Participative Leadership Guide: Definition, Qualities, Pros & Cons, Examples
“Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing.” – Mary D. Poole
Participatory leadership used to be considered a difficult and controversial way to lead the troops. The traditional view of leadership supported a hierarchal style and the idea of democratizing leadership was not popular. But overtime, especially with the problems within the corporate world and after consumers’ trust had waned in these organizations, participatory or democratic leadership has continued to become an increasingly popular option for leaders.
In this guide, we’ll explore the contexts of the theory, with its background and modern approach. We’ll explain the core elements of the model, as well as the characteristics of a participative leader. Before providing a few examples of participative leaders, we’ll study the advantages and disadvantages of this theory.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT CONTEXTS OF PARTICIPATIVE LEADERSHIP
Before we start examining the current understanding and modeling of the theory, we should explore the ideas it is based on. Participative leadership idea has been developed from a few separate studies looking at human motivation and leadership theories.
Background to the theory
As participative leadership theory is focused on management, which relies on the involvement of different participants, it includes a strong component of human motivation. What motivates people to perform tasks or follow a leader?
The leadership theory’s roots are often traced back to an experiment in the 1930s, famously known as the Hawthorne experiments. The experiments, conducted at the Hawthorne Works in Illinois, US, were analyzed by Elton Mayo and others. The experiment was aimed at finding ways to improve factory productivity, although the findings related more to motivation.
The findings relating to participatory leadership saw light in the 1950s, when researcher Henry A. Landsberger examined the original experiments led by Mayo. Landsberger found that workers’ productivity increased during the participation in the experiment, because they were being observed. This had been dubbed as the Hawthorne effect. According to Crane, the experiments show that when employees feel supported through observation and participation, they are more satisfied and therefore productivity increases.
Another historical study, which has influenced participatory leadership, was Kurt Lewin’s research in the 1930s. Together with his colleagues, Lewin found there to be three different leadership styles: democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire. As we’ll explore in more detail later, all of these can be models within participatory leadership. Importantly, Lewin’s research noticed the impact different levels of participation could have on subordinate motivation.
One of the most used theories of human motivation was introduced in 1943 by Abraham Maslow and the theory has had a huge impact on participative leadership framework. In his article, A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow introduced the idea that human motivation can vary depending on the person and the need. He refers to people in his article as “a perpetually wanting animal“. In Motivation and Personality, Maslow further identified the hierarchy of needs, outlined in the below picture:
According to Maslow, these needs must be met, starting from the basic, inborn needs and moving upwards in the hierarchy. For participative leadership, the focus is on the basic, or deficiency, needs and the growth motivation.
First, deficiency needs are the bottom needs of food, safety, love and esteem. For Maslow, these are the needs people can’t live without and a deficiency in any of these needs would result into issues with mental wellbeing. When one’s psyche is pushed by the deficiency, the person can highlight defensive behaviors.
On the other hand, growth motivation occurs when these basic needs are fulfilled. In this situation, the person’s willingness to improve as a human comes from the desire to grow and fulfill goals. When you are psychologically well, i.e. you don’t have deficiencies in basic needs, you are driven by a universal will to grow, have more autonomy and excel in self-actualization.
In terms of participative leadership, the above supports the idea that participation satisfies a person’s higher-level needs, or the so-called growth motivation. If a person is deficiency motivated, then they are alleviating the need by seeking for the basic needs, such as money or love. But for growth motivation, the development of your potential or even professional growth will be the driving force. In leadership terms, the problem can be the fact that the both needs are not mutually exclusive. Maslow wrote in his earlier article,
“The average member of our society is most often partially satisfied and partially unsatisfied in all of his wants”.
The above research and theories laid the foundations for future leadership and management theories. In 1967, Rensis Likert and his associates identified a four-fold model for leadership based on three decades worth of research. Likert’s four leadership styles included:
- Exploitative Authoritative
- Benevolent Authoritative
The different styles are explained further in the SlideShare presentation below:
Likert found participative leadership to improve the teamwork, communication and overall participation of achieving objectives. The style engaged the whole organization or the specific team, with the responsibility of achieving objectives being spread across. He concluded the style to be the best in terms of long-term benefits to organizations.
Gary Yukl made similar findings in 1971. Yukl highlighted the different levels of participation and how behavior affects the effectiveness of leadership. Yukl’s four management styles included:
- Autocratic – The leader makes the decisions and there is no consultation from the subordinates.
