Participative Leadership Theory and Decision-making Style

By Eleanor Myers, published Aug 26, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Participative leadership is one of the four participative decision-making styles. It is a leadership style in which, as the name suggests, all team members are encouraged to provide input and thoughts about group goals and decisions.

Some well-known examples of participative leaders include Bill Gates and Jim Lentz.

With this leadership style, employees are much more heavily involved in the organizational activities than they would be under other leadership styles.

While participative leadership is not as common in the corporate world, some professions may benefit from adopting this style. Participative leadership promotes a democratic process for decision-making as well as creativity among team members (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).

In this decision-making process, group members are welcome to share their ideas and opinions when a decision must be made about something related to the group.

Other notable qualities of participative leadership include the leader being honest with the members about the circumstances of the group and providing them with counseling, training, and development opportunities.

These actions show members that the leader is invested in them as well as the company as a whole. Participative leadership is collaborative, with an emphasis on interactions between leaders and followers and with communication being a crucial element of this leadership style.

Since decisions are made by the entire group in the participative leadership style, discussion among members and the leader is important to making decisions quickly and effectively. Without proper communication, decisions in a participatively-led group may be made slowly and without gathering input from all group members.

Characteristics of a Participative Leadership

Values Team Members' Skills

A participative leader values the thoughts and talents of their team members (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).  

The involvement of many team members is bound to bring a greater number and a larger variety of skills than any one leader may have, which is a clear advantage of the participative leadership style.  This benefit is clearly recognized by the leader, and used to better the group in many ways.

Open-Minded

A participative leader is also open-minded, which is an important trait when taking into account a variety of opinions from the group. 

When group members are sharing their thoughts, it is crucial for the leader to have an open mind so that they can consider new ideas that may not have ever occurred to them.  If the leader of a group is not open-minded, it is almost a waste of time for group members to express their opinions.  

However, if the leader is open-minded, the leader can best deliberate what the best ideas are. Utilizing many different ideas can lead to developments and improvements for a group that may never have been reached without this participative leadership style.

A Good Facilitator

Good communication skills are another important quality of a good participative leader (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).  Part of good communication involves providing a space for sharing, and "creating a friendly atmosphere" (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).  

In order to receive every group member's input and thoughts on a decision in a participative leadership style, the leader of the group must make sure to facilitate open, inviting conversations. 

People are more likely to be honest and open about their opinions in a comfortable space, and for the participative leadership style to be effective, it is important to have members' true thoughts regarding group decisions.

A Good Listener

With the inclusive nature of a participative leadership style, there is likely to be lots of different ideas floating around the group at times. Therefore, a participative leader must be present and attentive as much as possible. If a leader is not a good listener, it is very difficult to be a participative leader. 

Being a good listener does not just mean simply hearing what is being said, but to be actively listening to what the needs of the group are. A participative leader should pay attention to what the group is expressing and to not respond until the group members have finished their point.

Encourages Accountability

A further quality of a participative leader is that they encourage accountability. 

Since all group members are part of the decision-making process in this leadership style, this comes with more personal responsibility. This contrasts with members of a group under other leadership styles. 

Due to additional responsibility for group members, a participative leader must encourage members to take their roles within the group seriously.

Additionally, since a participative leadership style can have a more lengthy decision-making process, it is important for group members to know their roles and responsibilities. In this way, they will be able to work efficiently and make the decision-making process as fast as it can be.

Types of Participative Leadership Styles

Collective Decision-Making

In collective decision-making, the leader makes it clear that the entire group is responsible for whatever decision they have come to. Additionally, they clarify the responsibilities of each individual in the group.  

This leadership style is especially beneficial if group members have different roles in the decision-making process that are all important to the final decision, as this style emphasizes the clarity of these roles.

Consensus Decision-Making

In consensus decision-making, the decision-making process is completely up to the group members, without involvement from the groups’ leader.

This decision-making style involves a majority/minority situation, where the decision has to be approved by the majority of the group. When a decision is accepted by the majority, the minority of those who don't initially agree have to agree to go along with the decision. 

Autocratic Decision-Making

In autocratic decision-making, the participative aspect of decision-making occurs in the brainstorming phase, not in the final decision phase.  

In this type of participative decision-making, the leader makes the decision alone, but welcomes others' opinions along the way. In this decision-making style, the leader takes on more responsibility since they are the one that makes the final decision.

This style of decision-making can speed up the decision-making process, is goal-oriented, and is improved by the collective input of all group members. 

