Laissez Faire leadership… does it work?

I was talking to a guy earlier today who regards himself very much as a Laissez Faire leader: i.e. he was hands off from the time he first employed people in his business.

I have to say I was curious because I’ve never really been a fan of Laissez Faire leadership.

But once again, I’m starting a story in the middle.  Let me give you some background.

My friend runs a very successful business and has done so for the past six years.  He owns 4 retail outlets, employs 12 staff and spends a week every month at his villa in Spain.  So by many conventional measures he’s pretty successful and it would seem that Laissez Faire has worked for him… I add this last bit, just to give you some context.

When I mentioned this to him he frowned slightly.

‘I’m not so sure,’ he said.  ‘I’m finding, 6 years on, I’m having to jump in to my business more and more to sort out the problems that Laissez Faire has caused.’

He went on to explain that many of the decisions his staff (probably now ex-staff because many of them have moved on in the intervening period) made were flawed and those flaws were biting on the backside.  He wished he’d been much more directive to start with because he believes that his bum would have fewer teeth marks in it.

I thought I’d look into this a bit further and found the characteristics of Laissez Faire are:

  • Little guidance from leaders
  • Complete freedom to make decisions
  • Followers are expected to solve problems on their own

But the article I was reading goes on to explain that Laissez Faire only really works with employees who are highly skilled, highly motivated and capable of working on their own… i.e. workers who can command massive salaries and work for big businesses.

There are a couple of lesson that can be drawn from this tale.  Firstly, especially in the early years, a business has to be orchestrated, managed, cajoled and generally worked on to make sure it grows as per the plan.  This is true of franchised businesses just as much as any other type of start-up: dynamic management is key.

Secondly, as Michael Gerber said in the E-Myth; the secret of good recruitment is not recruiting brilliant people – they all work for KPMG.  The secret is to recruit ordinary people and get them doing brilliant things.  And that means close management.

The final point on Laissez Faire management is research has shown it’s the leadership style that achieves the lowest productivity rates.

What’s your management style?

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