- Consultation – The leader asks for opinions, but makes the decisions.
- Joint Decision – The leader invites ideas from subordinates and includes them in the decision-making process.
- Delegation – The leader allows the subordinates to make the decisions.
All of the above include a different level of participation from the subordinates, expect for the autocratic model.
The modern context
From the above basic concepts and findings, the theory of participatory leadership began emerging. Interestingly, the term ‘participatory’, which is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “the idea that things can be achieved more easily if everyone works together and is involved in making decisions”, embraces a number of different styles. Therefore, participative leadership can take many shapes and this has meant the clear definition of the model remains elusive.
The methods used and the forms of participation illustrate the multidimensional qualities of this concept. Therefore, focus of the theory has shifted to the decision-making style of the leader. Essentially, the different styles can be showcased on a spectrum, with the focus shifting from no participation to high participation. The spectrum can be further divided into four major types of participative decision-making. These include:
- Collective, which can be found towards the end of the spectrum of high participation. In this decision-making style, the leader and the subordinates make all the decisions as a group, with the accountability divided among each member.
- Democratic or participative leadership refers to a decision-making style that encourages input from subordinates, but the ultimate decision-making power lies with the leader. The leader has a responsibility to explain the decisions to the subordinates and resolve any objections as a group.
- Autocratic participative leadership is found closer to the no participation part of the spectrum. The decision-making power is in the hands of the leader, although the subordinates are listened to as part of the process.
- Consensus decision-making falls on the high participation end of the spectrum. The leader lets the group make the decisions, which are usually a result of a majority vote.
The above highlights well the amount of flexibility the leadership model can offer. It’s also an auspicious example of how difficult it has been in modern times to narrowly define participative leadership, as these different styles can offer plenty of maneuverability in terms of decision-making. Nonetheless, participative leadership always entails input from the leader and the subordinates. Bruce E. Kaufman summarized the theory well in a 2001 article published in the Human Resource Management Review by stating,
“Participatory management typically requires greater sharing of information, rewards, and power with front-line employees, as well as considerably greater investment in training”.
As well as understanding the different spectrum of decision-making at current participatory leadership model, research has also identified different groups based largely on the cultural tradition of leadership.
The first type of participatory leadership is prevalent in Europe and it’s referred to as representative participation. It’s a mixture of collective and consensus leadership, as the subordinates are a major part of the decision-making process and often serve on the board of directors. For example, in Germany around half of a company’s board members are elected directly by employees and employees even serve as board members.
On the other hand, participatory management is a style dominating the United States. Under this style, the subordinates are part of the decision-making process to an extent. But this only refers to decision-making in the smaller level, such as sharing responsibility with immediate supervisors, instead of the full leadership of the organization.
THE CORE ELEMENTS OF PARTICIPATIVE LEADERSHIP
What does participative leadership look in action? In this section, we’ll explore the six dimensions of participation and the six core elements that define participative leadership and often differentiate it from other leadership styles.
Six dimensions of participative leadership
As we discussed in the above section, there are different variations in terms of participation within participative leadership. The participative systems can be further divided into six types, which shall be introduced below. The six dimension of the leadership type were first introduced in 1988, as a result of studies by John L. Cotton and his colleagues.
A participative leadership system can include more than one of the below dimension or it can be based on a single system.
Dimension 1. Participation in work decisions
The first dimension typically leaves the decision-making in terms of organizational objectives for the leader. The subordinates are only included in decisions regarding the work. The participation in work decisions may include consultation or an actual power shift to the subordinates, depending on the wider system in place.
The style is identified as formal participatory structure and it is considered to be a long-term objective of the business. Furthermore, it uses a framework of direct participation.
An example of a participation in work decisions could be the decision-making for a new project’s timeline. The leader would discuss the project with the subordinates and the team as a whole would decide on how and when certain objectives shall be done and who will be in charge of doing specific tasks. On the other hand, the leader would have full control of things such as the project’s budget, for instance.
Dimension 2. Consultative participation
Consultative participation generally implies deeper participation by the subordinates in a variety of the organization’s operations. Under the dimension, the ultimate decision-making power would remain in the hands of the leader, but subordinates would be able to provide their opinions before the decision is made. It’s important to understand that consultative participation doesn’t necessarily mean the subordinates are able to influence the decision, rather that they are provided with the option of doing so.
