Laissez faire comes from the French, it means leaving someone to their own affairs. In a business sense, laissez faire leadership style is referred to a style whereby managers and leaders allow their workers to do their jobs as they please.
When people talk about laissez faire, they only know that it means freedom. That is as far as their knowledge goes. But there is a lot more to laissez faire than meets the eye.
Of course, through the ages there have been various studies and documentation done on different leadership styles.
The term and the concept laissez faire was originally described by Lewin, White, and Lippet back in 1939. But they didn’t restrict themselves to one leadership style. They also introduced autocratic leadership style and democratic leadership style.
More so than a leadership style, people also refer to Laissez faire as an attitude. As it is something that may be restricted to a leader or it may transcend to the whole organization. There are some organizations that operate on laissez faire simply because it provides them with the best results.
Does it Work?
It would be unfair to call a particular or specific style the “best” in all circumstances and situations. There are situations where leaders must shift their leadership style to bring out the best in their workplace.
Furthermore, the leadership style mainly depends on the workforce. Yes, it is true that the leader’s own personality also impacts the way they will handle their workforce, but in most cases we see that workers can prove their worth with time.
When talking about laissez faire leadership examples, the first company that comes to mind is Facebook. Right now, Facebook has around 2.85 billion monthly active users, and the numbers will likely rise due to ease in Internet facilities and awareness of technology in villages and third-world countries.
Of course, this gigantic number does not operate on its own. Facebook employs more than 60,000 people currently, which in itself is a huge number. Which style of leadership does their leader abide by?
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook believes in laissez faire leadership style. It is true that the whole company might not operate in this style, but Mark believes that his employees can come up with creative ideas and innovative solutions if he provides them with that opportunity.
Therefore, he leaves them to reach goals and targets. Mark is a demanding and aggressive person, but he grants his employees freedom. Why is that?
To put it simply, laissez faire leadership style thrives in an organization in which the employees are highly efficient and they are experts at what they do. Since Facebook may not employ a basic, low-experienced software programmer, Mark can use laissez faire on his employees.
Facebook would rather employ highly efficient programmers and tech experts who are the best in their field. Therefore, they don’t need to be told how to prevent Facebook from collapsing. There are other laissez faire leadership examples, and all of them work in an organization with a highly skilled workforce.
Advantages of Laissez Faire
There are clear advantages of laissez faire style leadership and that is why managers and leaders use this style still today.
The first advantage is that laissez faire allows employees to feel important and valued. Let’s say a leader provides a target to his employees. He tells them to increase the sales by 10% before the year ends, but he leaves the process to their imagination. Now, this will automatically give responsibility to the employees.
They will feel that they have a job to do, and that job is to increase the sales by 10% before the year ends. Plus, since their leader trusts them enough, he has left the process unto them. Now, they can employ multiple ideas or just one to increase the sales—it is all up to them.
Furthermore, when employees feel valued, they will eventually be motivated. Motivation is one aspect that baffles managers a lot. If they can motivate their employees by employing laissez faire, then so be it. When motivation increases, employees will work better and their efficiency will eventually benefit the organization.
However, this can backfire on the leader very badly, which brings us to the disadvantages of laissez faire style leadership.
Disadvantages of Laissez Faire
There are multiple disadvantages, but the first obvious disadvantage is that giving too much power and control to employees can backfire really badly. Employees might begin to believe that they run the show, and they may try ideas that do not work at all. Since the leader is not monitoring them at all, they can choose an idea that reduces sales, rather than increases them.
Moreover, another disadvantage of laissez faire is that it can make employees lazy. They might become complacent knowing that there is no monitoring, and they may choose to provide sloppy work that does not meet the requirement.
Another big disadvantage is that some employees, by nature, want monitoring and follow ups. They may not have the qualifications or skills to do everything on their own. Thus, they cannot function optimally when their leader leaves them on their own affairs. Laissez faire may actually demotivate them and reduce the quality of work they provide. In the worst case scenario, they may quit their job altogether.
Other Styles of Leadership
Apart from laissez faire, there’s also an autocratic and democratic style of leadership. Autocratic is the extreme opposite. It is when the leader chooses to closely monitor everything and communication is one-way. When talking about autocratic style, people refer to the army. It perfectly describes how an autocratic leadership style works.
Democratic is when the leader takes in opinions, feedback then incorporates them in the workplace while maintaining his own role. This style is actually very common because it provides the best results in almost all circumstances.
No style works in all the circumstances and situations possible but, yes, as mentioned earlier, leaders need to observe the situation at hand and then devise the safest and most ideal strategy to deal with the workers and employees while reaching targets and goals.
At the end of the day, leadership is all about finding the golden mean. Leaders should neither be autocratic all the time, nor should they employ laissez faire at all times. Finding the middle road, that is, democratic leadership is the way to go.
It will actually allow leaders to listen to their employees and to make work life better. Democratic leadership also motivates employees while keeping an eye on their work.