Rosapeak Advisors

Destructive effects and frequency of
« Laissez-faire Leadership » behavior

M. IEMOLINI: Clinical Psychology; Senior Partner at Rosapeak Advisors SA
F.D HARNISCHBERG: BSc, MBA; Senior Partner at Rosapeak Advisors SA


This article looks at the different types of destructive management methods, whether active or passive, whose prevalence varies between 33.5% and 61% depending on the analytical method. Our literature summary focuses in particular on laissez-faire leadership, which at 21.2% represents the most frequent type of destructive management.

The various studies examined in this article mainly cover 3 continents (Europe, Asia, NorthAmerica). They examine a total of over 300,000 employees, about a third of whom are women.The average age of the participants is 47.67. The management methods of over 20,000 managers (n24,852) were assessed

Destructive leadership, including laissez-faire, can lead, in the most severe cases, to the development of symptoms akin to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with serious social and economic consequences for subordinates and the overall organization. The authors provide a succinct portrait of the laissez-faire manager, and draw attention to the key performance indicators (KPIs) underscoring the risk of this type of behavior within the organization.


As Senior Partners of a firm specialized in Change Management, the authors are regularly confronted with the analysis of different types of management, which can be divided into 2 main groups, usually called constructive and destructive management, and 4 sub groups.1 Constructive management is generally divided into transformational and transactional groups2. Destructive management is divided into an active and a passive group, which are sometimes further subdivided3.
In this article, we have chosen to focus on destructive management, whose total prevalence varies between 33.5% and 61% of the cases studied, meaning that this type of behavior is neither rare nor exceptional4. The different types of destructive management are described below. Since laissez-faire leadership is the most frequent (21,2%), we have decided to devote this article to it.


We have reviewed 23 studies covering the period from 1994 to 2022. They are extracted from a much larger database of over a hundred publications on the subject.The first published description probably dating back to 1939.
The various studies examined mainly cover 3 continents (Europe, Asia, North America). They analyzed more than 300’000 employees in companies with 10 or more employees. 19.9% of employees surveyed were women. The average age of participants was 47.67 (SD= 12.12). The management methods of over 20’000 (n:24’852) managers were assessed. Study protocols range from direct prospective studies to meta-analyses, retrospective studies and full-length books. Prospective studies generally use follow-up methods to validate or invalidate one or more hypotheses of effects on work organization, performance and group cohesion. We note, however, that economic performance is all too rarely described.


Many concepts have been used to describe active or passive destructive management models.

Leaders can exhibit a variety of behaviors that affect their organization5 as a whole,potentially leading  to negative consequences for task performance, work quality, efficiency and relations with customers and stakeholders6.

Well-known destructive management models, such as abusive supervision, tyranny7 and authoritarian Machiavels8, whose prevalence, as we have seen above, is relatively high, also have devastating effects9. The literature clearly shows that these leaders are always manipulative, even liars, and often have a low level of empathy.

Active Destructive Management

The petty tyrant is pro-organization and anti-subordination. They seek to achieve results at the expense of others, allowing themselves to shine. They don’t hesitate to manipulate and humiliate their colleagues to achieve their goals10.

The derailing leader is anti-organization and anti-subordination. These leaders can intimidate, deceive and engage in anti-organizational behavior such as absenteeism and fraud11.According to the research, there are other sub-groups which are not covered here.

Passive Destructive Management

Management by exception: this type of behavior leads managers to simply wait for problems to escalate and become urgent before intervening.

Laissez-faire management, is sometimes also called non-management. Laissez-faire leadership describes an attitude of non-intervention, or even in difference, to a situation or behavior that would deserve a reaction. In their concept of laissez-faire” management, Bass & Avolio, 1994 and Lewin, Lippit and White in 1939, describe a leader who is generally appointed, not recruited, or who has not won their position through a hard-fought selection process.

This type of manager formally occupies the position, but has more or less consciously relinquished the responsibilities assigned to them, and appears indifferent. Laissez-faire  management is generally characterized by an absence of transaction or agreement with others12. Decisions are often delayed or even buried, and feedback, rewards and personal involvement are often absent. There is no attempt to motivate others, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, or respond to their need for consideration. Laissez-faire leadership is particularly devastating for employees with a strong need for supervision, or for those who are new to their job or position. Consequently, Laissez-faire leadership is not only a lack of real presence or a kind of zero management, it also manifests itself in anti-social behavior. The Laissez-faire leader doesn’t get directly involved in group activities (coffee or lunch breaks) -in short, they are totally withdrawn from their team, to the point where there is virtually no real “bond”. It also means failing to meet the legitimate expectations of subordinates, superiors and other stakeholders. This leadership style leads to low productivity.

Laissez-faire leadership is caricaturized as a style with no communication or clear objectives, and creates a damaging wait-and-see general climate.

To date, there is no clear evidence that the prevalence of this type of behavior is gender-dependent13,14.

