Laissez-Faire Leadership – 5 Cases You Can Apply

Laissez-Faire leadership style is becoming more and more popular. Basically, it requires the team leadership to be hands-off as much as possible and let the team perform on its own. In laissez-faire management or leadership style, the leader gives freedom to the team and only helps them if the team needs it.

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“Freedom” may sound tempting, however, there are conditions and cases in which you can apply a laissez-faire leadership style. We’ve explored this leadership style in this article since its inception, and adoption, when you can apply a laissez-faire management style, benefits, flaws, famous laissez-faire leaders, and the difference between laissez-faire vs micromanagement.

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Laissez-Faire Leadership Style Inception

The term “laissez-faire” is French for “leave it be” and it exactly fits with the style of leadership. The laissez-faire leadership style was first coined by Kurt Lewin in the 1930s. He developed a framework based on a leader’s behavior. Lewin argued that there are three types of leadership:

  • Autocratic (Authoritarian) leaders make decisions without consulting their teams. Authoritarian leadership is considered when a quick decision is required, when the leaders do not need any input, or when the consensus of the team is not critical for a successful result.
  • Democratic leaders foster team participation before making a decision. The level of participation depends on the leader. Democratic leadership style is considered when a consensus is important to get team buy-in. Note that, if there are several differing ideas in the team, it might be difficult to manage and reach a conclusion.
  • Laissez-faire (Delegative) leaders do not step in; they create the environment for maximum participation, and let the people make many of the decisions. This leadership style works when there are competent resources in the team, people are motivated, and require minimum supervision.

Delegative or laissez-faire leadership is a very hands-off management approach. When you use this style, you allow team members to set their own goals and deadlines, and you let them determine how to do their work.

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5 Cases You Can Apply Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Laissez faire managers are delegation masters. They leave it up to their teams to find their way through projects and tasks and give a minimum amount of supervision. Employees often have a lot of power to make decisions with a laissez-faire approach. In fact, at the extreme end of laissez-faire, the manager can seem to be completely absent! You need extraordinary leadership skills to apply this style.

Micromanagers are the opposite of laissez faire managers. They resist delegating, and when they do delegate, they spend much time checking up on their teams. Micromanagers focus on every tiny detail and often discourage their team members from making decisions if they’re not around.

If you apply laissez-faire leadership, you can boost the motivation and performance of your team, however, you cannot apply this management approach in all cases. Let’s go through the 5 cases when you can apply a laissez-faire leadership style.

1- Competent and Motivated Team

Delegative leadership is most effective when team members are highly motivated and highly skilled, and when you can provide frequent feedback on performance and progress. To set goals and deadlines and then leave the team to do the rest of the work, you need competent and motivated resources. You cannot leave junior or inexperienced resources on their own because they need guidance and coaching on how to perform the work.

Just competence is not enough to apply laissez-faire leadership. Team resources must be motivated as well.  Only senior, experienced, and motivated team members can work toward a deadline and draw their own roadmap to success.

A laissez-faire leadership style is also effective when you work with freelancers or consultants.

2- Creativity Requiring Works

Creativity and innovation require freedom. It is less likely to expect creative ideas, new perspectives, or innovative thinking to occur under autocratic leadership where there is minimum participation.

The laissez-faire leadership style fosters creativity as it requires maximum group collaboration and participation. The group finds its own ways, methods, and path to reach its goals. When doing this, team members participate in group meetings and discussions, and this leads to new ideas, creative solutions, and out-of-the-box thinking as a result.

Therefore, if creativity is required in your work, you can apply laissez-faire leadership. Some of the works that require creativity can be:

  • New product development
  • Artwork creation
  • Research and development projects
  • Marketing projects

You can enhance this list.

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3- If You Are a New Leader

If you’re a new leader and you need to build rapport with your team, you can use a laissez-faire leadership style. There are some risks to this approach as well. Because you do not know the team yet. Who is motivated, who is not, who is experienced, who is competent, who has expert power in the team, etc. In some cases, years of experience do not give a clue about the competence of a resource. As a new leader, you need to spend time with your new team to grasp the details about the resources in your team.

Laissez-faire leadership is a great approach if you have just been assigned as a new team leader. You can set deadlines and goals for the team. However, you must be closely watching your team to understand each one’s capacity, influence, and skills. The more you spend time with the team, the more insights you will have about your team.

Applying autocratic leadership or a hands-on approach to a new team you are leading can harm your relationship. Because a hands-on or micromanagement style is easy to be perceived as cold and impersonal. You would not want this to happen in the early days of your leadership.

Make sure you have enough flexibility to apply laissez-faire leadership when you are a new leader. You should be tolerant of mistakes, errors, delays, and frequent conflicts until you get to know your team.

4- Flexible Deadlines

Freedom and democracy require evaluation of the options, participation of the group, and making a decision, consensus if possible. This requires time. You need to give time to your team to discuss solutions, create new ideas, test new methods, and perform their work. While waiting for the best outputs, you have to be patient.

Therefore, if you have flexible deadlines, you can apply laissez-faire leadership. This does not mean that deadlines are not important for this leadership style. However, you must be tolerant of delays if the team cannot find a good solution yet.

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5- Team Has A Success Track Record

Even if the team looks competent and motivated, that may not be enough to apply laissez-faire leadership. You need to be sure that the team is successful in managing themselves toward reaching its goals. Look at the track record of the team. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many of the team members have been working for the team for a long time?
  • Did they complete similar projects before?
  • What is the success project completion ratio of the team?

If you are a new leader or new to the organization, you can check the repository of the organization and ask other leaders for their opinions as well.

3 Benefits of Laissez-Faire Leadership

While there are several benefits of applying laissez-faire leadership, we will list the top 3 benefits here.

1- Fosters Creativity and Innovation

As the team feels freer, they will be more motivated to think about new ideas and this will foster creativity and innovation. If the team is just getting used to each other, you should be patient for the team to get to know each other. As a laissez-faire leader, you need to be with your team only when they need it. You have to provide the tools and resources they need to be more creative and innovative.

You can ask your team about their needs to promote their creativity and innovation. Sometimes planning a training program or a software tool that will make your team perform better will increase creativity and innovation.

2- Improves Team Building

Teams that have laissez-faire leaders are the teams that have maximum participation. They discuss different ideas, perspectives, and opinions coming from the different members of the team. The more they discuss and participate, the more they know each other.

When the team reaches its goals, they feel that “they built the road to success”. Respectively, team building is ensured. Over time, strong bonds among the team are established.

3- Leaves Room for the Leader to Focus Only When Needed

Laissez-faire leadership requires the leader to be with the team, only when needed. So, the team leadership can focus on other important tasks rather than day-to-day management of the team’s tasks. This will increase the productivity of the leader as they will step into the issues only if the team asks for their leader’s help.

3 Flaws of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Everything has a trade-off, a laissez-faire leadership style as well. We will list the top three flaws here.

1- Delays

Laissez-faire leadership requires the ultimate freedom of the team. The team evaluates, assesses, discusses, and reaches a conclusion on its own. However, this requires a significant amount of time. Sometimes, the team may need to discuss for hours even days for a solution.

Therefore, laissez-faire leadership may cause delays in projects. If the organization’s culture is ready to sacrifice time for innovation and creativity, this leadership style can be used.

2- Inexperienced Teams Can Underperform

If the team is inexperienced and requires coaching and guidance, a laissez-faire leadership style can cause demotivation and underperformance.

Typically, junior team members require mentoring, coaching, training, and guidance from more senior members or their leaders. If this is absent in the team, there is more room for mistakes, delays, and undesired outcomes. So, if you apply this leadership style in an inexperienced team, failures will cause demotivation of the team and result in underperformance respectively.

