The free rein leadership style is one that favours autonomy and abhors control. This model caters for minimal control by the leader or manager and maximum flexibility for the team members. As such, the team leader often takes a back seat role and functions to coordinate and direct the actions of the team rather than dictate it. It is wise to remember that free rein leadership is at the extreme of freedom, away from the extreme of control, and that most teams operate within the continuum between.
The free rein leadership style may be likened to the role played by a mentor or a coach. Rather than being the one determining the course of action to be taken by a team, the free rein leader or manager offers advice and guides the team through the process, just as how a mentor leads his student in the right direction and how the coach gives his team directions.
The free rein leader is neither actively involved in information gathering nor decision making. He acts as a coordinator both in a brainstorming session to gather and consolidate information, and in the final decision making session. This is known as the ‘Gaining Consensus’ method of making decisions, according to Michael Watkins in his book, the First 90 Days. This is unlike the consult-and-decide method in the participative leadership model, nor the dictatorial style in the autocratic leadership model.
Evidently, such a leadership style would be disastrous if administered on a highly inexperienced or immature team. The team may well end up bickering and criticising unconstructively, and no decision would be made eventually. Should individuals in the team be having their individual agenda, they would mount delay tactics, holding back the decision making. Rather, a strong team of professionals who are highly matured should be ideal. This way, each member puts the intent of the team above themselves and their individual agenda, hence contributing to the team’s decision.
Free rein leadership can often be found in teams of professionals, such a team of doctors or engineers, as they form to achieve a goal or solve a problem. It is also often neither transformational nor transactional as the motivation of the team is assumed.