Democratic Decision-Making

In democratic decision-making, group members are a part of the decision-making process, but the leader of the group makes the final decision and then runs it by the group members . 

Although autocratic decision-making is much more of a speedier process, democratic leadership is more people-oriented and quality-oriented.

Advantages of Participative Leadership

Overall, the participative leadership style is advantageous because it gives all members of the group a voice and makes them feel like they are being heard. This inclusivity tends to make the group members more invested in the goals of the group and therefore may improve the overall group performance. 

Along those lines, participative leadership leads to more productiveness because group members are more dedicated to the problem at hand (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).  

Another advantage of participative leadership is that it leads to greater creativity, as more people being a part of the decision-making process leads to a greater variety of ideas (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).  Participative leadership also leads to better performance when the leader is not around than there may be in other leadership styles.

A study on participative leadership style highlighted how different aspects of participative leadership are beneficial for group members at multiple levels of a company (Huang et al., 2009). 

The researchers found that "the link between superiors' participative leadership behaviors and subordinates' task performance and organizational citizenship behavior toward organizations (OCBO) was mediated by psychological empowerment (motivational mediator) for managerial subordinates" and "mediated by trust-in-supervisor (exchange-based mediator)" for subordinates that were non-managerial (Huang et al., 2009).

Another study that looked at this leadership style found "that participative leadership was positively related to employees' work engagement and job satisfaction" and that "this positive relationship between participative leadership and job satisfaction was stronger when employees had more fun at work" (Chan, 2019). 

This study highlights additional advantages of participative leadership style, as well as emphasizing the importance of fun in the work environment.

Disadvantages of Participative Leadership

While participative leadership style has many advantages, it also has some disadvantages.  One disadvantage of this leadership style is that with so many people involved in the decision-making process, the process may be lengthy time-wise. In order to hear a variety of opinions and to potentially have room for debate before coming to a decision for the group, much time may be needed.

Another disadvantage of participative leadership style is that social pressure may be a contributing factor in decision-making. With multiple people being a part of the decision-making process, it is impossible to assume that every member's opinion is their own true thoughts.

Members may be influenced to lean towards a particular direction to make another member happy. Likewise, there may be unaccounted-for hierarchy among members, where people lower in the hierarchy may feel pressured to act in ways of those higher in the hierarchy. 

When is participative leadership most effective?

Participative leadership is most effective when "the followers have greater education and work experience", and "when the leader needs direction, and fresh ideas from followers are needed" (Zylfijaj et al., 2014).

Since participative leadership involves all members in the decision-making process, it is most effective when the members are best prepared and when a variety of ideas are desired.

When is participative leadership not so effective?

Participative leadership is not so effective when group members are not invested in the group or do not have the group's best interests in mind.

If group members have ulterior motives or do not make decisions that would benefit the group, it would be detrimental to the group as a whole to consider all team members' opinions, as a participative leader would.

In this scenario, it would be most beneficial to have one leader making decisions for the group, as long as they were making decisions for the benefit of the group as a whole and not just for their personal benefit.

What is the difference between participative and democratic leadership?

The difference between participative and democratic leadership is in the decision-making process: in a participative leadership style, the leader makes the final decision but uses group members' ideas and thoughts along the way. While in democratic leadership, a vote is taken where each team member has equal say in the ultimate decision.

About the Author

Eleanor Myers is a member of the class of 2023 at Princeton University, majoring in psychology. She works as a research assistant at the Princeton Baby Lab and currently studies child-directed discourse. She plans to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduation.

Fact Checking
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Cite this Article (APA Style)

Myers, E. (2022, Aug 26). Participative Leadership Theory and Decision-making Style. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/participative-leadership.html

Sources

Chan, S. C. (2019). Participative leadership and job satisfaction: The mediating role of work engagement and the moderating role of fun experienced at work. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 40(3), 319-333. 

Huang, X., Iun, J., Liu, A., & Gong, Y. (2010). Does participative leadership enhance work performance by inducing empowerment or trust? The differential effects on managerial and non‐managerial subordinates. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(1), 122-143. 

Lam, C. K., Huang, X., & Chan, S. C. (2015). The threshold effect of participative leadership and the role of leader information sharing. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3), 836-855.

ZYLFIJAJ, K., REXHEPI, L., & GRUBI, A. K. (2014). Authoritarian Leadership VS. Participative Leadership in Organizations. Studiorum University di Bologna.