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.

Concept OverviewDelegative Leadership, also known as Laissez-Faire Leadership, is one of the primary leadership styles identified in leadership theory. It is characterized by a leader’s tendency to delegate decision-making authority and responsibilities to team members or subordinates. In this leadership style, the leader provides minimal guidance and involvement in day-to-day tasks and decisions, allowing team members to have a significant degree of autonomy and self-determination. The term “laissez-faire” is derived from French and means “leave it alone.” Delegative leaders trust their team’s abilities and often step in only when necessary.
Key Characteristics– Delegative Leadership exhibits several key characteristics: 1. Trust in Team: Leaders trust their team members’ expertise and judgment. 2. Hands-Off Approach: Leaders provide minimal direction and guidance, allowing team members to make decisions independently. 3. Autonomy: Team members have a high level of autonomy and are responsible for their own tasks and decisions. 4. Minimal Interference: Leaders intervene only when necessary, such as in emergencies or when asked for assistance. 5. Resource Availability: Leaders ensure that team members have access to the resources and support needed to fulfill their responsibilities. 6. Open Communication: Although leaders are less involved, open communication channels are maintained for reporting progress or seeking guidance.
When to Use– Delegative Leadership is most effective in certain situations: 1. Highly Skilled Teams: When team members are experienced, capable, and self-motivated, they can benefit from a high degree of autonomy. 2. Creative Tasks: For tasks that require innovation, problem-solving, or creative thinking, a laissez-faire approach can allow for diverse perspectives. 3. Empowerment: When leaders aim to empower team members and foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. 4. Time Constraints: In situations where leaders have limited time or expertise to make decisions, they delegate to team members with more knowledge.
Applications– Delegative Leadership can be applied in various contexts: 1. Project Management: Delegating decision-making authority to project teams to manage tasks and timelines. 2. Research and Development: Allowing scientists or researchers autonomy in conducting experiments and studies. 3. Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurs often delegate certain aspects of their businesses to experts or team members. 4. Creative Industries: In design, arts, and creative industries, leaders may adopt a hands-off approach to encourage innovation. 5. Self-Directed Teams: In organizations with self-directed teams, members have autonomy in decision-making. 6. Crisis Management: During crises, leaders may delegate tasks to subject-matter experts to address immediate issues.
Benefits and Impact– Delegative Leadership offers several benefits and has specific impacts: 1. Empowerment: Fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among team members. 2. Skill Development: Encourages skill development and decision-making abilities among team members. 3. Innovation: Allows for diverse perspectives and innovative solutions. 4. Time Efficiency: Speeds up decision-making and problem-solving processes. 5. Motivation: Can boost team morale and motivation when members feel trusted. 6. Flexibility: Enables leaders to focus on strategic matters and high-priority tasks.
Challenges and Critiques– Challenges associated with Delegative Leadership include the potential for reduced control and oversight, the risk of team members feeling unsupported or directionless, and the need for leaders to strike a balance between delegation and intervention. Critics argue that over-reliance on this style can lead to a lack of leadership presence and accountability. However, proponents emphasize that effective Delegative Leadership requires a keen understanding of team dynamics and context.

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.

Richard Branson

The founder of the Virgin Group is known for his hands-off approach and willingness to delegate responsibilities to competent managers in various ventures, such as Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Galactic.

Mark Zuckerberg

As the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, Zuckerberg has demonstrated delegative leadership by empowering teams to work on innovative projects like the development of Instagram and Oculus VR, while he focuses on the overall vision and strategy.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin

The co-founders of Google (now Alphabet Inc.) have employed delegative leadership by establishing a structure that allows key executives to manage various divisions, giving them substantial autonomy in decision-making.

Reed Hastings

The CEO of Netflix has built a culture of freedom and responsibility, allowing employees to have significant flexibility in their work and decision-making processes.

Anita Roddick

The late founder of The Body Shop, an ethical cosmetics company, believed in delegating authority to store managers, giving them the freedom to customize their offerings based on local needs and preferences.

Jeff Bezos

As the founder and former CEO of Amazon, Bezos encouraged a decentralized and autonomous organizational structure, allowing small teams within the company to make independent decisions and innovate.

Indra Nooyi

During her tenure as the CEO of PepsiCo, Nooyi practiced delegative leadership by empowering managers across the globe to make decisions that aligned with regional tastes and preferences.

Nelson Mandela

The late South African leader employed a delegative leadership style during his presidency, empowering his team and cabinet members to work together for the country’s betterment.