Again, consultative participation is identified as a formal and long-term objective of an organization. The difference to the above dimension is the lower level of influence in decision-making processes.
In a workplace, this could involve the introduction of a new operating system. Subordinates would be able to provide their opinion regarding the different software alternatives and talk about their ideas in terms of the implementation. After the consultation, the leader would make the decision and report his or her reasoning back to subordinates, who might be able to respond to the decision before it is finalized.
Dimension 3. Short-term participation
Organizations could also implement short-term participation strategies. Under this dimension, subordinates are only temporarily included in the decision-making process. While the timeframe is limited, the participation often has a higher impact on the actual results.
Short-term participation is a formal structure and it utilizes the direct participation framework. Therefore, compared to the consultative participation, short-term dimension has more active role in decision-making, despite not being a long-lasting aspect of the organization.
For example, an organization might introduce a new project and ask for the team to influence how the project is implemented. This could be a short-term period for determining the processes and objectives, after which the power of decision-making would return to the leader.
Dimension 4. Informal participation
Participative leadership can also appear in a more informal framework. Under informal participation, there are no operational channels for subordinate participation in decision-making, but there can be specific situations in which this type of activity occurs. A typical informal participation framework has no set rules or procedures, but everything is set on the go.
An example of informal participation could be the leader’s decision to discuss new changes with employees face-to-face. The discussion wouldn’t be pre-planned and there might be no official participation requirements or outcomes set out.
Dimension 5. Employee ownership
Under employee ownership, the subordinates will be able to participate in some decision-making, but the activity depends on the role of the employee. Employees in lower positions tend to have fewer options for participation compared to their higher positioned colleagues. Furthermore, the participative leadership framework is formal, but it encourages an indirect model of behavior.
Employee ownership could manifest in the subordinates having a stake in the organization, yet not have many channels for influencing how the company operates. Only major decisions might be ran through the subordinates.
Dimension 6. Representative participation
The final dimension deals with representative participation. The model sees a three-level participation framework. There is the leader, the representatives and the employees. The representatives have the consultative power and certain influence in decision-making, representing the wishes of the employee. They act as mediators between the leader and the subordinates.
This kind of participation requires a formal structure. Furthermore, it is characterized by an indirect notion of participation.
An organization often has the so-called middle managers, who act as messengers between the higher ranked leader and the employees. Before a decision, the representative might consult employees and then make a decision together with the leader. In certain cases, there might not be official consultation, but rather the representative aims to provide input through experience and understanding of the employees and their wishes.
Six-parts to operation
Another key characteristic of participative leadership is the operational structure it tends to take. Again, you must be aware that the different participative dimensions might influence the implementation of the below steps. Nonetheless, the framework is commonly present in a participative leadership model.
1. Facilitating conversations
Under the framework, the leader is the person starting the conversation around a specific decision. It is the leader’s role to facilitate the conversation and often to set the procedural guidelines for how the conversation will take place.
For example, the leader might set rules and procedures ready for regular team meetings where different issues are discussed. In certain circumstances, these might later be decided together as the group. But the initial responsibility of starting the discussion and ensuring the participative process runs smoothly relies on the leader to facilitate it.
2. Sharing information and knowledge
Furthermore, the responsibility of sharing information is on the leader. The more participative the framework, the more knowledge the leader should provide for the subordinates.
It’s important for the leader to make judgments on what type of information is required and how the leader wants to share this information. As we’ll discuss in the section about the disadvantages of the leadership style, creating an appropriate structure for sharing information can be difficult. Unequal levels of knowledge can be detrimental for making the right decisions and therefore this is a crucial part of participative leadership.
3. Encouraging idea collaboration
The following step includes the encouragement of opinions in order to nurture collaboration. The leader plays a crucial role in creating an environment, which is engaging and open. It’s important subordinates feel their opinions are welcomed and respected.
Ideas are best shared in groups, as this means the opinions and suggestions can be immediately dissected and analyzed. But in certain situations, it might be valuable to encourage discussion privately with the leader as well.
One way to do this is by using brainstorming sessions with your team.
4. Synthesizing the available information
Once the collaboration period is over, the leader must collect the information and start analyzing it. The leader should spend some time exploring the suggestions and understanding the pros and cons of the ideas. It’s also a good idea to examine whether there are similarities or overlapping suggestions, which might help with the decision-making.
