Laissez-Faire Nursing Leadership Style

Literature Review

In nursing, the Laissez-Faire leadership style is often practiced by inexperienced or new nurse leaders. Laissez-Faire is also called “hands-off” leadership, as leaders who practice it hardly provide feedback or direction to their team but instead allow them to operate as they prefer and with limited supervision (Mauk, 2010). In an institution where leaders have taken this hand-off approach, changes seldom occur, decisions are not made, and quality improvement is characteristically reactive, not proactive. Duquesne University (2023) states that “the laissez-faire leadership style in nursing can be dangerous because it negatively contributes to unit socialization and creates a culture of blame.” 

Aboshaiqah, Hamdan-Mansour, Sherrod, Alkhaibary, & Alkhaibary (2014) conducted a study to explore leadership approaches, factors, and outcomes perceived by nurses. The results of their study demonstrated that nurses had a perception that their leaders more frequently use transactional and transformational styles than Laissez-Faire. Data analysis depicted a positive relationship between outcome factors (satisfaction, extra efforts, and effectiveness) and transactional leadership styles (.39, .42, .34; p < .001) and transformational (r = .77, .74, .74; p < .001) and negative with laissez-faire leadership approach (-.25, -.13, -.29, p < .05). The results further demonstrated that laissez-faire leadership style is associated with lower levels of effectiveness and nurse job satisfaction

According to Sfantou, Laliotis, Patelarou, Sifaki-Pistolla, Matalliotakis, & Patelarou (2017), laissez-faire leadership is among the most commonly applied forms of leadership. Others include relationship-oriented, task-oriented, autocratic, transactional, and transformational leadership. According to the results of their study, the laissez-faire approach is commonly practiced by leaders who do not make decisions, nurses act without supervision or direction, and there is a hands-off aspect that results in rare changes. In addition, the study demonstrated that this leadership style has a negative correlation with nursing unit organization culture.

The laissez-Faire leadership approach recognizes full freedom since leaders who practice it encourage nurses to develop ideas, offer suggestions, and declare opinions (Durmuş & Kırca, 2019). A leader who recognizes full freedom provides little or no control or orientation and rather prefers a practical style. This type of leader rarely decides and acts without supervision or staffing. He just provides resources, dissipates responsibilities, and refrains from taking any decision-making role. However, laissez-faire leaders give their opinions only when asked about their opinions on a particular subject matter. Their views are, however, not binding to the nurses. Moreover, leaders who prefer laissez-faire show reactive leadership because they often apply it to regulate tasks in times of crisis. It is also used by less experienced leaders or those who are about to vacate their positions. They leave nurses on their own to do what they think is best.

Since laissez-faire leadership style does not dictate or micromanage how the nurses should operate, an exceptionally experienced and effective team can prosper under this form of leadership (Murray, 2017). However, research proves that laissez-faire is not automatically suitable for the healthcare industry due to the need for quick decision-making and a constant state of change. With experienced caregivers retiring and more coming on board, it is becoming gradually questionable that this laissez-faire leadership style will help nursing teams to thrive by being proactive versus reactive to patient safety issues.

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