Laissez-faire leadership approach to behavioural leadership theory
The theme of leadership has attracted significant attention over the past decades in both the private and public sectors. Its importance in promoting a high level of effectiveness and efficiency in the private and private sector operations is evidenced by the numerous publications, debates, and researches that have been conducted on the subject. Gill (2012) asserts, “Leadership today is a hot topic for debate” (p.3), which has led to the development of numerous leadership theories. Examples of such theories include behavioural leadership theories, trait theories, power-influence theories, and contingency theories. This paper focuses on behavioural leadership theories.
According to Manning and Curtis (2003), behavioural leadership theories presume that effective leaders integrate certain distinctive behaviours and actions. There are a number of approaches associated with behavioural leadership theories that have been developed. Some of these approaches relate to leadership styles. There are three main leadership approaches advocated for by behavioural leadership theories. They include democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire leadership approaches. As one of the approaches of behavioural leadership theory, laissez-faire approach is also referred to as the ‘hands-off approach’. The approach entails providing followers with a high degree of independence in undertaking their duties. The leader does not take an active role in defining the followers’ responsibilities and roles. Consequently, the followers are provided with minimal direction and maximum freedom and power.
Laissez-faire leadership approach is considered to be one of the most difficult behavioural approaches amongst leaders. The challenge associated with this approach emanates from the fact that it is difficult for leaders to delegate authority and power to other individuals hence providing them with the freedom to work without any interference. This approach to leadership is most applicable in organisations that have a strongly motivated workforce and self-starters. Organisations that adopt laissez-faire leadership ensure that they offer adequate advice, support, and adequate resources. Furthermore, the success of laissez-faire leadership approach is dependent on the expertise of an organisation’s workforce.
Laissez-faire leadership approach does not fit effectively in the current literature on leadership theory. Literature on leadership theories is increasingly focusing on how to improve organisational performance through employee development. Incorporation of teamwork is one of the concepts that leadership theories are increasingly emphasising in nurturing employee development. However, laissez-faire approach to leadership creates an opportunity for leaders to develop strong teams by providing their followers with sufficient resources. However, laissez-faire leaders do not offer sufficient guidance to the delegated roles and responsibilities.
Overview of a UK leader from the business community
The UK is ranked as one of the developed economies in the world. One of the factors that have led to the country experiencing a high rate of economic growth relates to its effective leadership in the business community. Richard Branson was born in 1950 in Sulley, England. Over the years, he has managed to establish himself as one of the most prominent business leaders in the UK due to his entrepreneurial skills. His success in leadership is evidenced by the effectiveness with which he has established and led the Virgin Group of companies in attaining organisational success. Richard Branson is considered the driving force of approximately 150 to 200 companies with a total human resource base of 50,000 employees distributed in more than 34 countries (Morgan, n.d).
In the course of managing his empire of companies, Richard Branson appreciates laissez-faire approach to behavioural leadership theory to some extent. One of the ways through which he has attained this goal is by delegating tasks to employees and providing employees with a high level of autonomy. However, Richard Branson provides his employees with the necessary support, which is well illustrated by the monthly letters he writes to his workforce detailing the companies’ future plans (Morgan, n.d).
Laissez-faire leadership approach and its impact on followers
Leaders who adopt the laissez-faire approach to leadership have a total trust on their employees to exhaustively perform the tasks allocated (Avolio, Walumbwa & Weber, 2009). Additionally, the leaders hold the conviction that employees should be given the freedom of choice. This conviction emanates from two main perceptions. Firstly, the leaders’ belief that employees have a comprehensive understanding of their job description and that they should be left to perform their duties. Secondly, laissez-faire leadership approach is also applied in situations whereby the leader holds such a position through political means. Consequently, he or she may not prefer to control or exert power to his or her followers for fear of losing his or her position.
Laissez-faire leadership approach also results in the provision of minimal resources and information to the followers. Thus, the approach is characterised by virtually no or minimal level of involvement, communication, or participation. Considering the fact that leaders who have integrated this leadership approach do not provide adequate information to their followers regarding their roles and responsibilities, the followers are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that is attained. Therefore, Ronald (2011) asserts, “understanding of job requirements, policies, and procedures are generally exchanged from employee to employee” (p. 822).
Failure to provide sufficient support and direction to followers may culminate in some processes becoming out of control. Northouse (2012) asserts that laissez-faire leadership may result in the emergence of negative results. Minimal positive outcome is attained under this leadership approach due to the existence of directionless. The followers may not adhere or be committed to the set goals and objectives. This case arises from the fact that the leader does not provide the plan that should be followed in attaining the predetermined goals. According to Northouse (2012), most subordinates prefer being provided with some direction. Thus, failure to ensure this direction may make them frustrated. Despite the role of teamwork in enhancing performance in the contemporary business organisations, incorporation of laissez-faire approach may hinder the effectiveness of teamwork. This case emanates from the fact that the team members may experience a challenge in understanding their roles hence low levels of motivation, which might culminate in low levels of motivation.
According to Marturano and Gosling (2008), laissez-faire leadership does not respond to problems that employees might experience in the course of undertaking their duties. Leaders who have adopted this leadership approach do not monitor the performance of the employees. Marturano and Gosling (2008) are of the opinion that laissez-faire leaders tend to adopt a passive leadership style. The leaders also adopt a non-directive role, which makes the responsibility of leadership lay with the followers. Their passive characteristic makes them avoid their decision-making role. Additionally, laissez-faire leaders tend to be hesitant with regard to taking actions. They are usually absent when needed to assist in certain situations.