Consequences of Laissez-Faire Leadership

Research into the work climate and atmosphere within organizations, carried out between 1950 and 1990, shows that 60-75% of workers cite their relationship with their direct superior as the worst aspect of their job15. In the USA, work pressure was cited in 75% of claims in which mental stress factors were the main cause of absenteeism. 94% of these claims were allegedly caused by abusive treatment bymanagers16.

Kelloway at al (2005) argue that poor leadership, including laissez-faire, can beat the root of particular stressors in the work place. Role conflict and ambiguity, and the perception of poor interpersonal relations with leaders are often cited.

The systematic use of various organizational constraints, such as lack of time, lack of equipment and/or lack of personnel, as justification and excuse for the behavior of laissez-faire managers has been clearly demonstrated17.

The effects of laissez-faire management were studied in particular in a context of restructuring, by measuring the increase in absenteeism and burnout rates in a Swedish company with 601 employees18.

The results confirm the mechanisms described in previous studies, but also point to a time scale in the onset of effects. Among other things, the authors note a marked increase in absenteeism after 9months, and an increase in burnout symptoms of approx. 18% after 24 months. In that particular case, this would demonstrate a prolongation of the negative effects of restructuring on staff, and thus the in effectiveness of the latter.

In 2004, the Swiss Health Observatory published a report showing that the direct cost of absenteeism amounted to 4-5% of the total amount of salaries paid, so we can directly estimate this component of the high cost generated by this type of destructive behavior.

To date, however, we have found no economic data on the potential indirect costs (loss of image, loss of confidence in customer, (mental) health costs, in surer, supplier or shareholder relations) incurred by laissez-faire leadership.


As described above, the prevalence of destructive management behaviors is much more widespread than one would typically think (33.5 -61%)20, so the first tool for control and prevention is raising awareness on the existence and scope of the issue.

Here, we propose a few telltale signs to be monitored in order to enable early diagnosis of the presence of a laissez-faire leader with in the organization.

  • An absence of decisions, or buried or delayed decisions21
  • Unaddressed role conflict or role ambiguity
  • A low level of staff control and evaluation22
  • Lack of recognition and incentive programs for employees

On a more global and statistical level, we must also take a close look at KPIs such as:

  • Absenteeism rates and trends, discriminated between groups of employees under the supervision of different managers.
  • Unexplained increases in the use of remote work.
  • Increased staff turnover.
  • Increased recourse to legal arbitration in cases of termination of employment relationships


Given the high prevalence of such destructive behaviors, and despite these having been well described and documented academically for a long time, it is reasonable to question the over all level of theoretical training of current(senior)managers, particularly in SMEs.

While organizations are currently in a position to calculate the direct costs of this type of behavior with some accuracy, we have no reliable data on the in direct economic and social impact and costs of laissez-faire management on employees, customers and other external stakeholders.

The lack of willingness to exercise their managerial role once in the situation can make laissez-faire leadership behavior difficult to detect early on, through a standard assessment or internal promotion process. We believe that periodic appraisal questionnaires specifically adapted to this issue would facilitate the early screening of this risk.

Although there are a few rare cases in the literature where laissez-faire leadership proves positive for the organization23 -cases where followers are highly qualified, experienced, autonomous and educated -there is, to our knowledge, no reputable, reproducible method of effectively resolving the disaster generated by laissez-faire leadership.


The various destructive management models are extremely common and particularly costly for organizations. The most frequent of these, laissez-faire leadership, is ultimately a silent form of behavior that is difficult to identify, probably also because of the lack of awareness of management teams. Its economic and social impact remains extremely high, both for the organization and for its stakeholders, though literature has not precisely appraised it to this day.


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  1. Bass&Avolio,1994;Lundmark&Richter,2022
  2. Eagly,Johanesen-Schmidt,vanEggen,2003
  3. Kellowayatal,2005
  4. Schanke,Aslandatal, 2010
  5. Kellerman,2004;Lipman-Bluemen,2005
  6. Padilla,Hogan&Kaiser,2007
  7. Tepper,2000
  8. Christie&Geis, 1970
  9. Skogstadatal,2007
  10. Ashforth,1994;Ma,Karry&Chittipeddi,2004
  11. Aaslandatal,2008;McCall&Lombardo,1983
  12. Bass&Avolio,1994
  13. Skogstadatal,2007
  14. Eaglyatal,2003
  15. Hogan,Raskin&Fazzini,1990
  16. Wilson,1991
  17. Fox&Spector,1999
  18. Lundmark&Richter,2022
  19. Schanke-Aasland,2010;Kahnatal,1964
  20. Schanke-Aaslandatal2010
  21. Skogstadatal,2007;Eaglyatal,2003
  22. Schanke-Aasland2012,Kahnatal1964
  23. Yang,2015

Contact auteurs :

M.Iemolini :
F.D Harnischberg :