What’s it: Laissez-faire leadership refers to a leadership style in which the leader gives subordinates broad freedom to make decisions, organize work and carry out tasks. Literally, laissez-faire means “let it do” or “let it happen.”
In this leadership environment, the leader sets goals for the organization. But, they leave how to achieve it to their subordinates. They give subordinates broad autonomy about how to organize work life and do work. They have little or no intervening or giving intentional instructions.
Laissez-faire leadership is the opposite of autocratic leadership in that the leader does not give autonomy. Autocratic leaders ask subordinates to obey their instructions or decisions without deviation. Although it allows for quick decision-making, autocratic leadership can harm subordinates’ morale and motivation.
In contrast, laissez-faire leadership provides great opportunities for employees to self-actualize and develop themselves. Therefore, it is important to encourage the motivation and morale of subordinates.
However, because controls are too loose and feedback is inadequate, organizations can lose their way. In addition, some subordinates may prefer to wait for instructions and carry out them rather than working independently.
What are the characteristics of laissez-faire leadership?
Laissez-faire leadership has several characteristics. First, the leader places high trust in subordinates. They allow subordinates to be independent in their work. They can self-actualize and use their creativity, resources, and experiences.
Second, subordinates have more control over their work. Leaders trust and give them autonomy. Thus, subordinates have full freedom and responsibility to do work and achieve targets.
Third, supervision is minimal. The leader is only limited to setting goals to be achieved by subordinates. They then leave everything to their subordinates, including how to achieve these goals. Subordinates have to make decisions and manage their own work. So, the leader intervenes as little as possible.
Fourth, the leader will only intervene when necessary. They are minimally involved and provide instruction or guidance.
Fifth, subordinates have access to many resources and tools to support their work. That way, they can be independent in managing work, doing tasks, and solving problems.
What are the advantages of laissez-faire leadership?
A laissez-faire leadership environment has several advantages. First, subordinates are more free and flexible in managing work. Leaders provide broad opportunities to do what they consider effective to achieve the goals set.
Second, strong trust in subordinates leads to high motivation. Subordinates feel they are valued for being able to make independent decisions, manage work life, and self-actualize.
Third, subordinates have the opportunity to develop themselves. Because they are free to do work, they can self-actualize and become more creative to find solutions to problems on their own.
Fourth, subordinates become more responsible. They realize success depends on them alone. Thus, they are motivated to develop self-discipline and responsibility.
Fifth, turnover is low. Satisfied and motivated subordinates make the work environment more comfortable. They feel reliable and confident in their work, prompting them to want to stay with the company.
Sixth, the environment is more creative. Laissez-faire leadership fosters creativity because subordinates can freely explore new ideas, try new things and think out of the box. On the other hand, leaders don’t give too many instructions about how something should be done or accomplished.
Seventh, leaders have more time to think about the company’s strategic goals. Because they are not involved in the subordinates’ work, they have more time to think about strategic aspects, especially related to the company’s long-term goals.
What are the disadvantages of laissez-faire leadership?
Although it supports a creative and motivating work environment, laissez-faire leadership also has drawbacks. First, subordinates find it difficult to complete tasks on time. Subordinates have various backgrounds related to skills and knowledge. Some can work independently. Others may depend more on the leader for instructions and direction on the job.
So, on the one hand, the leader gives them a little direction. And on the other hand, they may not have the competence to work independently. So, as a result, they find it difficult to do work.
Second, the leader becomes lazy. This is because they give autonomy not to encourage subordinates to be independent in work but because they avoid making decisions about work problems. For this reason, they leave everything to the employees, making them lazy.
Third, organizational success is largely determined by employees. Leaders only have a significantly limited role to play. Thus, the organization can perform poorly if subordinates do not have adequate competence.
Fourth, decisions may be inconsistent with one another. Since subordinates have the authority to make decisions, it can lead to ambiguity or inconsistency in their decisions. And it can be bad when consistency is required, for example, in providing customer service.
Fifth, the work environment is disharmonious. Subordinates pursue self-interest in making decisions. Besides leading to inconsistency, it can also cause their relationship to be disharmonious and even lead to conflict.
Sixth, organizational performance deteriorates. It can happen if subordinates are inexperienced and left without direction.
Seventh, demotivation arises among some subordinates. Indeed, some subordinates like broad autonomy. But, others may prefer to wait for instructions and execute them. As a result, they rely on leadership support when working. As a result, they may feel pressured without instruction and support, leading to high stress.
Eighth, new employees are difficult to adapt to. They often need more direction and instruction before they are really effective. However, because laissez-faire leadership does not provide that, it is difficult for them to adapt.
Ninth, the responsibility is unclear. A laissez-faire environment creates confusion about who is responsible when a problem arises. Perhaps the employee with the more dominant personality will try and take over. However, it creates miscommunication and problems because they do not have strong authority.
Where is laissez-faire leadership effective?
Of course, laissez-faire leadership is not suitable for all situations. But, there are cases where it is effective. First, this leadership style can be effective in situations where subordinates are highly skilled and motivated. So, they understand what must be done to achieve the goals set by the leadership.
Second, the laissez-faire style is suitable when the leader wants to empower subordinates. They want subordinates to be independent in work, reducing their workload.
In the beginning, leaders may not adopt this approach completely. However, they train and provide adequate resources to subordinates to encourage them to grow. Once subordinates are ready, they begin to give more freedom and autonomy to subordinates with minimal instruction and supervision.
Third, the laissez-faire style is effective when creativity and innovation are prerequisites for the organization to stay ahead. Subordinates must explore new ideas to solve work problems or find new things without being hampered by the leadership.
The entertainment or advertising industry may be a good fit for laissez-faire leadership. Both industries rely on team creativity to thrive. So, the boss is more hands-off and allows subordinates to try something new.
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