The leader can at this point let go of ideas, which seem implausible. Furthermore, it’s possible to have further discussions, in terms of clarifying some of the ideas, with the subordinates.
5. Making the right decision
When the leader feels they have enough data available to make the right decision, they can do so. In this step, the decision-making process can drastically differ, depending on the participation dimension.
A more autocratic model will simply have the leader pick up the best option from the consultation he or she had with subordinates. On the other hand, the decision-making might be a shared process with the subordinates, in which case the team comes up with the right solution through consensus.
6. Communicating the decision to others
Depending on how the decision was made (a leader alone or the group together), the final element in participative leadership framework deals with the communication of the decision.
The leader generally explains the decision to subordinates and provides the reasons behind the resolve. At this point, the subordinates can voice any concern or further suggestions they might have, although it must be clear the decision has already been made.
THE QUALITIES OF A PARTICIPATIVE LEADER
The participative leadership style puts quite a bit of pressure on the leader. This might seem surprising since the style generally makes decision-making easier, as the leader might share responsibilities with subordinates. But sometimes having to involve others in the process can add extra layers of requirements for a leader.
Let’s examine the common characteristics of a participative leader and the actions you should focus on if you want to become better at this leadership style.
The characteristics you need to have
When the decision-making is shared and you are required to include other people within the circle of leadership, the focus should be on communication and engagement. Therefore, the following characteristics can help in your role as a participative leader.
Participative leadership won’t work if the subordinates don’t feel comfortable enough to approach the leader. If you are aggressive or introvert in nature, it might be difficult to engage other people in the discussion.
An approachable leader makes subordinates feel at ease. This means you should aim to improve the way you react to other people – stay neutral, yet positive in the face of all sorts of news. If you are able to stay calm and energetic, even when employees give bad news, the subordinates won’t feel scared to talk about the negative aspects of the work.
You can further improve your approachability by ensuring you always have time to talk with subordinates. Even when you are busy at the given moment, organize a time as soon as possible to go over the issues the employee wanted to talk about.
#2 Good communicator
As mentioned above, you must be a good communicator in order to excel as a participative leader. There are two key aspects of communication in this leadership style: the ability to take in information and the ability to provide information.
Communication is not just about you talking. Non-verbal communication can help other people find you more approachable and better at getting your message across. It’s a crucial part of being able to take in information. You need to be a good listener and to ensure you always understand what the other person means. This means being able to ask the right questions and to analyze the body language and verbal approach of the person.
The second aspect relates to your own communication style. You need to develop enough clarity in your speech to convey the message. A participative leader must be able to share his or her knowledge with others, without causing confusion. You also need to communicate with an authoritative, yet empathetic manner.
You’ll require empathy and thoughtfulness as a participative leader. You are going to closely deal with your team, which might include all sorts of different characters and you need to be able to get along with all of them.
Consideration of people’s opinions and their emotions is an important part of the leadership framework, as it helps create an open environment that encourages collaboration.
The below SlideShare presentation on Empathy Training provides plenty of tips on how to expand your thoughtfulness and become more empathetic.
No matter what dimension of participative leadership you are focusing on, you will have to consult your subordinates to a degree. Therefore, you must be able to take in suggestions and ideas, even if they contradict with what you think is the right thing to do.
Open-mindedness can be difficult to achieve, as it’s not simply the ability to listen to other opinions. You must be able to look at other concepts and methods in an objective and unbiased manner. If you can’t remove your own biases from the thinking, then you aren’t truly open to subordinates’ suggestions.
In order to be more open-minded, you should immerse yourself with different approaches and ideas. Read books that are different to your natural preferences, listen to people who you don’t agree with and learn more about different ideas, cultures and practices, especially out of your comfort zone.
Finally, a participative leader must empower other people. Since you are not the only person in charge, you want to ensure others are able to lead. The key is to empower them through knowledge and encouragement.
As a participative leader, you want to ensure subordinates have enough opportunities to learn and develop themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean purely in terms of their careers, but also in areas such as leadership and self-development. Provide them the opportunities to become the best leaders they can be.
You should also provide subordinates with support. If things go wrong, don’t be the first to judge and criticize. Instead, treat it as a learning experience and walk through the issues with the employee. The more you empower your subordinates, the better the organization will do.
