The How and Why of Participative Leadership

Published: 15th May 2008
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As a business owner, one of your biggest challenges is to lead your team well. Should you focus on employee participation at the cost of business goals? Or do you "show them how it's done" and expect the team to follow your lead? Is there a different approach for every situation?

In this piece, we'll take a look at a particular leadership style - "participative leadership" and its benefits.
Leadership means different things to different people. However, a generally accepted definition is that it "is a process that takes place in groups in which one member influences and controls the behavior of the other members toward a common goal."

While every leader creates his or her mantra of leadership, most leadership practices fall into one of these categories. Try and figure out your style!

Directive Leadership: You have the first and last word, and the group merely follows instructions. Do we sense a secret longing to be in the army!

Supportive Leadership: You create warm, personal relationships with your team members in order to coax their best efforts.

Participative Leadership: Group members are involved in the decision making process right from the start, by contributing their ideas and suggestions. You're a strong believer in team work.

Achievement Oriented Leadership: You give your team a goal and they work independently towards achieving it. Either you're plain lazy, or more likely, have a high degree of confidence in your team's ability.

For now, let us take a closer look at Participative Leadership

A person who follows the participative leadership style will get a buy-in from group members on most changes and important decisions, before implementing them. However, the leader is still the final decision making authority. Remember, participative leadership is not about reaching consensus - if you keep looking for universal approval, you'll never get anything done.



Some people feel that participative leadership is a "female thing" and makes you look soft. Let's set the record straight - using this style is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it's a strength that your team will respect you for.

When does participative leadership work?

While it's not practical to change your approach with every situation, you might like to try participative leadership under specific conditions. Say you're working on an assignment where you have limited expertise but your employees collectively have a lot of knowledge and experience. Using participative leadership is likely to create a win-win for both - they will feel included and you'll make better informed decisions. And if you're the owner of a start-up firm, getting buy-in on key issues from your core team members could prove invaluable.

Can I learn to be a participative leader?

Sure! Leaders are made, not born. Here are some of the important tips offered by experts:

Encourage group values: Allow the group to establish values and thereby take ownership. Of course, these will have to support the firm's objectives.

Share vision: Participative leadership is all about sharing, starting with your dreams for the firm. Let your employees know where they're headed.

Create a healthy environment: It is your responsibility to create an environment based on trust and mutual respect. Give your employees their space. No growth is possible without it.

Equip the team: No point taking their inputs, if they don't have the necessary skills for the job! Ensure they have the tools and the training.

Organize and energize: Not every speech needs to be "rah rah", but it's important that you nurture and motivate your employees. Get those juices to flow!

Take and give feedback: Two-way communication is the cornerstone of participative leadership. Be generous with praise and objective with criticism. Talk, but also listen.

Expect accountability: Since your employees are given more responsibility, they must be accountable for their actions. At the same time, don't turn into a control freak!

If you are interested in knowing more, take a look at which features a wide selection of books on leadership.

What's in it for me?

Participative leadership is not all about feeling good about yourself. It can take you through many challenging business situations.

Implementing change: Regular involvement of the team prior to introducing the change will ensure that they're already prepared for the transition. This works better than a separate "buy-in meeting" that other types of leaders might resort to.

Encouraging risk taking: A senior manager from a global telecom company relates how he used participative leadership to encourage employees to think out of the box, while charting their company's growth plan.

Solving technical problems: If you need to get a group of gruff, technically qualified people to solve a complex problem, a participative leadership style will help draw out their combined expertise.

So, is participative leadership the best?

There's probably no answer to that one. Each style works better in a specific situation and vice versa. Participative leadership is no different - while we've talked about the benefits, it's equally important to recognize those instances where it won't work. A situation that requires firm control and immediate action - like say, a disaster site, certainly cannot afford a consultative approach. To be an effective participative leader, you must also develop an astute judgment for when not to use it!

Hi, I'm Akhil Shahani, a serial entrepreneur who wants to help you succeed. If you like to work smart, check out http://www.SmartEntrepreneur.net . It's full of articles and resources to help you start and grow your business successfully. Please visit us & download our special "Freebie of The Month" at

http://www.smartentrepreneur.net/freebie-of-the-month.html



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