I have seen plenty of problems with this ineffective leadership style during my CEO career. Laissez-Faire leadership has several times been proven ineffective and should hence be avoided. It is entirely possible to delegate in a good, empowering, and effective manner while using other, more effective leadership styles.
Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off leadership approach where team members make all the decisions. Laissez-faire leadership leads to low productivity and a perception of a disengaged leader but can work in skilled, capable, and self-motivated teams.
This short introduction to the leadership style is taken from our main article on Laissez-Faire leadership.
Laissez-Faire Leadership Disadvantages
Among the numerous drawbacks of laissez-faire leadership, the following stick out as being additionally severe.
1. Teams that need consistent guidance fall apart
Autonomy works best with teams that are highly experienced and intrinsically motivated. Young team members with little or no experience need mentorship, guidance, and support. Without a strong and present leader, this inexperienced team falls apart. This can, of course, be quite damaging for the team and its surroundings. This type of team could instead benefit from coaching leadership or even commanding leadership. (Both styles are available in our portal: leadership styles.)
2. The leader is viewed as uncaring and absent
The team’s perception of their leader can broadly impact their performance. Most teams want to know that their leader cares and is present to understand the challenges they face. Some people begin to lose trust in the leader and the organization if they hardly ever see or hear from the leader. Some prefer this free-rein leadership style and will still get the job done. As you probably guess, the laissez-faire style is better for the second type of people.
3. Productivity decreases
A team doesn’t need an autocratic leader who stands over them with a whip to get things done. However, there still needs to be someone who holds each team member accountable. A laissez-faire leader accepts all responsibility and is, therefore, held accountable for the team’s decisions. There’s no real motivation to be productive and on target if no one except the leader is being held accountable. The leader needs to be aware of this and ensure that accountability measures are implemented. Refer to pacesetting leadership as an opposite example; you can find it in our leadership styles portal.
4. Team members are confused about their roles
It’s difficult to determine who is responsible for the team’s direction when each person is free to make his or her own decision. Team members don’t know who to look to for direction and can be confused about where and how they fit in the organization.
5. Lack of direction and communication
Two of the most important parts of leadership, namely providing direction and ensuring communication, are missing in laissez-faire leadership. Since the team is left on its own, they will likely go in different directions to a degree, risking the organization’s overall goal or even countering each other. The latter is worsened by a lack of communication by the laissez-faire leader since the team members are making decisions in an information vacuum. All the information they have is what they can find out themselves, and traditional communication methods, such as downward communication, risk collapsing when the information reaches a laissez-faire leader who does not pass on the information.
Conclusions on Laissez-Faire Leadership Disadvantages
If a leader seems absent and uncaring, and the team is left on its own in a confused state, a lack of direction, and with little to no information, it might even be better to remove the leader and continue leaderless. The symbol and authority of having a leader in place mean that the team will expect certain things. They would be better off by officially not having a leader or manager, they will understand more clearly that it is up to the team to set a direction, communicate with each other, and resolve any confusion along the way. The leader actually reduces and hinders the team effort by not doing what is expected. Compare with impoverished leadership, a more suitable name of an almost identical leadership style from the Blake and Mouton managerial grid.
These disadvantages are some of the reasons why laissez-faire leadership is considered one of the worst and most ineffective leadership styles available. Using a style goes beyond methods and techniques, and laissez-faire leadership is not simply proper delegation, as some people say. Good leaders delegate and poor leaders leave people to themselves. Read more about this leadership style in our main article on laissez-faire leadership to fully understand the style and why you should avoid it. If you want the other side of the coin, read Laissez-Faire Leadership Advantages.
Laissez-Faire leadership, main article.
Leadership Styles, the Classics (Amazon, by Carl Lindberg)
“Laissez-faire leaders and organizations: How does laissez-faire leader erode the trust in organizations?” refer to Bass & Avoli