Laissez-faire Leadership

At the opposite end of autocratic leadership is the laissez-faire style of leadership.  This is a laid back, hands off approach to leadership.

Definition of Laissez-faire leadership

This style calls for a minimum of direction and control from the leader with a maximum of freedom for individuals in the group. It is actually centered in the individual and not in the leader or in the group. The leader serves as a supply sergeant and information booth. He gives help only when it is requested, demands few if any reports, and gives the workers the maximum of freedom. The leader is a first among equals. The term “laissez-faire” is from the French, and means free rein. It is used in the sense of a good cowboy riding a trained quarter-horse when the cowboy does not attempt to guide the direction of the horse with the reins, but leaves them loose and lets the horse do his thing. A trained quarter-horse can respond to a cow quicker than the rider can tell it to respond. The laissez-faire style is not an absence of leadership, but it does have a minimum of leadership control. The leader sees himself as a first among equals. He seeks to provide materials and information as it is needed and requested.

When to use

The laissez-faire style can be an excellent style to use with a trained and motivated group. A pastor with a highly motivated, professionally trained, and experienced staff could very well use a laissez-faire leadership style and give them the freedom to do their work.


The two biggest problems with this style are coordination and control. A pastor with several associates may find that each man is doing what is right in his own eyes, and that every staff member is running off in his own direction and that the total church program is suffering. The total church program may progress quite haphazardly, if at all. Much friction and jealousy may exist between the staff and their programs. Another problem is that some people cannot work under this style of leadership. Some need more direction, and some may even feel that the leader doesn’t care for them because there is so little contact (control).

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