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What is Participative Leadership?

Updated on October 9, 2012

Participation - Road to Enlightened Business Practices


This hub introduces the leadership management concept called participative leadership. Since the turn of the 20th century, social and behavioral scientists have become more interested in behaviors of organizations. This growing interest grew out of the industrial revolution as business and governmental organizations wanted to learn what leadership and management behaviors would be most effective in motivating employees to give their optimum efforts. Corporate and organizational executives gradually came to understand that treating employees well added to their profitability in the long term. Over the course of those studies, organizational scholars and practitioners observed and defined a number of leadership management theories and styles including:

  • Autocratic leadership
  • Authoritarian leadership
  • Laissez-faire leadership
  • Situational leadership
  • Transformational and transactional leadership
  • Servant leadership
  • Authentic leadership
  • Ethical leadership

Most of the more recent leadership theories and styles focused on employee well-being and encouraged participation from follower-subordinates. Leadership experts observed that organizations could enhance their efforts by drawing on the knowledge and expertise of everyone involved in the operations of the organization. Thus, those leadership scholars and practitioners proposed more democratic leadership styles. One more democratic type of leadership management style has been called participative leadership. This hubs outlines the major tenets of participative leadership.

Leadership for Long-Term Success

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Participative Leadership Defined

Participative leadership can be defined as a leadership style that allows members of the organization, team, and or other stakeholders to take an active role in the design, strategic planning, and or decision-making process of the organization.

Participative Leaders Recognize Their Own Limitations

Leaders who encourage participation from some or all of those potentially impacted by the success or failure of organization understand that they themselves are finite with a limited knowledge base. Those leader managers realize that they do not hold a monopoly of awareness and foresight on the all potential avenues to success or failure.

Participative Leaders Welcome the Insights of Follower-Subordinates

Leaders who solicit active participation from follower-subordinates and other stakeholders recognize the value those same stakeholders bring to the organization in terms of knowledge and expertise. Participative leadership understands the collective pool of knowledge and insight of all members far outweighs the knowledge and insight of one individual or group. Indeed, if all members of the organization are not allowed to share their ideas openly, then the organization may not have the best ideas on the table from which to derive a winning strategy.

The Main Advantages of Participative Leadership

There many advantages of participative leadership. Perhaps, the two most important advantages of including others in the decision-making process are (a) a wider base of knowledge from which to derive the optimum corporate strategy and (b) greater chance of buy in or ownership by follower-subordinates and other stakeholders in a proposed organizational strategy.

Participative Leadership Helps Increases the Knowledge Base from Which to Operate

The first major advantage of participative leadership is the increased knowledge base from which to draw when designing a corporate strategy. This concept has already been mentioned above, but it cannot be overemphasized. The more knowledge decision-makers have at their disposal concerning the prevailing environment within which their organization operates and competes the broader awareness and foresight they will possess to make informed decisions about the present and future of their organizations.

Jim Collins (2001) and his group of researchers reported in the book Good to Great that companies that made the transition from mediocre to top Wall Street performers did so under the helm of CEOs who were not afraid to hire others who were more talented and had greater expertise and insight than themselves. Those same CEOs allowed those top recruits to speak open and candidly and argue their points without fear of reprisal because they knew that future success was contingent upon the knowledge and insights of those experts.

Participative Leadership Fosters Ownership of Decision by Other Stakeholders

Stakeholders are defined as all persons who are directly and indirectly impacted by the decisions and operations of a given organization or corporation. Especially in mostly democratic societies like those in Western Europe, North America, and Australia, participative leadership has led to more ownership in the decision by follower-subordinates and other stakeholders. In democratic societies, employees want to have a say in the affairs of their organizations. When follower-subordinates are allowed to express their opinions and insights, those same follower-subordinates are more apt to be motivated to give their best efforts to the cause. Enlightened executives also open communication to former and potential customers to express their views, too.

After he took over as CEO Julio Linares of Telefónica de España led his company from negative returns to profitability by allowing employees from all levels of the organization to participate in the process of designing a new corporate strategy (Josep Isern and Julie Shearn, McKinsey Quarterly, August 2005). After 10 years of negative growth, the CEO of Embraer Aircraft of Brazil opened lines of communication to all their customers to allow those customers to express their views of how Embraer could better meet their needs. After implementing the ideas of their customers, Embraer advanced to profitability and has now grown to be one of the world's largest suppliers of aircraft behind AirBus and Boeing.

Crisis Management

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The Main Disadvantage of Participative Leadership

Perhaps the most prominent disadvantage of participative leadership is the pace of decision-making. Under this type of leadership style, decision-making can take much more time than under autocratic or authoritarian styles. Julio Linares came to his company in a time of intense crisis which dictated the need to make quick stopgap decisions. Linares did not have the luxary to enage all employees at the beginning of his tenure because he had to make quick decisions in order to stabilize the company. After the Telefonica de Espana operations were stabilized, Linares moved to a broader strategy of inclusion in the design of the companies future. Thus, participative leadership seems to bring better results over the long run, but may not be the best leadership strategy in the time of crisis.


Participative leadership is a democratic style of leadership that opens lines of communications to all stakeholders including follower-suboridantes from all levels of the organization as well as former, current, and future clients. Participative leadership often leads to greater ownership of decisions by follower-subordinates and other stakeholders. Participative leadership often leads to more stable operations in the long run but may be too slow in times of crisis. Even so, these types of leaders and managers recognize the value each member of their organization brings in that organization in terms of knowledge, expertise, and insights.


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      This is a good description of what leadership should actually follow. I wish some people I knew would read this one. Great write up.


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