Career Development

What Is Participative Leadership?

February 22, 2021

Effective leadership is the hallmark of a successful company. There are many styles and types of leadership, such as critical leadership, consultation leadership and participative leadership.

Participative leadership is a great style for managers interested in whole-team contributions and decision-making. In this article, we discuss what participative leadership is and its four types, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of participative leadership.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (With Examples)

Definition of participative leadership

Participative leadership is a style of leadership in which all members of the organization work together to make decisions. Participative leadership is also known as democratic leadership, as everyone is encouraged to participate.

Participative leadership generally follows these steps:

  1. Discuss as a group. There is usually a leader who oversees the process. This leader facilitates a discussion about the issue at hand or the decision that needs to be made.

  2. Provide information. The leader shares all pertinent information for deciding with the whole group.

  3. Share ideas. The group shares ideas about how to solve the problem.

  4. Process ideas and information. The leader summarizes the information and ideas for the group.

  5. Make a decision. The group makes the best decision based on the information and ideas presented.

  6. Implement the decision. All members of the organization implement the decision.

The participative leadership decision-making process can take many forms, but the key element is collective input from all members of the organization.

Participative leadership is most successful in organizations or companies that have defined roles requiring little management or oversight, like universities, technology companies or construction firms. However, participative leadership can be applied with varying levels of whole-group ownership to meet the needs of any organization.

Related: 4 Leadership Activities to Empower Your Team

Types of participative leadership

There are four types of participative leadership: consensus, collective, democratic and autocratic. Organizations or companies interested in implementing participative leadership can explore the spectrum of group responsibility and power by trying one of the following types:

Consensus participative leadership

In consensus participative leadership, the leader does not have additional power over other members of the group and works exclusively as a facilitator. To reach a decision, all members of the organization must agree. This means that the goal or decision might be amended until all parties can agree.

Collective participative leadership

In collective participative leadership, all responsibility falls equally on the group. The leader will help facilitate, but all group members are responsible for the process and outcome. The majority of the group must agree to proceed with a decision.

Democratic participative leadership

In democratic participative leadership, the leader has more power than the group as a whole. Ideas and suggestions are provided by the group, and voting may occur on the outcome, but the leader has the final say on what action to take.

Autocratic participative leadership

Autocratic participative leadership is similar to democratic participative leadership, but the leader holds even more power. There is less precedence put on the ideas of the group and more on the leader.

Related: 6 Leadership Activities for Career Growth

Advantages of participative leadership

Participative leadership offers many advantages for an organization's leadership and group members:

Staff buy-in

Members of the organization feel empowered when they get to participate in high-level decision making. They will be more likely to implement changes if they are part of the process of arriving at that decision.

Boost morale

Group members who feel they are part of a team will have higher morale than if they feel they are working in a vacuum. Participative leadership provides a deeper feeling of community to lower-level members of the group.

Collective thinking

By introducing many voices and ideas to the discussion, leadership is more likely to receive creative and inventive thinking. Problems may be solved in ways leadership never anticipated with input from all levels of the organization.

Retention

Group members are more likely to stay with an organization that seeks their input. They will feel loyalty to the organization.

Unity

Some organizations breed competition through the nature of their industry. Group members who may be in direct competition for clients or in-house opportunities are more likely to feel united if everyone is working toward a common goal.

Value

Group members will feel valued when leaders listen to their ideas. Feeling valued leads to higher productivity.

Independence

If group members are an active part of the decision-making process, when it comes time to implement the outcome of that decision, they will require less managerial oversight. Since they were a part of the process, they already know what they need to do and how to do it.

Related: What Does Leadership Mean?

Disadvantages of participative leadership

There are also disadvantages to participative leadership for leaders, group members and the organization as a whole:

Slow

The participative leadership style can take a long time to implement. Organizing a large group, obtaining ideas and feedback, discussing possible courses of action and then communicating the decision can be a lengthy process.

Social pressure

Lower-level group members may feel social pressure to conform to the desires of the group's majority or their superiors. It can be hard to reach a truly democratic decision.

High cost

Due to the amount of time the participative leadership style can take, it comes at a high cost. Group members lose time to complete their daily responsibilities.

Inefficient

It can be a challenge to organize a large group of people and efficiently gather thoughts and ideas.

Lack of knowledge

Not everyone in the organization may have the background or knowledge necessary to productively participate in a decision-making conversation. Not every decision will directly impact the whole organization.

Indecision

It can be a challenge to come to a group consensus. Some group members may not have much to contribute, while others feel strongly. Leaders may find it difficult to come to a conclusive and unified decision.

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