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Can Laissez Faire Leadership Ever Actually Work?

Introduction

There are many interpretations of what laissez faire leadership actually means. Let’s look at how the actual phrase translates from French to English:

Laissez faire = leave do / let do

So, when talking about laissez faire leadership, what we mean is a leader who is comfortable leaving his/her team to work among themselves to achieve the business goals. The leader will often leave core aspects of his/her strategy up to the team to define and place more emphasis on development than a hands-on micro-manager might do.

This method of leading teams has been tried and tested for a number of years now, it’s nothing new. But can it ever actually work? Can taking a back seat role in your organisation actually drive a team to success?

Let’s find out...

  1. Laissez Faire Champions Independence
  2. Works Best For High-Expertise Teams
  3. You Create Future Leaders
  4. Don't Make Laissez Look Lazy
  5. Laissez Faire Demands Trust
  6. Less Management, More Development
  7. You Work as Part of the Team

1. Laissez Faire Champions Independence

Champion Independence

By handing over responsibility and control to your teams, you give them the freedom to explore the possibilities available to them without being held back by what you expect of them.

When your teams are afforded the type of control that they crave, they’ll flourish in the environment you create. With laissez faire leadership, employees are free to define their roles and find a way of working that suits them best. When they are afforded this kind of freedom, they’ll be more engaged with their work and a more engaged team is a higher performing one.

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2. Works Best For High-Expertise Teams

High-Expertise Teams

Despite the obvious benefits of giving your teams more independence and control over their roles, there’s a pinch of salt to be taken here. It’s important to note that laissez faire leadership doesn’t work for every team.

Due to the nature of handing your employees more responsibility, laissez faire leadership works best when rolled out for teams that have high-expertise. When you hand this kind of responsibility to teams that have low-expertise, it can cause problems such as uncertainty around the nature and boundaries of each team members’ role. This can lead to problems, such as ineffective team working, so it’s best to make sure your teams are up to the task before rolling out this style in your workplace.

When your team is made up of experts, laissez faire leadership allows them to demonstrate their expertise and skills, without being stifled by micro-management.

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3. You Create Future Leaders

Create Future Leaders

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

 

- Harvey S. Firestone

Have you ever struggled to fill a leadership role from within your business? I’ve spoken about the importance of promoting from within in another post but what happens if you don’t have anyone suitable for that type of leadership role?

If this happens, don’t look at your employees accusingly. When your team is made up of members who don’t possess the necessary leadership skills to fill senior positions, the buck stops with you, more specifically, your development of them. 

One way to correct this lack of leadership is to give your teams more responsibility through a laissez faire approach. When you challenge your teams to work among themselves, you help to develop their leadership skills. They find a way of working with each other and are forced to use their intuition and initiative to solve problems and overcome challenges, without you there to bail them out.

If you start adopting a more laissez faire leadership style and stop holding the hands of your team, you’ll soon see them develop into a team of leaders who are ready and waiting to fill management positions and take your business forward.

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4. Don’t Make Laissez Look Lazy

Don't Look Lazy

There’s a common misconception when it comes to leadership styles like laissez faire that associate the leader as a lazy figurehead who passes on responsibility and workload as almost an abuse of power.

This is far from what laissez faire leadership should be. The laissez faire leader has full control his/her strategy and is constantly overseeing the team’s work, despite how it might appear from the outside.

If you adopt this style to mask your own laziness, the biggest backlash you’ll receive will be from your own team. You have to ensure that the team buys into this style of leadership or they’ll use their new-found independence to cut corners and reduce their workload. When your team is fully on board and understands what you’re trying to achieve, they can truly flourish under the style.

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5. Laissez Faire Demands Trust

Laissez Faire Demands Trust

If you’re the type of manager who frets when handing over responsibility, you aren’t acting like the leader that I encourage you to be and you most likely aren’t the right fit for laissez faire leadership.

Laissez faire demands that you trust your teams and, in order to fully hand over responsibility to your employees, you can’t half-heartedly walk into this style. To get the best out of your teams with laissez faire leadership, you can’t talk about handing over responsibility and then jump in when it suits you. You need to commit.

We’ve spoken about ensuring your teams buy into the concept of laissez faire leadership but, perhaps more importantly, do you? Take a leap of faith in your teams and they’ll reward you in their performance.

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6. Less Management, More Development

More Development

When you hand over responsibility to your teams and let them execute their own projects, after a little time to help them adapt to this new way of working, you should see a reduction in the number of meetings and time-consuming sessions you have with your teams to ensure everyone is working the way you want.

When you become a laissez faire leader, these meetings become almost redundant. Your teams find their own way of working and organically develop a style that means you don’t need to steer them in your own direction. That’s not to say you won’t have meetings any more. As mentioned previously, you’re handing your teams more responsibility but you are still fully in control.

What this means, practically, is that you can schedule regular sessions where your employees fill you in on their progress and report back to you any concerns they might have. Give them the opportunity to set their own goals and define their own processes and present it to you. It’s then your job to make sure they keep on track, should they need assistance.

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7. You Work as Part of the Team

Part of the Team

If you can here to learn about how you can reduce your workload and pass it off as a new leadership style, I’m sorry to tell you this isn’t it. Your role as a laissez faire leader will see you become a ‘player-coach’ within your teams.

As mentioned, while you are handing over responsibility, you aren’t reducing your workload, you’re simply changing the way you operate. With a reduction in the number of strategy meetings, comes more time for you to get involved and help your teams with their workload to instigate teamwork. This is how you make laissez faire different from laziness. Don’t think you have to hide away in your office to hand over control. Great leaders disguise themselves as a team player, hiding in plain sight.

Speaking of teamwork, when giving your employees licence to figure out their own processes, they’ll naturally start to rely on each other for assistance. This will help to boost teamwork and, when we work as a team, we perform better than we do individually.

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So, now we know more about laissez faire leadership, can it actually every drive your teams to success.

In short, yes. It can be an effective style of leadership but you have to ensure your teams are up to the task of managing their own projects and workload. When you find the right time to implement this style and get your teams to buy into the concept, you can watch your teams develop as they manage themselves.

When it comes to defining your employees’ roles and managing their workload, as the translation states, let them do it.

Every success,

Graham

About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!