Understanding Participative Leadership

By Jack Flynn
Dec. 4, 2022
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There’s no doubt you’ve already had the importance of workplace leadership drilled in your head. You know it’s valuable, but what you might not know is that there are actually different styles of leadership.

You can express critical leadership, consultation leadership, or participative leadership. The latter on that list, participation leadership, is great for building a contributive and decisive team. Many managers and other team leaders in a company are highly interested in this style. Further, there are actually four types of participative leadership that companies explore.

With that in mind, this article will explain participative leadership and all of its variations in detail, as well as discuss its distinct advantages in the workplace.

Key Takeaways:

  • Participative leadership is when all members of a company or organization work together to make a decision.

  • The four four distinctive types of participative leadership are:

    • Democratic participative leadership

    • Autocratic participative leadership

    • Collective participative leadership

    • Consensus participative leadership

  • Participative leadership helps boost employee morale and helps have more creative solutions to problems.

  • A downside to this type of leadership is that there can be indecisiveness and it can slow down the decision making process.

Understanding Participative Leadership

What Is Participative Leadership?

While there are variations in the types of participative leadership used by companies, it generally refers to situations where all members of a team work together to make decisions. This is in contrast to systems where decision-making is confined to the manager or supervisor alone.

Under participative leadership, all employees are encouraged to participate. They’re kept informed on the true situation of the company and become involved in organizational activities.

These are some common steps that a team would take when using this leadership style:

  1. An initial group discussion. A leader or manager will facilitate a group discussion about any important tasks that need to be addressed or any decisions that need to be made.

  2. Getting all employees informed. Once the leader initiates a discussion, they will share all important information with the group. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad news, they must bring up anything that can affect the decision-making process.

  3. Throwing ideas out. Once everyone in the group is aware of the task or decision at hand, it’s time to start tossing ideas out there. Hopefully, everyone in the group will be able to share what they think is the best course of action.

  4. Summarizing ideas. After everyone is finished discussing their ideas, it’s once again the leader’s job to summarize everything. That way, the whole group will be on the same page before a decision is made.

  5. Decision-making time. After everything has been discussed and ideas have been thrown out there, the whole group needs to make a decision. Everyone considers what’s been presented and decides together. The decision is then implemented!

In the end, this process is all about collective input that leads to more creative, thoughtful, and clever decision-making.

The Key Types of Participative Leadership

In general, when companies employ participative leadership in the workplace, it comes in one of four distinctive types. These include:

  1. Democratic participative leadership. Even though there is a leader, democratic, participative leadership determines that the entire group can provide suggestions and ideas. It’s common to see voting occur under this leadership style, though the leader does ultimately have the final say.

    One of the best examples of this leadership style comes from Apple in the mid-1990s. Apple survived the technology shift of that decade because Steve Jobs learned how to adapt. He used democratic, participative leadership to introduce new ideas and keep the company afloat during that time.

    While the company’s leadership style did change over time, their ability to weather the issues tech companies were facing in the mid-1990s can be owed to democratic, participative leadership.

  2. Autocratic participative leadership. Somewhat similar to the democratic style, autocratic participative leadership mainly differs in the amount of power the leader holds. While the group is still able to present ideas, the leader ultimately has far more say than anyone else.

    This type of participative leadership is fairly common in hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry. In these organizations, an autocratic style ensures consistency and accountability. In this way, doctors and other leaders can supervise subordinates and have the final say on important decisions.

  3. Collective participative leadership. Under collective participative leadership, everyone in a group shares equal responsibility. Of course, there’s still a leader that facilitates discussions and decision-making. However, all team members play a crucial role in the outcome. In this case, a majority of the group must agree to a decision before it can be implemented.

    Think of one of the times you were in class, and your teacher had everyone vote on which movie you were going to watch or what book everyone wanted to read next. You’d put your head down on your desk and vote, and whatever got the most votes won. Though collective participative leadership in the workplace requires a bit more discussion, it’s the same general concept.

  4. Consensus participative leadership. Though there are similarities between collective and consensus participative leadership, the main difference comes in the form of how decisions can be made. Under this style of leadership, the leader has no additional power and only facilitates the conversation.

    At the same time, no decision can be made unless the entire group agrees on one decision. For obvious reasons, this can be difficult or tricky, meaning that the decision often needs to be amended before it can be agreed upon.