Check out the inspirational video on the importance of empowering others.
How to behave as participative leader
Apart from the above characteristics, there are certain actions you should focus on as a participative leader. These can enhance the participate framework within the organization and help you turn the leadership style into a success.
Understand the organization’s objectives and ethics
When you start in a leadership position, it’s important to spend some time understanding the organization’s objectives and ethics. While participatory leadership focuses on including subordinates to the process, the focus is still to reach these organizational goals.
Therefore, you should first analyze them and then explain them to subordinates to ensure you make solid decision-based on these objectives, and as a team.
Learn to share decision-making duties
It’s obvious that sharing decision-making plays a big role in participative leadership. But as mentioned above, if you are a controlling person, learning to let go can sometimes be difficult.
You want to start providing more decision-making duties slowly, to ensure you build trust with subordinates, but also become more comfortable in not being the only one in charge.
Provide enough information for subordinates
As you’ll see in the next section, sharing information is a balancing act in a participative leadership framework. You need to inform subordinates enough to ensure they provide opinions based on the best knowledge available, but you also have to protect sensitive information getting into wrong hands.
Your role is to balance the flow of information and to ensure you help subordinates understand the new procedures and roles. Big part of informing subordinates comes from explaining your decisions. Whenever you make a decision, it’s important to walk through your reasoning with the subordinates. This doesn’t just teach them more about leadership, but helps remove any resentment and confusion.
Don’t shy away from changing things around
Participative leadership should not be considered a stagnant model. If you or the subordinates feel things aren’t working, then you need to be willing to shake things around.
This could mean increasing or decreasing subordinate participation, for example. The key is to be open to change and avoid following certain routes simply because you’ve always done so.
Express appreciation whenever appropriate
Inclusion doesn’t just mean involving people into the decision-making progress, listening to them and then walking away. You need to show your support and appreciation for the people that help you make better decisions as a leader.
Even when you don’t follow their opinion or if a decision they’ve made proves to be unfruitful, you need to provide both critique and positive feedback. It might seem like a cliché, but if someone has tried their hardest, then they deserve a bit of praise even if the outcome wasn’t the best.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF PARTICIPATIVE LEADERSHIP
With the different types of participative leadership styles, the model comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. A number of the benefits and failings of the theory depend on the level of participation included.
Advantages of participative leadership
Let’s start by examining the advantages of participative leadership. The benefits of this model can be divided into two separate groups: tangible and intangible benefits. Under tangible benefits, an organization could see improvements in productivity, turnover rate and absenteeism rate, along with its costs. On the other hand, intangible benefits include things such as improved employee motivation, job satisfaction and enhanced work morale. We’ll discuss both groups of benefits below.
One of the clearest benefits of the theory is the increased number of opinions involved in decision-making. Whether the leader uses a more autocratic style or a more consensus style, different opinions and ideas are listened to and allowed to fester. The plethora of ideas can improve decision-making, as the actions are based on a broader set of values and viewpoints. Therefore, you might be able to reach much more creative solutions. Katherine Phillips, associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, outlined her research findings in a Forbes article. In the study, homogenous and diverse groups were solving murder mysteries. According to Phillips,
“The diverse groups reported that they didn’t work together very effectively, and they were less confident about their decisions than the homogeneous groups, yet they outperformed those homogeneous groups.”
The broader view in terms of listening to opinions can also take off pressure from a single person, or mainly, the leader. Instead of one person having to learn everything regarding a specific project, the responsibilities can be shared and people’s strengths in terms of knowledge put to a good use. Not only does this mean that you can use your knowledge as an advantage, but also utilize your creativity to its fullest.
Because of the participatory nature in decision-making, the overall work morale can improve. Under participatory leadership, even when decision-making relies on the leader’s final decision, the subordinates can feel more appreciated and valued. Their opinions are listened to and they have the avenues to influence the direction the team or the organization takes. The workplace environment is much more open under this type of leadership and the subordinates can feel more connected and involved in the organization and its direction. Participatory leadership creates a stronger culture of ‘we’ instead of ‘us and them’. Since everyone in the organization is involved to a different degree, everyone feels they have a stake in the future of the organization.
