Leadership development

Laissez-faire leadership: Is it effective at work?

Discover the features and advantages of laissez-faire leadership, a management style that provides complete control to the team to manage themselves.

Muinat Zubair

Published on 

March 21, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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We don’t know of any employee that likes to be micromanaged or thrives under an autocratic boss. 

Laissez-faire leadership is the opposite. We have discussed the different styles of leadership elsewhere. 

This article will focus on laissez-faire leadership's features, advantages, and how you can leverage it alongside mentoring. 

Let’s dive in!

What is laissez-faire leadership?

Laissez-faire is a style of leadership where the manager gives complete control or autonomy to the team to manage themselves. You provide your team with the resources they need and just let them do their thing without interfering. 

You probably first heard of it in economics or political themes. It has been adapted to describe a workplace where employees work with minimal supervision. Did we mention it is often referred to as delegative leadership too? 

When laissez-faire works well

If your team is comprised of intrinsically motivated or highly-skilled professionals, give them a hands-off or laissez-faire manager. These kinds of employees thrive when they have autonomy and would welcome this management style.  

Laissez-faire is ideal for employees that are forward-thinking, resourceful, intelligent, dependable and confident in their abilities and skill sets. Organizations that welcome innovation and creativity can benefit immensely from using the laissez-faire approach. 

Also, give it a shot if you trust and can rely on your employees. Employees can use their skills and ideas to work if their decisions don’t adversely affect the organization.

7 Characteristics of laissez-faire leadership

Although the laissez-faire style is suggestive of a completely hands-off approach, leaders are still accessible to employees. Laissez-faire leaders are quite flexible and have the following characteristics. 

1. Productive delegation

Laissez-faire leaders delegate tasks to efficient team members and thus ensure effectiveness and increased productivity.

2. Employee freedom of choice

Employees can choose how they want to complete tasks as long as it is done in a timely and efficient manner. 

3. Adequate tools and resources

Another benefit of laissez-faire leadership is unrestricted access to tools and resources to get the job done.

4. Constructive feedback

Employees can expect constructive feedback from a freestyle leader even if they’re allowed to do things on their terms.

5. Taking back control if needed

Although employees are free to learn from their mistakes and work independently, hands-off leaders can step in and take control as needed.

6. The leader is accountable

While you might have free rein under this type of leadership, they take full responsibility for all decisions and their outcome. 

7. Receptive to mistakes

These leaders are unlikely to berate employees for making mistakes. They accept it as part of the innovative process.

7 Benefits of laissez-faire leadership

There are lots of advantages to having a laissez-faire approach at work. 

  • Retention rates are higher. Employees are less likely to leave an organization that supports them to be more hands-on with their skills while also learning and developing. 
  • Personal development and motivation are expected. A hands-off approach from leaders helps employees develop personal development skills and motivates them to work harder. 
  • Increased accountability. Work environments that delegate duties give employees a sense of responsibility for their challenges and success. If they’re in charge of a project, they put in their best knowing the outcome is on them.
  • More relaxed company culture. Laissez-faire leadership often results in a relaxed atmosphere where employees can thrive and build a strong connection with other employees. 
  • Collaboration and productivity: employees can interact with each other and even combine skills to complete elaborate projects. Company productivity ultimately goes up.
  • Creativity and innovation are encouraged. When there’s less pressure and expectations to do things a certain way, employees are encouraged to think outside the box and come up with creative and original solutions.
  • Decision-making is faster. Because there’s no micromanagement involved, employees make decisions and act fast without having to wait several days or weeks for approval.

Examples of laissez-faire leadership at work

Quite a number of famous leaders are known to have successfully used the laissez-faire style of leadership. We will discuss two of them below.

Warren Buffet, the chairperson of Berkshire Hathaway, is a prolific businessman known to have surrounded himself with people that can work with minimal supervision and are highly creative in their crafts. He offers help to correct an unfavourable situation. These are particular traits of laissez-faire leaders. They track results, manage problems effectively, and monitor individual and group performance while giving due credit and encouraging accountability in individuals. 

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple was known to give instructions to his team and leave them to figure out ways to complete their tasks. Members of his team regularly mentioned how they got to utilize their creativity and try new things while working with him. He preferred the laissez-faire approach and understood creatives performed better when they worked somewhat independently.   

5 Ways to leverage laissez-faire leadership at work

Laissez-faire isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s ideal for experienced team members and highly motivated employees. It’s not suitable for inexperienced employees with little knowledge to make decisions. 

They can get easily derailed without feedback or guidance from leadership. Observe your team and use the leadership style that would work best for them. 

The Laissez-faire approach can also make leaders look like they’re not involved in their team’s progress. This can create dissatisfaction and lower the morale of the team. Employees might perceive that their work is not valued or held as important by their leaders. 

Despite its drawbacks, laissez-faire leadership can yield higher productivity and quality of service. Allowing employees to express their expertise and creativity can produce innovation beyond the ordinary. 

Here are some ways to leverage laissez-faire leadership at work.

  1. Pay attention to employee performance: observe how your employees perform as individuals and in group work. This will help you gauge their strength and how you can help them become better. 
  2. Address issues that come up on the job: letting problems pile up can frustrate employees. Always address issues and give realistic solutions when needed.
  3. Reward positive performance through incentives: incentives help employees stay motivated and assure them their hard work is being noticed and rewarded. 
  4. Delegate and clarify duties for every team member: it is best to clarify who does what and delegate leadership responsibilities to avoid confusion. 
  5. Be available as a mentor for employees who need more guidance: Mentorship is a key feature of laissez-faire leaders. They identify and nurture high-potential employees so they can entrust them with important duties within the organization.

High-potential employees benefit greatly from leadership mentoring programs. Although laissez-faire is super hands-off, employees can still benefit from accessible leaders that answer their questions, advise them and check in with them regularly through mentorship. 

 Check out these 6 examples of real-life leadership development programs to see how it is done.  

Bottom line

laissez-faire isn’t perfect but it can be very productive. A more hands-on approach would be ideal for group members that aren’t aware of their responsibilities. You can adopt laissez-faire as they ease into work life and require mentorship.

Considering a mentorship program to help your employees benefit from laissez-faire leadership? You can learn more about starting a mentorship program in our comprehensive guide.

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