I have yet to meet someone who is motivated by a micromanaging boss.

People are usually more motivated when they have autonomy over their work - when they have a sense of independence over how they do their job. If the team leader is assigning the goal of the team, the methods for reaching it are better left to the team - even if the choices are peripheral, such as what food to order for the weekly team meeting.

In that sense, the laissez-faire leadership style seems to be effective. The autonomy that the leader provides in this style of management can be freeing to some people, and can allow team members to feel more satisfied with their work. This is especially true of highly-skilled professionals who are motivated and able to work on their own. Because they are experts in their field and have the know-how to work independently, this group of people is not only capable of working with very little guidance, but they thrive when they are given autonomy in their work.

If your team has a high-level of intrinsic motivation for their work, then a hands-off manager might be better abled to let that motivation thrive.

Warren Buffett is notorious for his laissez-faire management style - in a world where CEOs often put their management teams under the microscope. But Buffett takes a different attitude: by giving his team the independence to do their work how they see best fit, he instills a sense of ownership: 

"We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree. Most managers use the independence we grant them magnificently, by maintaining an owner-oriented attitude."

This sense of ownership and involvement with one’s work is probably one of the most powerful attitudes that a team member can bring with them to work. 

When does laissez-faire management fail? 

Just like any other management style, laissez-faire leadership is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If it works really well when team members have expertise in their field and are highly motivated, the opposite is also true. Laissez-faire is less than ideal when the team members lack the experience or knowledge needed to make decisions in their job.

Then there are also the people who are less likely to set their own deadlines and follow them. Their projects can easily get derailed if there isn’t enough guidance or feedback from leaders.

At times, laissez-faire leaders can be seen as less involved in the team’s progress, which may lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and reduce the cohesion of the team. This might happen either because team members model the misperceived attitude of no concern for the work, or because team members feel their work is not valued by their leader. 

Keep in mind though - team members might lack knowledge and experience in the beginning, but they should eventually “get it.” Make sure to pull back once they do acquire the expertise, so that you allow them to work independently and thrive with the benefits of autonomy over their work.

Supported autonomy 

Since neither a completely laid-back nor a helicopter boss is ideal, you, as your team’s team leader, should thrive for supported autonomy. Using techniques such as the 30% feedback rule and supporting your team members’ personal development are great ways to support your people while they’re doing the best work they can for the company.

Take an example from companies like Spotify or Wistia, who create programs and workshops that teach new skills and develop existing ones in their team members. For example, Spotify believes in 3D employees - whose development is not dependent on climbing the corporate ladder. In one panel discussion, Matt O’Leary, Spotify’s head of People Operations in NYC, describes what this means:

"This richer model removes the emphasis off power plays and focuses on broadening your horizons. At Spotify, that involves structured learning opportunities such as attending or leading trainings, courses, workshops or moving within the organization for a new position or perspective."

These kinds of deliberate programs can help people better direct themselves in their work. In the end, this will be what determines whether you can move toward a more hands-off approach to managing, without forgetting to always keep handy the tools that support your team’s autonomy. 

Are you a laissez-faire, a helicopter or an in-between manager? Share your management style with us in the comments below!

Photo credit: Bruno Cordioli, cc