    The most common example of this is the United States jury system. To proceed with a verdict, everyone on a jury needs to commit to the same decision, not just the majority. This system is rare within companies but could be present nonetheless.

The Benefits of Participative Leadership in the Workplace

Now that you know what exactly participative leadership is, it’s worth mentioning the many benefits that come with using it in the workplace. Regardless of which type of participative leadership being used, here are some of the distinct advantages:

  • Widespread acceptance of decisions. It’s not always easy for every employee to get on board with company decisions. Poorly executed decisions or decisions that leave a majority of employees uninformed can cause rifts in the workplace.

    • Just imagine you’ve been finishing your weekly projects every Friday, and then suddenly your boss tells you they’re now due on Thursday, without telling you why.

    • While communicating and decision-making like that can foster negativity in the workplace, participative leadership can instead lead to widespread acceptance of decisions. All staff members will play a role in offering ideas and making decisions.

    • When employees feel involved, this cuts down resistance to new company policy. Employees might even have a positive outlook on the change because they thought of it and have a stake in it.

  • Boosted employee morale. Similarly to the last point, when employees are invited into the decision-making process, it can boost their morale. Instead of feeling like they’re pawns with no control in the workplace, they’ll feel valued, heard, and like they’re contributing something. All of this fosters a more positive work environment.

    Overall, staff morale will be higher because participating leadership allows them to be a part of the company’s leadership. And, they’ll even be more active because they feel like they have somewhat of a governing role.

  • More creative solutions. It can be difficult for just one person to come up with all the possible creative solutions. After all, we all have our own experiences, intelligence, and limitations.

    • Luckily, participative leadership encourages creative solutions by bringing more people with a variety of thoughts and backgrounds into the discussion. Every employee will feel empowered to use their creativity when addressing problems and potential changes.

    • For example, imagine an employee at the bookstore who noticed that mothers gravitate toward a certain fiction section and suggested moving the board-game display over to the middle of that area. That way, children with the mother might notice it and want to buy one, or mothers might be interested in buying one for their family.

    • Without this particular employee, who has experience working in that aisle, that creative idea wouldn’t be brought up. And, with participative leadership, the idea would actually have a chance of being implemented.

  • Increased employee retention. Participative leadership also allows employees to remember more thoroughly and participate more actively. After all, making decisions requires them to be informed on where their company stands and where their company intends to go in the future. This, paired with the ability to make decisions, encourages employees to stay with the company for the foreseeable future.

    The future seems bright, positive, and knowable instead of foreboding and unknown. Overall, this improves employee retention and reduces turnover.

  • Less competition, more collaboration. While a little bit of competition in the workplace is harmless, too much of it can lead to employees refusing to work together or being against each other. Instead, participative leadership encourages collaboration, which leads to a more positive and teamwork-oriented workplace.

    Everyone will be working for the common goals of the company, instead of against each other for their own benefit.

The Potential Downsides of Participative Leadership

While there are many advantages that come with implementing participative leadership, it’s also important to note a few of its downsides.

  • Slow and indecisive decision-making. Getting a dozen people to agree on one decision can be a rather arduous task. Employees have to organize into a group, bring up their ideas, and then discuss possible courses of action.

    No doubt, this can be a lengthy process and lead to one or more of the group members refusing to agree with certain solutions. Just think about how long some jury decisions take.

    With that in mind, one of the main downsides of participative leadership is the cumbersome time it takes to make decisions.

  • Potential for social pressure. Just because everyone’s voice should be heard doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Lower-level employees might still feel pressured into agreeing with their manager or the group’s majority. While this doesn’t always happen, it can reduce the effectiveness of participative leadership.

  • Added costs. When employees gather to make decisions, it reduces their time doing their usual work tasks. Even if small at first, these added costs can pile up.

  • Lack of knowledge. Not everyone at the company will have the knowledge to participate in decision making decisions. Someone from a sales background may not the knowledge to have input for the public relations department.

Final Thoughts

While participative leadership isn’t the perfect method of making decisions and implementing change in the workplace, it also has significant advantages. Employees will feel empowered, informed, and be more inclined to work together. Then, this can lead to more thoughtful, creative, and positive decisions.

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Jack Flynn

Jack Flynn is a writer for Zippia. In his professional career he’s written over 100 research papers, articles and blog posts. Some of his most popular published works include his writing about economic terms and research into job classifications. Jack received his BS from Hampshire College.

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Topics: Glossary