Friday, November 23, 2012

Laissez-faire -- A French phrase literally meaning "let do;" eighteenth century "physiocrats" first used the term as an injunction against government interference with trade. It later became used as a synonym for strict free market economics. Subsequently, many students of economics have generally understood it to represent a doctrine maintaining that private initiative and production work best when allowed to "roam free," without opposing economic interventionism and taxation by the state, beyond the levels necessary to maintain individual liberty, peace, security, and property rights. In that regard, Keynes (1972) characterized [economic] laissez-faire as meaning "that by the working of natural laws individuals pursuing their own interests with enlightenment in conditions of freedom always tend to promote the general interest at the same time" (p. 274).

Several pieces I've reviewed over the past months have suggested (or cited empirical results) that the laissez-faire leadership (management) style ranks lowest among the different styles investigated, in relation to organizational outcomes. For example, under the topic of "Transactional Leadership," Barbuto (2005) noted that: Bass identified laissez-faire as a key type "... of transactional leadership" and  that "... most conceptualizations of transactional leadership... exclude laissez-faire because it represents the absence of leadership" (p. 26). Barbuto continued by citing how Bradford and Lippitt described "laissez-faire leadership as a leader's disregard of supervisory duties and lack of guidance to subordinate" (p. 27). Barbuto then cited a number of leadership experts who essentially concluded that: "Laissez-faire leaders offer little support to their subordinates and are inattentive to productivity or the necessary completion of duties… From the outset, laissez-faire has demonstrated itself to be the most inactive, least effective, and most frustrating leadership style" and "studies show that policies and practices that reflect non-involvement of supervisors lead to low productivity, resistance to change, and low quality of work..." (p. 27).

Clearly, a dichotomy exists between the traditional uses of the term laissez-faire, as experts have applied it in the disciplines of economics and leadership. Where the economics experts have apparently made assumptions that when left unregulated, people will do those things required to achieve outcomes correlated to their perceived best interests; while leadership experts have apparently made assumptions that when left unregulated, people will not do those things required to achieve outcomes required to achieve outcomes in their organizations' best interests. Why have leadership experts taken this position? I posit they have done this for one or more of at least three reasons, reflected by these positions: (a) leaders have not adequately and appropriately developed shared visions, compelling self-interests, and entitlements with subordinates, in order to establish subsequent buy-in and associated levels of organizational citizenship and affective commitment; (b) they have confused leadership by hierarchical position with leadership by functional behaviors; and they have thereby mistaken the overall role of leadership with other competencies emplyed by members in overall positions of authority. Arguably, "leaders" need only to appropriately employ leadership competencies when selecting standard procedures to use, when no standard procedures exist, or when existing standard procedures no longer result in the desired levels of efficiency and effectiveness. They should appropriately employ other competency sets (diplomacy, influence, management, sales, etc.) at all other times; and (c) for all of the praise in the literature, heaped upon the McGregor's (1960) Theory Y and the contempt shown his Theory X; the underlying cultural assumption remains intact that Theory X still generally applies.

Based on my experiences as a subordinate of having generally: embraced organizational outcomes of the organizations for which I have worked, appreciated most the supervisors who managed my by exception, and maintained as high or higher personal production and quality standards than those of my supervisors; I suggest the following research questions, stated as hypotheses:

H1. Subordinates who perceive the existence of positive personal relationships with their supervisors who employ a laissez faire style rate supervisor effectiveness higher than will subordinates whose supervisors employ the transformational or servant leadership styles.

H2. Subordinates who perceive organizational vision alignment with their supervisors who employ a laissez-faire style rate supervisor effectiveness higher than will subordinates whose supervisors employ the transformational or servant leadership styles.


Barbuto, J. E., Jr. (2005). Motivation and transactional, charismatic, and transformational leadership: A test of antecedents. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(4), 26-40.

Keynes, J. M. (1926/1972). The end of laissez-faire. In Essays in persuasion (pp. 272-294). London: Macmillan.

McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Monday, November 12, 2012

As I recently noted in a blog response, it has appeared to me that in the recent past, just about all of my Republican friends and acquaintances (from Evangelicals to agnostics) have consistently voiced their desire for a smaller, less-intrusive U.S. Federal government, first, regardless of where they have stood on other "social issues." Arguably, Mr. Romney didn't offer enough of that. Some have suggested the red herring reason for the Romney loss as related to "Christian vs. Mormon" and they can continue to do so, 'til the proverbial cows come home. Others have criticized the involvement of third party candidates. However, the real problem seemed more that U.S. voters only had a choice this election between Big-Government and Bigger-Government... and of course, which group of rich contributors and supporters would ultimately receive the associated perks. Additionally, I doubt that "disgruntled" or "misguided" Ron Paul or Green Party supporters made a significant difference in the overall outcome of the presidential election. In fact, based on research conducted a few weeks before Election Day, a Reason-Rupe Poll suggested that support for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, pulled equally from Democrats and Republicans.

In any case, I would argue that if anyone hurt America during the recent elections, it did not include Evangelicals who stayed home for religious reasons or those who voted third party for the sake of conscience. Rather, it included the people who went to the polls, held their noses, and voted for either Romney OR Obama, when they considered that neither of them actually best represented the overall values needed in and for the United States. Some folks actually reported having voted this way because others had sold them on the idea that a vote for anyone other than the Democrat or the Republican amounted to a wasted vote. Guess what? Voting for "the lesser of two evils" wasted votes, in that so doing sent the errant message that over 100-million people believed that the collective values suggested by Obama and Romney represent what voting Americans consider as the most important values. Additionally, I would further argue that any type of election-to-election thinking that results in voting for candidates with whom people fundamentally disagree has centrally contributed to our elected officials settling for short term compromises, rather than striving for long term collaborations. Regardless of the electoral college results, if Obama, Boehner, and Reid saw that 6% of the votes for Romney and Obama had otherwise gone to Johnson (the possible percentage also noted in the Reason-Rupe Poll), it would have sent a message. However, if they saw that either Obama or Romney had won with only a plurality, with third parties having won 15% to 30% of the electorate votes (the likely range of people who had major disagreements with the values presented by BOTH major parties), they would have had to sit up and take notice. Bottom line: I have never before supported or voted for a third party candidate in a national election, but starting now that trend will forever change, unless and until the Republicans (or Democrats) start substantially reducing the size and scope of the U.S. Federal government.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Traditional leadership and management approaches that predominately apply centralized, top-down authority for the direction of behaviors have not provided sufficient protection for large-scale, highly distributed organizations, especially those that operate in multinational and cross-cultural environments. In the realm of complex, adaptive, and dynamic systems, the evaluation of natural escalation of opportunities and challenges versus hierarchical, mechanistic decision-making processes has demonstrated time and again that these traditional organizations have remained almost always vulnerable to competitors who have decided to initiate courses of action at the operative level. These challengers have particularly acquired and displayed these competitive techniques to compete against well-known, traditional organizations that have incorporated the use of repetitive strategic components; because typically, these traditional organizations have made readily available widespread knowledge of their organizational processes to the community, at large. Consequently, in the presence of such competitors, there has emerged a compelling need to augment traditional decision-making approaches with methods and techniques that allow teams and other work groups to survive, mitigate loss, respond, and thrive in the presence of competition for which they might not have otherwise possessed the capabilities to fully answer. Furthermore, a baseline premise that underlies the survivability of any organization, group, or team has included the fact that none can avoid competition or the errors that necessarily emerge when answering it.

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