What Is Delegative Leadership? Delegative Leadership In A Nutshell

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Understanding delegative leadership

Delegative leadership can trace its origins back to the 1960s.

The style was first described by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey, who noted rather simply that delegative leadership was the process of “handing off responsibility from a leader to a worker.

At the time, Blanchard and Hersey characterized leadership styles in terms of the tasks and relationships between leaders and followers.

They argued that delegative leadership was most effective when followers had the skills, knowledge, and experience to complete the task at hand.

Crucially, followers needed to be confident shouldering the responsibility with the leader only involved in monitoring progress.

Delegative leadership is commonly used in sectors requiring creativity, research and development, design, or venture capital – though it can be applied almost anywhere so long as competent individuals are involved.

Depending on the size and structure of the organization, this employee autonomy may extend to the individual, team, or departmental level.

Strengths of delegative leadership

Job satisfaction

When an employee is empowered to complete a task on their own, a sense of increased autonomy and motivation leads to higher job satisfaction. 

Work quality and management

Delegative leaders recognize the unique skillset of each individual and deploy them where they will be most useful to the project.

In some cases, the leader may be the least experienced person on the team and is happy to delegate and learn from subordinates with more expertise. 

Faster decision-making

Since delegative leadership favors autonomous decision-making, there is no micromanagement or waiting for weeks for decisions to be approved or rejected. 

Weaknesses of delegative leadership

Lack of role clarity

By its very nature, delegative leadership may result in poorly defined roles and responsibilities. 

Requires motivated employees

Many organizations do not incorporate delegative leadership because it requires motivated staff.

For better or worse, many employees have become accustomed to being told what to do.

Lack of cohesiveness

When a leader is not directly involved in decision-making, it can be difficult for the team to reach a consensus since each has their unique ideas or suggestions.

Responsibility and accountability

In most delegative leadership situations, the leader takes ultimate responsibility for decision-making.

Team members can make poor decisions without being held accountable for them, which may cause standards to slip.

When an employee makes a great decision, on the other hand, the leader takes the credit.

This can be disheartening for employees who value individual recognition.

Delegative leadership examples

Real-world examples of delegative leadership in action include:

Warren Buffett

An astute leader and private investor who expects his employees to take responsibility for their actions and decisions.

Buffett does not interfere in its operational or strategic decision-making when investing in a company.

Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen left the company as it transitioned to a more authoritarian leadership style in the 1980s.

He then acquired stakes in several sporting franchises in the United States and rarely interferes with drafting or recruiting.

That is, Allen is happy to defer to the expertise of coaches and staff.

Andrew Mellon

A businessman and industrialist who amassed a large fortune built on interests in the chemical, energy, and shipbuilding sectors, among others.

Mellon placed trust in his management teams to run their own divisions.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States of America and was known for his ardent support of laissez-faire economics.

Hoover wrongly believed that the best strategy post the Great Depression was to let the economic system fix itself, but his delegative approach did pay dividends in other areas.

Under President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s, Hoover was Secretary of Commerce and oversaw the successful early construction of the Hoover Dam.

Jack Welch

Jack Welch is often associated with the authoritarian style of leadership, but if one looks hard enough, there are also elements of delegative leadership.

Welch grew General Electric into one of the most influential companies in the world by making strategic acquisitions in emerging markets and finetuning their output.

It is in these acquisitions that Welch exhibited a more relaxed style of leadership.

While his standards were exceedingly high and the consequences of not meeting them sometimes brutal, the former CEO realized that the best way to make GE’s acquisitions profitable was to let the people within those entities manage themselves.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs used delegative leadership to create a culture where creativity and rapid development were seen as the norm.

One of his most famous quotes hints at this intention: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Prioritizing competency above all else, Apple employees were able to maximize the trust, confidence, and autonomy afforded to them by the former CEO’s leadership style.

Ronald Reagan

Former US President Ronald Reagan was mocked during his election campaign for a lack of experience in politics and governmental management.

When he was ultimately elected, however, Reagan understood his shortfalls and entrusted key economic positions to Wall Street industry leaders.

Reagan will also be remembered for the unprecedented amount of power he bestowed on his Chief of Staff and secretaries.

The fact that Reagan’s subordinates had free reign to do what they thought best was a double-edged sword.

Many of the scandals Reagan was embroiled in during his time in office can be attributed to his extreme laissez-faire approach and poor choice of personnel.

Robert Noyce

Robert Noyce was an American entrepreneur and physicist best known for founding Intel Corporation in 1968.

In a move similar to the one made by Jobs decades later, Noyce introduced the delegative management style to attract the most talented engineers and make Intel a household name.

One of these engineers was Gordon Moore, who would later develop Moore’s law after observing that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled approximately every two years.

Intel adopted a more authoritarian leadership style as the company grew from a start-up into a large, successful, multinational corporation.

Key takeaways:

  • Delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. It was developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s.
  • Delegative leadership has been employed by notable figures including Warren Buffett, Paul Allen, and Andrew Mellon.
  • Delegative leadership increases job satisfaction, work quality, and decision-making efficiency. However, it does result in a lack of team cohesiveness and role clarity and requires motivated employees.

Delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy to enable them to grow within an organization while making the organization grow with the executive team. A delegative leadership approach might be very effective in competitive landscapes, requiring executive teams to make independent and complex decisions that can move industries in a non-linear direction to gain a competitive advantage.

Delegative in leadership is extremely useful for avoiding micromanagement and enables a company to build a team that can carry on important, strategic decisions beyond its charismatic leader; in short, not only delegative helpful leadership diversifies the decision-making process away from a single person. But it’s incredibly effective in a market context which requires a non-linear understanding of the world to make hard choices at the proper turn of events.

The pros of delegative leadership are empowering an executive team that can help the business grow by enabling it to have a more granular understanding of the market context, as each takes responsibility for its division. On the other hand, delegative leadership, if not coordinated, might lead to chaos and massive inefficiencies. Thus, even in the process of delegative leadership, the team’s leader should coordinate each team member’s efforts to channel them in the right direction.

The strengths of delegative leadership are:

The weaknesses of delegative leadership are:

Examples of delegative leadership comprise:

Connected Business Concepts


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Flat Organizational Structure

In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

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