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How Participative Leadership Brings The Workplace Together

Participative leadership offers a host of benefits to an organisation willing to use it. By involving employees in company decisions you raise their awareness, encourage their contributions, and raise their morale.

If this sounds like something you would like to bring to your workplace, then read on. This blog post shines a spotlight on participative leadership, exploring its nature, its strengths, and its potential weaknesses.

After reading you’ll have a solid understanding of what participative leadership can offer.

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What is Participative Leadership?

It’s useful to have a participative leadership definition in mind while reading about the topic, especially considering that there are differences of opinion.

When we use the term, we are referring to a situation where subordinates are invited to participate in the decision-making process traditionally confined to the leadership.

In one study, a large group of managers whose traits they thought best defined this leadership style. By nature, leadership styles are broad nets with consensus on what they entail being hard to come by.

The five key traits of participative leadership were:

  • Giving subordinates a share in decision making.
  • Keeping subordinates informed of the true situation, good or bad, under all circumstances.
  • Maintaining awareness of the state of the organisation's morale, with action taken to keep it as high as possible.
  • The leader is approachable.
  • Counselling, training, and development opportunities are offered to subordinates

In short, employees are involved much more heavily in the organisational activities than they would be in other leadership styles, with greater efforts taken to keep them informed, and greater priority placed on their development.

Participative and Democratic Leadership Styles

You may hear this style referred to as democratic, participative, or democratic/participative. Some theorists argue that the two styles are subtly different, but wider consensus agrees that they are the same. Both have firm foundations in mutual respect; both require effective collaboration between the leader and those being led.

One difference you may see stated as distinguishing between the two is how decisions are ultimately made:

  • In participative leadership, the team’s input is considered during the decision-making process, but the decision is ultimately made by the leader.
  • In democratic leadership, a vote is taken where each team member has equal say in the ultimate decision.

Other people refer to the above as - respectively - the consultation and joint decision-making styles of participative/democratic leadership. Our definition of participative leadership encompasses both of these decision making processes, with the organisation and situation determining which is used.

The term “participative” has received more attention in management training circles in recent years, and as a result may be more common amongst younger leaders.

For a more comprehensive rundown of the different leadership styles, check out our guide.

What Is Autocratic Leadership

The Benefits of Participative Leadership

As we’ve seen, participative leadership seeks to involve subordinates in the decision making process, and to furnish them with the skills and information they need to make contributions required to arrive at said decisions.

This approach has several benefits:

  • Participative leadership encourages collaboration. Employees in some organisations can feel stifled or unheard if their attempts to contribute - based on their opinions or experience - are ignored. In participative leadership, there is a forum for these ideas to be heard.
  • Participative leadership opens up an organisation. In an age where more scrutiny is placed on how businesses operate, this is especially important. Involving employees in decisions means more transparency.
  • Participative leadership facilitates a free flow of ideas. Each employee has something to contribute. While all contributions may not be valuable or actionable, creating an environment in which they can be discussed invites others to contribute their ideas: things can then be refined, evaluated, and built upon.
  • Participative leadership decreases competition. If employees know that ideas will be evaluated by a group and possibly incorporated into company practice, there is less concern about original ownership of an idea.
  • Participative leadership improves morale. If people know they will be heard, they are more likely to contribute, and to feel like their contribution is valued. This is a fundamental requisite for a happy, motivated workforce.
  • Participative leadership improves retention. All of the factors above combine to create a workplace where people feel valued, feel less pressure to stand out, and feel a part of their organisation. People are less tempted to leave a workplace with such qualities.

Get these ingredients right, and you lay the groundwork for a high-performance workplace. People enjoy working in environments where their participation is respected. It is a way to feel validated: to be shown that your presence, opinions, and contributions matter.

We’ve written more about promoting teamwork in the workplace, too. You can read that here.

When Does Participative Leadership Work Best?

There are a few factors that help participative leadership to thrive:

When your team are sufficiently informed about - and invested in - the inner workings of the organisation and its wider goals. The responsibility to keep informed falls on both parties: employees must express a willingness and ability to learn, but the information must be made readily available.

The problem at hand must also be defined clearly enough that the route toward a solution can be at least imagined. If your team cannot comprehend the issue at hand, it is unlikely that they will be equipped to make meaningful contributions toward a solution. This perceived lack of ability can quickly unravel all of the benefits we outlined above:

  • They will be put off of collaborating.
  • This will, in turn, close off group participation.
  • The free flow of ideas will stop.
  • Team members may feel more competitive, as a sense of urgency begins to build.
  • Morale will likely decrease as the previously open and collaborative environment turns sour.
  • If left unchecked, people will look for a way to extricate themselves from this situation.

While the above is a worst-case scenario that can be alleviated at every step, it shows the potential downfall of a participative leadership situation. It is prudent that a participative leader remain aware of these risks and take suitable steps to stop them from taking place.

Participative leadership works best when this intersection between leaders and their team is nurtured, and where an ongoing back and forth between both sides exists.

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In Conclusion

Participative leadership can bring myriad benefits to an organisation. A leader who uses this style effectively will be able to involve their entire team in the running of the organisation. By crowdsourcing opinions and contributions, decision making becomes a collective endeavour that taps into the skills, ideas, and expertise of every member.

Though there are risks to the deployment of participative leadership, these can be nipped in the bud by an effective leader. Awareness of the potential weaknesses of a leadership style are just as important as an understanding of its strengths.

If you want to understand the benefits of different leadership styles - and the situations where a change might be warranted - check out our content exploring the pros and cons of changing yours.

About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!