In 1939, three researchers interested in personality training development, Lewin, Lippitt, and White, studied a group of school children and identified three major leadership styles – authoritarian, laissez-faire, and democratic. Interestingly, the style that might seem the most liberating and inspiring can actually be the most frustrating and constraining, as the three researchers discovered.
“Laissez-faire leadership” advocates the progressive policy in which managers give their team the support and resources they need to work on their own. The idea is to let things follow their natural course with very little governance or executive input. It is the polar opposite of micro-management.
With the right kind of team and some vigorous personality training development, this kind of professional environment can indeed be paradise. Who among us ordinary low-tech worker bees hasn’t drooled at the prospect of working with one of those extraordinary high-tech companies where everything from the lunch to the laundry is free and the living is easy?
In some Silicon Valley ivory towers, staff members are highly skilled, intrinsically motivated and can see a project through to completion on their own. Workers enjoy a level of autonomy that is unimaginable to most of us. Supervisors supervise very little, leaders provide resources but little direct leadership, and each worker is left to follow his or her gut and work things through for themselves. Problems aren’t problems – they’re challenges. Failures aren’t failures – they’re lessons. This utopian ideal is rare but not entirely unachievable in the right setting with the right talent pool.
However, without the right blend of skill, talent, temperament and personality training development, it can be paradise lost. As idyllic as it sounds, self-rule can be unsettling for some workers. For them, delegation is akin to psychological strangulation. They choke up creatively.
Many staffers need the security of rigid structure, predictable mandates, and direct supervision. Without these, the vision is unclear and the team lacks cohesiveness. They will often interpret their manager’s leadership style as indifferent, withdrawn or even aloof. And what their supervisor proudly regards as progressive laissez-faire management is perceived as just plain lazy and unfair by his or her subordinates. The result: a stressful, toxic work environment, low morale and lackluster productivity.
Managers who want to start implementing laissez-faire leadership techniques need to fully understand their talent pool – collectively and individually – in order to know how best to approach each team member and help them adapt to the changes required. Personality training development is an invaluable assessment and adjustment tool for managers who want to prepare to make such a bold step.