There are many kinds of leadership. They are called leadership styles. There are a few major leadership styles and more than a dozen variants. The variants are derived from the major leadership styles and are often a mix of two or more leadership styles. The popular leadership styles are autocratic or authoritarian, paternalistic, transactional, transformational, participative or democratic and Laissez Faire. Situational and facilitative leadership styles are also popular.
Every style of management is developed based on one or more leadership styles. Laissez Faire management style is developed on the principles and practices of Laissez Faire leadership. There are pros and cons of all approaches and Laissez Faire management style is no different.
What Is Laissez Faire Management Style
This type of management doesn’t involve hands-on leadership. The leaders or managers do not exercise much power, although they have the ability to do so. The management does possess the power but allows the workers or every member of all teams to work with absolute freedom. In other words, bosses don’t breathe down the necks of employees, the staffs are not micromanaged, they are not supervised all the time, they don’t have to report every movement, action or development, there is no top-down decision making and the workers can work together or alone depending on the nature of their operation or the scope of their department.
Also known as a hands-off leadership style, Laissez Faire management style doesn’t require managers to provide instructions or even guidance to the workers but the workers can ask for help should they feel the need. The workforce enjoys autonomy and they are almost self-ruled as long as they don’t steer away from the desired path.
Does Laissez Faire Management Style Work?
At a universal level, no leadership style will be perfect. One has to use a management style that is fitting for a situation or relevant to the problems being faced. In that sense, it is futile to wonder if Laissez Faire management style would work without considering specific instances or industries and without factoring in the objectives and challenges.
Laissez Faire management style puts forth more problems than solutions. Since it is a hands-off approach, the leaders or managers often don’t know what the workers are up to. They don’t even know if a work is being done, and if so then is it being done as it should and there is little involvement of the leaders or managers so they are often out of sync with what’s going on at the ground level. Workers who enjoy their autonomy but don’t have the best intentions will seldom work. They may actually ruin the company’s prospects. The workers may not know what they should do or how they should be doing what has been asked of them and in effect, there can be complete chaos and there can be unending unproductive hours.
Laissez Faire management style can prove to be very costly. Most companies and their workers perform well when there is someone responsible, capable and motivated steering the ship. Without such leadership and without active development, most companies will struggle to survive. Very few professionals are self-motivated and will take the initiative to do well, even when they aren’t asked to do so. That is why there are so few good leaders in the world. Most professionals would be lackadaisical, unproductive and may not be of any good when they are not being directly monitored and held accountable regularly by a hands-on leader.
The Time When Laissez Faire Management Style Works
Having explored the limitations and the risks of such a management style, you would presume that this is the worst way to lead a company or a team. But that is not correct. Someone as rich, famous and envied as Warren Buffett practices Laissez Faire management style. He seems to be doing fine, his employees, stakeholders and his topmost executives directly reporting to him seem to be doing fine. Hence, does the approach work?
It works only when the people being given the autonomy are capable. The employees having full freedom must be very skilled, they should be well educated, highly experienced and they must be driven to succeed. There are many professionals who don’t need to be pushed to succeed. They have the fire and the motivation to succeed. They would succeed anyway, with or without any involvement of their leader or manager. Such people should be given full autonomy and should just be monitored to have some balance. Laissez Faire management style works with such people and in companies where every individual makes a unique contribution.
Warren Buffett’s premise is not ordinary and it is unique even among investors who have minted billions through various ventures. Hence, it is unwise to think that if such a management style worked for Buffett then it would work for anyone.