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.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Definition: Delegative leadership, also known as laissez-faire leadership, was developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s. It involves empowering subordinates to make autonomous decisions and take responsibility for their tasks.
  • Characteristics: This style is effective when followers have the necessary skills and knowledge to complete tasks. The leader monitors progress but doesn’t micromanage. It’s often used in creative, research, and development sectors.
  • Strengths:
    • Job Satisfaction: Delegative leadership leads to increased autonomy and motivation, resulting in higher job satisfaction.
    • Work Quality: Leaders deploy individuals based on their unique skill sets, which can enhance work quality.
    • Faster Decision-Making: Autonomy in decision-making eliminates micromanagement and speeds up the decision process.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Lack of Role Clarity: Autonomy can lead to poorly defined roles and responsibilities.
    • Requires Motivated Employees: This style relies on self-motivated staff, which not all organizations may have.
    • Lack of Cohesiveness: Lack of direct leader involvement can hinder team consensus and direction.
    • Responsibility and Accountability: The leader holds ultimate responsibility, which might lead to unaccountable decisions by team members.
  • Real-World Examples:
    • Warren Buffett: Empowers employees and doesn’t interfere with their decision-making.
    • Paul Allen: Defers to experts in various ventures, allowing them autonomy.
    • Andrew Mellon: Trusts management teams to run divisions independently.
    • Steve Jobs: Creates a culture of autonomy and rapid development.
    • Ronald Reagan: Entrusted economic positions to industry leaders but faced some negative outcomes.
    • Robert Noyce: Founded Intel with a delegative approach to attract talented engineers.
    • Mark Zuckerberg: Empowers teams to work on innovative projects.
    • Larry Page and Sergey Brin: Established Google’s structure with substantial autonomy for key executives.
    • Reed Hastings: Built a culture of freedom and responsibility at Netflix.
    • Anita Roddick: Gave store managers authority to adapt offerings based on local preferences.
    • Jeff Bezos: Encouraged decentralized decision-making at Amazon.
    • Indra Nooyi: Empowered global managers to make decisions aligned with regional preferences.
    • Nelson Mandela: Employed a delegative style during his presidency to empower his team.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Delegative leadership empowers subordinates to exercise autonomy.
    • Developed by Blanchard and Hersey in the 1960s.
    • Increases job satisfaction, work quality, and decision-making efficiency.
    • Requires motivated employees and can result in role ambiguity and lack of cohesiveness.

What are the characteristics of a delegative leader?

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.

Is Delegation good leadership?

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.

What are the pros and cons of delegative leadership?

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.

What are the strenghts of delegative leadership?

The strengths of delegative leadership are:

What are the weaknesses of delegative leadership?

What are examples of delegative leadership?

Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.

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. 

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.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

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.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that motivates, encourages, and inspires employees to contribute to company growth. Leadership expert James McGregor Burns first described the concept of transformational leadership in a 1978 book entitled Leadership. Although Burns’ research was focused on political leaders, the term is also applicable for businesses and organizational psychology.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.

Leader vs. Boss

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is based on situational leadership theory. Developed by authors Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, the theory’s fundamental belief is that there is no single leadership style that is best for every situation. Situational leadership is based on the belief that no single leadership style is best. In other words, the best style depends on the situation at hand.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is a process that involves the identification and development of future leaders across all levels within a company. In essence, succession planning is a way for businesses to prepare for the future. The process ensures that when a key employee decides to leave, the company has someone else in the pipeline to fill their position.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Management vs. Leadership


Cultural Models

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Action-Centered Leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations. Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively. Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual.

High-Performance Coaching

High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership. 

Forms of Power

When most people are asked to define power, they think about the power a leader possesses as a function of their responsibility for subordinates. Others may think that power comes from the title or position this individual holds. 

Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

The Vroom-Yetton decision model is a decision-making process based on situational leadership. According to this model, there are five decision-making styles guides group-based decision-making according to the situation at hand and the level of involvement of subordinates: Autocratic Type 1 (AI), Autocratic Type 2 (AII), Consultative Type 1 (CI), Consultative Type 2 (CII), Group-based Type 2 (GII).

Likert’s Management Systems

Likert’s management systems were developed by American social psychologist Rensis Likert. Likert’s management systems are a series of leadership theories based on the study of various organizational dynamics and characteristics. Likert proposed four systems of management, which can also be thought of as leadership styles: Exploitative authoritative, Benevolent authoritative, Consultative, Participative.

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