What Is the Delegative Leadership Style?

Written by Rebecca Turley

delegative leadership style

You’ve done the hard work. You’ve trained, taught, mentored, questioned, pushed, prodded, and hovered over shoulders long enough. The dream team you’ve so carefully crafted is ready, willing, and able to take over and get the job done. It’s now it’s time to back off and let them put their skills and talent to good use.

If you’re ready to take a back seat (and a deep breath in the process) and give your team the freedom to work independently, you may be ready to lead in the delegative leadership style. This form of leadership will take a lot of trust on your part and a skillful team who no longer needs hand-holding, but if you and your team are ready to bid a fond farewell to the days of micro-managing, delegative leadership may be a great fit.

In the delegative leadership style, team creativity and independent problem-solving are the norm. Creativity blossoms in this environment, as does a sense of empowerment, with the members of your team fully utilizing their talent and experience to meet the goals you delegate to them. A hands-on approach to leadership is no longer required; here it’s a hands-off approach that creates the independent environment that allows your team to shine.

Also referred to as a “laissez-faire” approach to leadership, which essentially translates into “let them do,” the delegative leadership style encourages the members of your team to take your instruction and run with it. There’s no shortage of initiative in the delegative leadership style, with team members taking full responsibility for their work and forging ahead with confidence, competency, and proficiency.

What Does the Delegative Leadership Style Look Like? The Key Features of the Laissez-Fair Style of Leadership

The delegative leadership style may be best described as a less-intrusive approach to leading.

While the delegative style of leadership may, at first, seem like it’s a case of the leader passing the buck and failing to do their job, it’s actually just the opposite. In this style of leadership, the team members aren’t left to their own devices. They are working off a solid foundation of training and mentoring.

Leaders in the delegative style of leadership have put in the time to ensure that their employees are knowledgeable, capable, and adequately trained to do the job. As a result, they’re able to take the initiative and successfully navigate their own tasks with little oversight from their leader.

Leaders in the delegative style of leadership guide the start of the project, set clear goals and parameters, and then step back and give the team the freedom to get the job done. They are sure to provide their employees with plenty of information regarding their expectations, deadlines, timelines, and any other considerations at the start of a project.

Delegative leaders don’t completely abandon the ship once the project begins. Instead, they oversee the progress from a distance, intervening when necessary. Trust and communication remain central to the success of this form of leadership, so employees also feel comfortable knowing that they can circle back and ask questions or seek advice when necessary.

In the delegative style of leadership, the members of the team:

Industries That Provide the Ideal Environment For the Delegative Style of Leadership

co-working in a creative spaceWhile it’s up to business leaders to determine if the delegative style of leadership would work well in their specific situation, some industries are particularly ripe for this type of leadership. The delegative style of leadership is a natural fit for teams working in the creative fields, as well as in fields that call for small, highly motivated teams to work together to accomplish specific goals.

Industries where you’re likely to find the delegative style of leadership at its finest include:

  • Retail
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Information technology (IT)
  • Product design
  • Interior design
  • Research & development
  • Specialized engineering

Is the Delegative Style of Leadership Right For You? Weighing the Pros and Cons of Delegating Tasks to Your Team

The delegative style of leadership isn’t for every leader and every team. When it’s used with the right team, at the right time, the delegative style of leadership benefits the leader, the team, and the company as a whole. When the work hasn’t been done and the team isn’t up to par, it can cause chaos and dysfunction in the workplace and an unproductive, unhappy team.

Meet the Dream Team: The Pros of the Delegative Style of Leadership

Leaders who have mastered the delegative style of leadership have created an environment of trust, open communication, and collaboration. Members of the team work seamlessly and require little oversight. They are able to accomplish goals, surpass expectations, and consistently produce high-quality work.

Delegative leaders in this environment are able enjoy the fruits of their labor, while the teams they lead enjoy more autonomy and freedom.

The ideal delegative style of leadership promotes a work environment that’s focused on personal and professional growth. In this leadership style, employees and teams are:

The delegative leadership style works best in a culture where individual achievement has already been proven. Employees in this environment are confident and trustworthy and don’t need to be monitored to ensure they’re meeting standards. This style of leadership also works best in more creative environments where employees have more freedom to make autonomous decisions.

Expectations vs. Reality: The Cons of the Delegative Style of Leadership

It sounds like a good, right? You assemble a team you feel great about and then release the reins and let them create magic. Unfortunately, the delegative style of leadership doesn’t work well all of the time, and it doesn’t work for every team.

When leaders implement a delegative style of leadership where employees aren’t confident team players and decision makers and where teams aren’t properly trained and adequately prepared, employee performance plummets and organizational objectives take a nosedive. And, ultimately, leadership fails.

There’s no shortcut here. Before leaders implement the delegative style of leadership, they must ensure they’ve assembled and trained a team who thrives and excels in this type of environment.

But even among the best prepared teams, issues may arise:

Successful leaders in the delegative style of leadership implement a variety of strategies to keep their finely tuned teams up and running: