Empowering leadership and laissez-faire leadership are generally thought to represent quite different leadership styles—the former more active and directed in follower development and the latter more passive and dismissive of followers’ needs. The present study questions this sharp differentiation. Building on leader categorization theory, we suggest that empowering leadership can be perceived by followers as laissez-faire depending on followers’ empowerment expectations. Specifically, we propose that when leaders’ behaviors are not aligned with followers’ expectations (either higher or lower), followers may evaluate them as being laissez-faire. A two-stage field study of 150 leader-follower dyads employing a cross-level polynomial regression analysis supported our expectation-match hypotheses. Furthermore, followers’ perceptions of laissez-faire leadership as a mediator subsequently lead to lower leader effectiveness evaluation. Consequently, our results indicate that empowering and laissez-faire leadership in the perceptions of followers are closer to each other than researchers previously thought.

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doi.org/10.1177/0149206315574597, hdl.handle.net/1765/104060
ERIM Top-Core Articles
Journal of Management
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Wong, S., & Giessner, S. (2018). The Thin Line Between Empowering and Laissez-Faire Leadership. Journal of Management, 44(2), 757–783. doi:10.1177/0149206315574597