Furthermore, when the subordinates have been able to have a say in the policies, projects or processes, they are more likely to accept them. The acceptance can take place, even though they might not have fully supported the idea. Nonetheless, they understand the decision because it was made after consultation and discussion. As mentioned above, even in systems where the leader makes the final decision, the subordinates are provided with the opportunity to understand why and to question the decision.
Since participative leadership involves consultation before decision-making processes, subordinates have more time to adjust to the changes that might happen within the organization. New policies and procedures are not just announced and then implemented, which ensures employees are able to adjust and slowly shift their mindset to the new way of doing things. The removal of rapid decision-making and changes can provide employees with more peace of mind and stability.
Overall, participative leadership can be helpful in employee retention. Since employees feel more engaged, they have a voice in determining the organization’s direction and they don’t have to deal with sudden changes, they are more likely to want to remain in the organization. This can help the organization to cut down costs.
Disadvantages of participative leadership
Despite the above advantages, participative leadership does have a downside. As mentioned at the start of the chapter, the disadvantages can depend slightly on the degree of subordinate participation.
If you implement a high degree participatory leadership with little control from the leader, the decision-making can become extremely slow and laborious. If the model bases itself on the consensus-style decision-making, then problems in reaching consensus can result in higher costs and even disagreements within the group. Reaching a decision that everyone likes is often not an easy thing to do, especially the more diverse the workforce.
Disagreements during the process can easily lead to resentment, if subordinates start feeling like their opinions aren’t listened to or respected. People can have different motivations and objectives, which clash the objectives of others. This can make it difficult for the leader to control the conversation and ensure people don’t start taking different opinions personally. The emphasis on communication skills is not just on the leader’s corner, but each subordinate must also be willing to develop their style and understanding in order to have fruitful and open conversations.
Furthermore, even in a more autocratic model, where the leader has the final say, the process of consultation can lead to delays. Listening to everyone’s opinion and then consulting the subordinates on the decision can mean the leader and the subordinates are spending their time inefficiently. Occasionally in organizations, it is much better to just get on with the job. Spending time trying to reach a decision can mean cuts in productivity and therefore lead to financial losses. In addition, if you consider things such as making deals with third parties, you can even lose a deal simply because the organization took too much time trying to come up with its desired terms.
In both instances, the shared decision-making can also create issues with the quality of the decisions, not just time. If the decision-making is shared, people with different levels of knowledge and understanding of the issue can influence the outcome. Therefore, decision might be taken based on wrong or insufficient information. While different ideas can help boost creativity, when it comes to factual decisions, the more people are giving their opinions, the less accurate the overall information can be.
Differences in knowledge are not always the fault of the subordinate. For instance, certain information might need to be withheld from subordinates in order to protect organizational security. Therefore, subordinates could be providing their input without knowing the full picture. The ideas they provide might differ dramatically from the advice they’d give if they knew all the details.
In addition, if you consider solving the above issue by providing subordinates more access to classified information you might end up creating another problem. The more you share sensitive information, the more you increase the possibility that it’ll leak. Subordinates might not leak out information on purpose, but might accidentally slip something or forget a company document to a public space. If certain information gets out, your competitors can use it and the organization will face financial and sometimes even reputational damage.
EXAMPLES OF FAMOUS PARTICIPATIVE LEADERSHIP
Due to its inclusive nature and the benefits participatory leadership can provide to an organization, the leadership model has been favored by a number of world’s leaders. Studying the leaders who’ve made the template work can help you understand the elements of the theory in more detail.
Below are a few famous examples of participative leadership in action.
Bob Diamond / Barclays
Margaret Thatcher is a controversial figure in UK politics, but she did set up the scene for Bob Diamond’s participative leadership to flourish. Thatcher’s decision to deregulate the financial markets created a strong financial hub in London and allowed Diamond to take advantage of the situation at Barclays.
Diamond had a unique approach to leadership, as he didn’t believe in government hand-outs and support, but worked directly with people and customers in order to create a strong, global bank. Diamond added a lot of risk taking to his approach and his style has often been considered aggressive.
The ability to listen to people’s opinions and consider different approaches provided Diamond’s Barclays a huge advantage during the financial crash. While most banks required government bailouts, Barclays was able to continue without the need for a bailout – Barclays even took over some American assets.
Although Diamond fell from grace in 2012 after Barclays found itself in the middle of a fixing scandal, his leadership still provided some of the best financial results for the bank. Naturally, it is fair to ask, whether the means were justified or ethical, but the organization still had an effective and a participatory leader in Bob Diamond.
