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Participative Leadership

Why should you adopt a participative leadership style? In today’s competitive service economy, so many workers are highly educated, sophisticated, intelligent, skilled professionals. Gaining the commitment of, and motivating highly skilled professionals, is difficult unless they:

  • Can voice and are empowered to exercise an appropriate level of creativity and control over their work
  • Are invested in the organization’s success and future
  • Believe they are valued and respected for their contributions
  • Trust that the leadership team is not saying and playing two different games
  • Believe the leaders are competent to lead the organization forward

Being a participative leader means involving your team in the decision making process.  Fundamentally participatory leadership involves the selective sharing of power and control to optimize decision-making and performance.  In some cases leaders will leave a key decision to his or her subordinates to make.  In other decisions the leader may only solicit ideas before making a decision herself.  Sharing power and control with mature, competent, skilled, and trustworthy people:

  • Builds community
  • Increases accountability
  • Deepens commitment
  • Demonstrates respect

There is simply no better way to make people feel valued and respected than to ask them, genuinely, for their advice and or letting them make a key decision. You can pat people on the back and recognize their efforts but this is not as effective in motivating people as involving them in important decisions. The second main reason to be participative is a corollary of the first. Employees who play a part in deciding what to do feel a much greater degree of ownership over making it happen.

In addition, much of today’s work has a high knowledge component that requires people to think and solve problems. Our work is increasingly mental work. Leadership is often described as getting work done through others.  At one time, much of that work involved tasks, doing things that had a greater physical than mental component. With such work, delegation is the key means of getting work done through others. But when a team needs to think creatively to solve complex problems, improve productivity or develop a new service/product, the best way to get such knowledge work done through people is to engage their full capacity. This switch to knowledge work makes the leaders job one of engaging and shepherding the talents of highly skilled people rather than telling them what to do.  If the work you manage has a high mental component, you simply can’t get it done without involving people in decisions.

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