What Is Participative Leadership? (With Advantages)

Updated February 3, 2023

Three people in discussion around a table with a laptop.

Effective leadership can be essential for a successful business. There are many styles and types of leadership, such as critical leadership, consultation leadership and participative leadership. Learning about the participative style can help you decide if this style of management and engagement can benefit your organization.

In this article, we discuss participative leadership and its four types along with the leadership style's advantages and disadvantages.

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 management teams encourage all employees to participate. For example, if a company executive is a participative leader, they hope to involve all members of an organization to help make decisions. Participative leadership can be most successful in organizations or companies that have defined roles requiring little management or oversight, like universities, technology companies or construction firms.

Related: 4 Leadership Activities to Empower Your Team

Styles of participative leadership

There are four main types of participative leadership:

Consensus participative leadership

In consensus participative leadership, the leader does not have additional power over other group members 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 have amendments or negotiations until all parties can agree. Companies often use individual votes to make decisions.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Find Your Own)

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. Employees work together to decide on changes before establishing new processes or policies.

Democratic participative leadership

In democratic participative leadership, the leader has more power than the group. The group provides ideas and suggestions, and voting may occur on the outcome, but the leader has the final decision on what action to take. Leaders may gather information through surveys or interviews and decide what changes an organization might make.

Autocratic participative leadership

Autocratic participative leadership is similar to democratic participative leadership, but the leader holds even more power than a democratic style. There is less precedence on the group's ideas and more on the leader. Even if employees provide unique inputs, the leader can still override opinions with their own decisions.

Related: Guide to 6 Top Leadership Theories and How To Apply Them

Advantages of participative leadership

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

Increase engagement

Members of the organization feel empowered when they participate in high-level decision-making. They can be more likely to implement changes if they are part of the decision process. Employees can also feel more confident in a company's decisions or changes if they can provide their input.

Boost morale

Group members who feel they are part of a team can have higher morale than if they think they have limited influence. Participative leadership provides a deeper feeling of community to lower-level group members. This could create a more positive work environment where employees have higher morale and more motivation. It can also help increase employee retention for highly skilled employees.

Foster collaboration

By introducing many voices and ideas to the discussion, leadership is more likely to receive creative and inventive thinking. Teams may solve problems in ways leadership never anticipated with input from all levels of the organization. As each person's thoughts are unique, each person can also learn from others within an organization through this collaboration.

Encourage independence

Employees may require less intense management if they participate in the decisions for new processes and policies. Since they were a part of the process, they already know what they need to do and how to do it. For example, if a company decides on a new system, employees might also know how to use it and how it might fit into their current workflows.

Related: 15 Independent Thinker Traits To Succeed in the Workplace

Disadvantages of participative leadership

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

Slower decision-making

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 lengthy. To help with this, consider establishing clear schedules and allotted times for votes or discussions for new decisions.

Potential pressures

Lower-level group members may feel social pressure to conform to the group's majority's or superiors' desires. It can be hard to reach a truly democratic decision. For example, a lower-level employee might think they need to agree with management for job security. To help with this, you might have anonymous surveys or conversations with employees to ensure their opinions matter.

Increased costs

Due to the amount of time the participative leadership style can take, it can have a high cost. Group members can lose time with their daily responsibilities during these decision-making processes. Consider evaluating your assignment allocation and shifts to ensure enough coverage to meet business goals while having collaborative conversations.

Lack of knowledge

Not everyone in the organization may have the background or knowledge necessary to participate productively in a decision-making conversation. For example, people in marketing departments may have input in sales department decisions. Consider different styles, like the democratic participative style, to ensure that a knowledgeable leader can decide if the decision is most effective for the organization.

Tips for encouraging participative leadership with remote work

Here are some tips you can use to promote this leadership style with remote employees:

  • Hold regular meetings: You can hold regular meetings with teams and individuals where employees have the opportunity to share their opinions and suggestions. This can help build trust and boost morale through shared responsibility.

  • Create sharing spaces: You might also create virtual message boards or platforms where employees can share their thoughts regularly. This can let teams send ideas as they get them and let others respond to each other's suggestions.

  • Promote accountability: Holding employees accountable can encourage them to voice their individual opinions and develop their leadership skills. Consider building participation into regular check-ins or performance reviews to increase accountability.

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