Bill Gates / Microsoft
Another perfect example of a participatory leader is Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates. Gates understood the value of empowering people and he realized that the best way to beat competition is by allowing the most knowledgeable people to make the decisions. He wanted the right people in positions of innovation, processing, production and marketing – not to be the one holding all the pieces together.
At Microsoft, people who needed specific information were able to get it. This created an environment where people knew what was going on in other parts of the company and thus, they were able to plan their own activities better. Unsurprisingly, Gates also implemented a strong digital landscape for communication. This made sharing ideas easier and collaboration was able to boost innovation within the company.
Gates participatory leadership goes beyond Microsoft as well. He has been involved in giving back to the community, which highlights his understanding that leadership is more than just the pursuit of financial gain. In fact, many of the company’s products are about global participation and connection, ensuring everyone has a chance to take part in the global economy and society.
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others”, is a great example of what participatory leadership aims to do.
Jim Lentz / Toyota
While Gates’ participatory style provided subordinates more freedom in terms of decision-making and power, Lentz has used a more autocratic version of the leadership model. Nonetheless, his style is participatory because he has include others and been highly transparent about the operational processes within the auto manufacturer.
Lentz’ leadership was tested during a potentially disastrous break scandal. In 2014, the company had to recall 2.3 million cars due to faulty breaks, which had led to plenty of dangerous situations. If the company hadn’t acted, the potential for worse and for a huge lawsuit galore might have taken place.
Instead of ducking responsibility, Lentz took action and became increasingly open about the situation. He didn’t try to hide or let others deal with it. Lentz opened up the doors and started explaining the situation to others, involving them in the situation and the decision-making. Customers, employees and other activists asked questions and Lentz answered.
Due to this participatory and transparent approach, Lentz was able to save Toyota’s reputation from suffering from larger damage.
Lentz has acknowledged his style to be participative. In a 2013 interview, he said,
“I get energized by ideas. I think my strength is quickly evaluating ideas and making decisions. The more sources of ideas I have, the better decisions I can make.”
The below interview is an interesting watch, as Lentz’ approach to leadership shines through in some of the questions:
Carlos Ghosn / Renault & Nissan
Another participative leader in the world of auto manufacturer is Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. The big defining aspect of Ghosn’s leadership culture is the inclusion and more importantly the embracing of cultural differences.
In 1999, Goshn manages to turn around the organization by slashing costs and closing unprofitable factories. In fact, he managed to turn the company into one of the most profitable in a short space of time. He has also embraced diversity, not just by pushing the cars into new territories, but also by including local management into the operations. In an interview with McKinsey, Ghosn stated,
“Because we have people from so many different countries and cultures, we pay a lot of attention to how we communicate. As a result, when crisis strikes, our people in Japan know they can count on support and cross-functional work from people in many other different regions.” He went on further saying, “We are accustomed to always looking around, trying to find out who has the best ideas.”
Ghosn is an objective-focused leader, but he allows his team to be part of the decision-making process, as he believes the teams are best suited to knowing what needs to be done. “We will encourage our employees to make their decisions based on an existing experience,” he once said. He likes to discuss procedures and bounce off ideas to come to a solid conclusion of the best approach.
Furthermore, Ghosn involves his staff in strategic decisions, as he believes this can be a powerful way to influence staff morale. As we discussed in the previous section, being able to have a say in the policies can provide peace of mind to employees and make changes seem less dramatic.
Participative leadership is part of the surge to democratize the workplace and remove the traditional top-down leadership frameworks. Although participative leadership is often referred to as the democratic leadership style, you shouldn’t see it through a single lens of democracy. Indeed, as the above has shown, participative leadership framework can come in many levels of inclusion – employees might have the full say, or the leader might only listen to them before making decisions.
Whenever you add more opinions and consultation to a decision-making process, you hinder the speed of reaching a consensus. In certain instances, the saying “Many cooks spoil the broth” can be true under the leadership model. It doesn’t always make things smoother to have more players involved.
Yet, the style also enhances creativity and guarantees employees become more involved and invested with the company they work for. It can create a much bigger sense of a community and add enthusiasm to the workplace. Since the participative leadership framework has room for varied styles of inclusion, the model can be a good choice in a business environment.