Despite the numerous challenges associated with laissez-faire leadership approach such as the failure to provide sufficient support to their followers, there are a number of benefits associated with adopting such an approach. Raynolds and Chatfield (2007) affirm that laissez-faire approach to leadership can effectively be incorporated if the intended group possesses the necessary skills to undertake the tasks and leadership skills. According to Raynolds and Chatfield (2007), it is not advisable for organisations to implement laissez-faire leadership in organisations whose workforce does not possess the adequate experience and knowledge in decision-making and problem solving.
The fact that some employees might not be effective with regard to managing their own tasks presents a considerable challenge to this leadership approach because the project might deviate from the set deadline. The approach provides employees with an opportunity to nurture their interpersonal relationships. Additionally, the followers are also presented with an opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge. The opportunity emanates from the fact that the followers have an opportunity to interact and share views with their colleagues regarding the best approach to incorporate in enhancing their organisational performance.
Laissez-faire leadership approach is only effective in organisations where the human capital is highly skilled, able to work individually, and highly motivated. Despite the general notion of this leadership approach in portraying the leader as non-partisan in the operation of an organisation, most leaders who have incorporated this leadership style still provide the necessary support. Additionally, the leaders are open to provide their followers with the required support through effective consultation and feedback. This point is well illustrated in the case of Richard Branson who is a renowned business leader. Richard Branson appreciates the importance of providing employees with total autonomy in the course of executing their duties. A high level of autonomy is one of the major characteristics of laissez-faire approach to leadership. One of the ways through which Richard Branson ensures that this approach is implemented is through delegation.
Ease and applicability of laissez-faire
The leadership approach adopted by a particular organisation determines the level of employee satisfaction and the degree of commitment in undertaking the assigned roles and responsibilities. In the contemporary labour market, the level of satisfaction associated with a particular working environment has become a key determinant of the rate of employee retention (Vesterinen, Suhonen, Isola & Paasivaara, 2012). Employees are increasingly focusing on how to attain a high level of personal and professional development in order to attain their self-actualisation objectives.
To achieve this goal, individuals are considering job enrichment to be one of the most effective ways of enhancing the level of their personal development. One of the ways through which workforces in different working environments are pressurising their leaders to undertake job enrichment is by allocating them challenging tasks. This strategy has presented a substantial challenge to most organisational leaders in executing their duties. This issue arises from the fact that most leaders do not prefer delegating tasks for fear of being exposed. The subordinates to whom the tasks are allocated may be ineffective thus portraying failure on the part of the leader. Additionally, the leaders have a perception that the followers may misuse the authority given. Therefore, most leaders tend to consider their followers as untrustworthy (Iqbal, 2008).
However, leaders who have adopted laissez-faire approach to leadership appreciate the concept of delegation. According to Iqbal (2008), delegation plays a prominent role in enhancing employee development from the fact that the employees have to be creative and innovative to successfully complete the tasks allocated. In addition to this case, laissez-faire leadership also culminates in followers developing a positive perception regarding their leader. This perception arises from the fact that the leader considers the followers to be extremely trustworthy. Developing a perception of trustworthiness by the followers is beneficial in preventing an organisation from experiencing a high rate of employee turnover.
Laissez-faire leadership aids in nurturing employee satisfaction through task delegation. Additionally, this goal is attained because the leader’s beliefs that the employee will deliver the desired results. Therefore, this approach to leadership presents an opportunity for the follower to grow. One of the areas in which laissez-faire leadership is most applicable relates to the nursing firms. The nurses are delegated some tasks, which make them gain more knowledge and skills hence becoming more competent (Vesterinen et al, 2012). This situation culminates in the development of a feeling of satisfaction in the employees’ course of executing their duties. Additionally, laissez-faire approach is also hugely appropriate in entities that are characterised by a high level of professionalism and those that have developed a history of effectiveness and efficiency in their performance.
Laissez-faire approach to leadership has been of immense significance in my effort to understand leadership. Firstly, it has created an opportunity to understand the importance of leaders regarding their followers as one of the most influential factors in ensuring that their organisations attain the desired level of performance. One of the ways through which leaders should ensure this progress is through delegation. Secondly, the approach has also led to appreciation of the importance of leaders in offering sufficient support to their followers. One of the ways through which this goal can be attained is by ensuring adequate feedback and communication.
Avolio, B., Walumbwa, F., & Weber, T. (2009). Leadership: current theories, research and future directions. Nerbraska: University of Nerbraska.
Gill, R. (2010). Theory and practice of leadership. London: Sage.
Iqbal, J. (2008). Why managers do not delegate and how to get them do so. Web.
Manning, G., & Curtis, K. (2003). The art of leadership. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Marturano, A., & Gosling, J. (2008). Leadership: the key concepts. New Jersey: Routledge.
Morgan, K. (n.d). Richard Branson’s unique competitive edge.
Northouse, P. (2012). Introduction to leadership: concepts and practices. California: Sage.
Raynolds, J., & Chatfield, R. (2007). Leadership the outward bound way: becoming a better leader in the workplace, in the wilderness and in your community. Seattle: Mountaineers Book.
Ronald, G. (2011). Laissez faire leadership. New York: Sage.
Vesterinen, S., Suhonen, M., Isola, A., & Paasivaara, L. (2012). Nurse managers’ leadership styles in Finland. Nursing Research and Practice, 3(2), 1-8.