3- Underestimation of the “Leader” Image

In an ideal scenario, a laissez-faire leader is absent after setting the goals and deadlines for the team. The team works on its own to reach targets. This situation may question the existence of the leader.

However, laissez-faire leadership does not mean that the leader is absent. The leader should be there whenever the team needs support. In a perfect scenario, if the team does not need support, the existence of the leader may be questioned by the team or even by the organization.

Laissez-Faire Leadership vs Micromanagement

We’ve gone through the cases when you can apply laissez-faire leadership, benefits, and flaws. The opposite side of the laissez-faire management style is micromanagement. We have a 9-minute Laissez-faire vs micromanagement video on YouTube.

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Famous Laissez-Faire Leaders

Let’s go through two different scenarios:

Scenario #1: Your manager has just handed you a big project. You’re excited to get started, but she’s left you with no direction as to how she expects you to go about it. She’s specified the deadline and the deliverable and has left you to find your own way.

Scenario #2: Your last manager was the complete opposite. He’d hand you a piece of work and then spend the next few weeks hovering over your shoulder, questioning your decisions and offering “helpful advice” at every turn.

These two scenarios illustrate opposite ends of a management style spectrum. The first manager has a “laissez-faire” management style, and the second is the classic micromanager – more politely known as a “hands-on” manager.

Both styles can be effective in the right circumstances, but not, usually, when they’re taken to extremes. As usual, the best approach lies somewhere between the extremes.

Do we know any famous laissez-faire leaders? Yes! We’ve listed three examples of famous laissez-faire leaders below.

Steve Jobs as a Laissez-Faire Leader

For sure, Steve Jobs is at the top of the list of famous laissez-faire leaders. Do you remember his following quote?

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Doesn’t it perfectly fit with the laissez-faire leadership style? Steve Jobs applied the laissez-faire leadership style to Apple, Inc. and made it to most valuable company in the world at the time. He believed in hiring the best talent and giving them the freedom to perform to innovate, create, and make decisions.

Steve Jobs is one of the great leaders affected our lives in the last 25 years. Do you want to see all 12 Great Leaders Who Affected Our Lives?

Warren Buffet as a Laissez-Faire Leader

Warren Buffet is named the best investor of our age. Buffett is famous for investing in companies with competent management teams and trusts them to run the companies in their own style.

In an annual report from Berkshire Hathaway in 2010, Warren Buffett said:

“We allow our subsidiary companies to operate independently without supervision because it allows many of our managers to keep an owner-oriented behavior, and they use them well in motivating their team members to perform well.”

This laissez-faire leadership approach has allowed Berkshire Hathaway to become one of the world’s largest and most successful investing companies. You can read more about Warren Buffett leadership style.

President John F. Kennedy as a Laissez-Faire Leader

Kennedy was known for motivating and empowering the people around him while maintaining a hands-off approach. Kennedy’s one of the famous quotes about promoting “freedom” show his belief in the strong laissez-faire leadership.

“Freedom is not merely a word or an abstract theory, but the most effective instrument for advancing the welfare of man.”

We’ve listed just three examples of laissez-faire leaders in this article. You can think of many more and enhance this list.


The laissez-faire leadership style is a hands-off management approach giving freedom to the team to apply its own methods to meet goals and deadlines. To apply this leadership style, the team must be competent and have a proven success record. The team leadership should be tolerant of delays. If applied correctly, laissez-faire leadership can foster creativity and innovation.

There are benefits and flaws of laissez-faire leadership. The three benefits of this leadership style are fostering creativity and innovation, improving team building, and letting leaders focus on key things only when needed. The three flaws of the laissez-faire management approach are the possibility of causing delays, causing underperformance of inexperienced teams, and the questioning of leadership existence.

While there are several examples of laissez-faire leaders, the top three ones we listed are Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and President Kennedy.

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