[December 3, 2017] Hands-off leadership, incorrectly referred to as Laissez-Faire leadership, is a topic of intense debate in senior military circles. Today, I refer to hands-off leaders as those leaders who know what is happening, are not directly involved, trust others to do a good job, but also are who are unwilling to make decisions.
This type of leader is rarely discussed but is more common than most of us would like to admit.1 It is no surprise, that the U.S. military, as an institution, is concerned about the recent cultural shift toward advancing this type of leader. To the military, hands-off leadership is an abomination to good order and discipline; those soldierly traits needed in war and peace.
On the one hand, laissez-faire leadership styles can slip into hands-off leadership easily. Largely, such a slide is due to a leader whose self-interest reinforces their executive laziness. Laissez-faire leaders monitor the performance of their employees, give regular feedback, and provide a positive work environment where good work can be accomplished with minimal interference.
On the other hand, hands-off leaders are more concerned about their personal status and privileges. In such circumstances, running of the organization is left to those at the staff level; often a de facto decision by the senior leader. This can lead to serious problems when the relevant experience of the staff is inadequate or when their personal integrity goes unchecked.
The best example of a hands-off leader is Hillary Clinton. She left the running of her campaign to staffers, outside experts, and long-term friends. Her campaign never really had a message and she never answered the question why she wanted to be the next U.S. President (other than she would be the first woman president). Her campaign also never came together; it was composed of many good people but without direction. No surprise that it floundered.
No amount of resources (money, experts, availability of time, etc.) can help a hands-off leader succeed when circumstances are difficult. This type of leader exists when things are going well and problems are small and rare. Organizations eventually will begin to deteriorate when such a leader is in charge. Our attention has been recently drawn to the City of Baltimore and its continued slide into criminal violence.
The lessons from those in senior-leader positions who practice hands-off leadership and their eventual failure (unless their style changes), is something that will be addressed more here at theLeaderMaker.com.
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- For a good discussion on various types of leadership, see Rhea Blanken’s article 8 Common Leadership Styles: https://www.asaecenter.org/resources/articles/an_magazine/2013/january/8-common-leadership-styles