Leadership styles Part 3: Laissez-faire

This series of four articles will explore four different leadership styles and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 3 focuses on laissez-faire leadership.

This is the third article in the four part Michigan State University Extension series exploring four leadership styles: laissez-faire, democratic, servant and dictator. This series also examines how a leader’s style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 1 of this series focused on dictator style leadership, Part 2 discussed the democratic style of leadership and Part 4 examines servant leadership. This article will focus on the laissez faire leadership style, which is a French term meaning “to let people do as they choose.”   

The laissez-faire leader is a hands-off leader who allows team members or the group to make decisions and do what they want to do. A good laissez-faire leader will offer a guided type of freedom that provides the group with everything necessary to accomplish the goals, but does not directly participate in the decision-making process unless the group requests his/her assistance. This style of leader delegates responsibility for the accomplishment of the objectives, goals and decision-making to the group or team. Therefore, there is a large amount of trust required in these teams or groups.

In addition to trusting one another, the group also needs to have pride in their work and the dedication to do well on their own. Furthermore, individuals working with the team needs to be experienced and the group needs to have resources available for taking action. This style should not be utilized when the group feels insecure about the unavailability of a leader or if the leader does not provide regular feedback to the group.

While laissez-faire is frequently the leadership style that leads to the lowest efficiency among group members, some big business owners and large organizations find this style can lead to much productivity with highly-skilled, committed and motivated employees. This may be true as well for a youth group, 4-H club or other programs with skilled members.

The laissez-faire leader may seem similar to the democratic leadership style in that it works best in situations where group members are skilled and also excited to share their knowledge. The biggest difference is that the laissez- faire leader gives little guidance and allows complete freedom to the group to make decisions.

As mentioned previously in this series, Michigan 4-H Youth Development recently released a new and exciting global leadership curriculum that can provide more insight into leadership styles: 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World (4H1643). The 4-H global leadership curriculum will assist volunteers, parents/guardians, professionals and other youth educators in developing the knowledge and skills they need to become youth leaders in a global environment. The 138-page publication is available in print and electronic versions at the MSU Extension Bookstore (the electronic version is shipped on a USB drive).

One of the activities offered in 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World curriculum is called Lead in Style: Duct Tape Sculptures. This citizenship activity provides hands-on learning with a team-building component as participants learn about the four common leadership styles. 

Learning about leadership styles is important, as those individuals in leadership roles should know what style works best for a given situation and for the group they are leading, in order to accomplish the group’s goals. Maybe the laissez-faire leadership style will work the best with a particular group, or perhaps one of the others. That is a decision you will have to make!

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs contact your local county MSU Extension Office. 

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