The Free Management Library defines a leadership style as "the nature of how someone acts when enacting a certain theory or model." Leadership often falls under the umbrella of management but Jim Clemmer of The Clemmer Group asserts that management and leadership are two different forms of action. The laissez-faire style of leadership, therefore, is a distinct philosophy put into action by a manager or team leader.
Laissez-faire is a French term meaning "allow to pass," or "to leave it be." This leadership style is a non-authoritarian form of leadership. It is a hands-off approach to managing, with the theory that people left to their own devices excel. The laissez-faire leader intervenes only when necessary and with the least amount of control.
When it Works
The laissez-faire leadership style is successful most often when team members are mature team members. Laissez-faire usually works best on teams with high seniority and competence. When leading using this philosophy, you still must monitor progress and give insight and guidance when needed. Open communication and clear standards and objectives are necessary for this style to succeed.
A manager who leaves his group floundering with little contact and unclear expectations has failed in the laissez-faire leadership style. This can be the result of a lazy manager who pays little attention to his employees. If the group members are not highly skilled, or if they do not fully understand what you expect of them, laissez-faire leadership will fail.
Things to Consider
Before you practice laissez-faire leadership, consider the needs of your team members. If they are not highly skilled, or if they prefer more contact and well-defined goals, they will not respond well to this style of leadership. If, however, your team members are independent, dependable, and task-oriented, laissez-faire leadership is a viable option.
If your group needs more leadership, try another style. For example, the transformational leadership style is one in which the leader inspires her team with a common vision. This type of leadership works well in tandem with transactional leadership, or detail-oriented managers. The democratic leader allows team members to help play a part in the decision-making process. This gives employees a sense of ownership in the company and in the job itself. This style requires more time and input from management, however the results are often better for all involved.