Participative Leadership: What Is It, and is it Right for Your Team?

Great leadership is essential to any company’s success. A good leader not only guides employees, but they also inspire, motivate, and direct them towards beneficial outcomes. Unfortunately, answering the question, “what does leadership mean?” can be complex.

There are many different styles of leadership. Some strategies involve placing a person as the key decision-maker of the team, while others create a more community-driven ecosystem. Here’s your guide to participative leadership.

What Is Participative Leadership?

Participative leadership is a type of leadership in which all members of a group are equally influential in making business decisions. The participative leadership style is built around the concept that companies make better choices when multiple perspectives are considered. Most of the time, decision-making in a participative leadership environment follows these steps:

  • Discussion: The choice and available outcomes are discussed in a group format, with a “leader” who facilitates the discussion and overseas the conversation.
  • Exploration: The leader offers all pertinent information relevant to the discussion for the whole group to analyse and explore.
  • Suggestion: All members of the group contribute ideas on what to do next.
  • Processing: The leader summarizes the options available to the group, based on input from all the employees.
  • Decision: The group chooses the appropriate next step as a unit.
  • Implementation: All members of the group implement the decision.

While the exact process of making a decision in a participative leadership environment can vary, the most important factor is ensuring every member of the organization has a say.

Participative Leadership Styles

There are various types of participative leadership styles, but the most common options fall into four distinct groups of decision making: consensus, collective, autocratic, and democratic.

Consensus participative leadership

This participative leadership style doesn’t give the “leader” in the group any additional power over other employees or contributors. The leader simply facilitates the discussion, and all members of the team must agree for a decision to be made.

Collective participative leadership

With this participative leadership style, all responsibility is equally placed on every member of the group. The group members are all responsible for the process of decision making, and the outcome. The majority of the group needs to agree for a decision to be made.

Autocratic participative leadership

In this style of participative leadership, the leader holds significantly more power than other members of the team. While input from other staff members is considered, the insights of the leader drive the ultimate outcome.

Democratic participative leadership

Similar to Autocratic participative leadership, this style of leadership gives more power to the leader of the group, but still allows for significant input from the team. Most of the time, decisions will be put to a vote, and the leader will have final say on what to do next.

Participative leadership examples

Participative leadership works best in environments where all members of a team are on the same page when it comes to the values and expectations of the overall company. As you can see from the various types of participative leadership, there are many ways to approach this strategy for business operations.

One example of a participative leadership activity would include a business IT leader approaching a team to ask them what kind of collaboration software they want to use going forward. Rather than just deciding on the behalf of the team, everyone could have a vote, and the software with the most votes may be the one the company chooses.

Crucially, participative leadership can also include cases wherein people in a team contribute to the decision-making strategy, but the leader still maintains control over the final decision.

Advantages of participative leadership

Participative leadership is often most successful in organizations and companies with defined roles which require very little management and oversight, like in universities or technology companies. Used correctly, the right participative leadership style can lead to advantages like:

  • Staff engagement: Members of a team will usually feel more empowered when they’re participating in high-level decision making. They’re also more likely to feel ownership over the success of the company.
  • Morale: Group members who feel like a valuable part of the team are generally more satisfied at work and have a higher level of morale.
  • Creativity: Introducing various perspectives and ideas to a discussion helps to facilitate innovative thinking and unique solutions to problems.
  • Unity: Participative leadership encourages everyone to play a part in ensuring the success of the company. This can help to create a sense of unity and bonding.
  • Retention: When employees feel like valuable staff members, they’re more likely to stay with a company for extended periods.
  • Independence: Group members with a say in decision-making processes generally need less management and oversight when they’re implementing the outcome of a decision.

Disadvantages of participative leadership

Participative leadership won’t always be the right solution for every business. Sometimes it can lead to problems for certain teams. The disadvantages of participative leadership include:

  • Delays: Getting everyone to contribute to a decision-making process and agree on an outcome can take a long time, making companies less agile.
  • Pressure: Lower-level members of a group may feel pressured to conform to the opinions of the group’s majority.
  • Inefficiency: It’s often challenging to organize large groups of people for the collection of thoughts and ideas. This is particularly true in the age of remote work.
  • Cost issues: Employees contributing to decision-making processes can’t devote as much time to their day-to-day tasks, causing cost problems.
  • Indecision: If people can’t agree on the right outcome for a business, this can lead to indecision and even slower business growth.

Democratic Leadership vs Participative Leadership

Notably, while some people refer to democratic and participative leadership as though they’re the same thing, many experts argue that the styles are slightly different. While both have firm foundations in the respect of other team members, there is a difference to consider.

Participative leadership is an overarching style of leadership, in which multiple strategies are used to help with decision-making. The decision may be made by the leader, or by the overall group via a vote. Democratic leadership is a type of participative leadership, in which a vote is a more consistent part of decision-making processes.

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