opposes government interference in economic matters. This is a leader that believes in the team and their ability to perform without much guidance.

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The laissez-faire leadership style was first introduced by Kurt Lewin in the 1930s. Lewin introduced this type of leadership style in contrast to other leadership styles like autocratic leadership and the democratic leadership styles, which were also introduced by Lewin.

Dr Kurt Lewin

Dr. Kurt Lewin introduced the Laissez-faire Leadership Style in the 1930s.

The laissez-faire leadership style is built largely on mutual trust and relationships within a team or organization. This leader places trust in a highly-skilled workforce or individuals to get things done without high levels of interference or specific guidance. However, the leader still takes responsibility for the group’s decisions and all the group actions. The laissez-faire leader has enough practical insights to assist the team when issues arise but the leader allows the team to manage through issues themselves for the most part.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Laissez-faire Leadership Style

Organizations or departments that successfully run by the laissez-faire leadership style frequently hire experts and allow them autonomy to make decisions. The experts are backed and supported by the leader, still ensuring the teams deliver on the organizational objectives.

How does this leadership style compare with your own style? How does it compare to your manager? Whether you are a laissez-faire leader, another style, or a combination of styles below are some advantages and disadvantages to the laissez-faire leadership style to consider:

Pros

  • Allows experts to function productively and challenges them to take personal responsibility
  • Fully engages experts and high performers in the team

Cons

  • Lack of accountability for organizations, groups or teams could lead to failure to achieve goals
  • A failure of the leader to properly advise, coach or educate people could lead to low performance
  • Unclear accountability could lead to ineffective time management by teams

When laissez-faire leadership is used inappropriately, it can create more problems than it resolves. If team members lack sufficient skills, experience or motivation to complete projects, the organization can suffer.

There are indeed pros and cons to each of the leadership styles, but understanding the balance is key to being a successful leader. Still unsure about your own style? To learn more about your style as a leader or an aspiring leader, take our short quiz that will give you a sense of your own style. To start the 2-minute leadership style quiz, click here.

Famous Leaders with Laissez-faire Leadership Style

From Presidents to tech billionaires, below are a few of the many leaders that have displayed the laissez-faire leadership style.

  •   Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft
  •   Sebastián Piňera, president of Chile
  •   Warren Buffett 
  •   Andrew Mellon, 20th-century philanthropist  
  •   U.S. President Herbert Hoover
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RECAP: Laissez-faire Leadership Style

The “laid-back leader”. As a leader, trust is a key principle for success. The laissez-faire leader has to design and foster an environment of trust and support to bring out the best in a team or organization. Want to understand more about your own leadership style? Take our quick leadership style quiz now.

Want to know more about other leadership styles? Select one of these links for more comprehensive information about each style: Situational Leadership | Servant Leadership | Democratic Leadership | Supportive Leadership | Transactional Leadership | Transformational Leadership | Charismatic Leadership | Autocratic Leadership

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