Why is participative leadership the essential leadership of tomorrow?

LEADERSHIP SKILLS: the “lucky corner” Spring 2021
(First article elected by the class. Ten project-based practice papers were prepared and voted by the students of the Basic Leadership Skills course Spring 2021 for the co-creative educational project: School of Human Transformative Leadership©)

Student-Authors of the course Basic Leadership Skills – Spring 2021

Community 5 – The Fantastic 7

Cécile Abril (France) – Kumkum Akter (India) – Guillaume Galopin (France) – Victor Giovanni (France) – Janne Kautto Penttinen (Finland) – Elena Maiorova (Russia) – Jade Saboureau (France) – Marcella Zoccoli (JAMK University of Applied Sciences )

Student Editor-in-Chief Spring 2021: Cécile Abril


Participative leadership is a leadership style in which the manager integrates his/her employees in the decision-making process. To do this, the leader asks for the ideas and opinions of his/her employees. The leader believes in the skills of his/her team and tries to develop them. He/she has confidence in the ability of his/her teams to proactively carry out the assigned tasks without his/her intervention.

The participative leader studies all proposals before making a decision. He/she seeks the participation of all, and a consensus. This helps to motivate employees and create an environment that is conducive to exchange and collaboration.

As pointed out by Cocheteux (2020), the participative leader encourages employees and values their work and achievements. He or she provides guidance and recommendations to achieve agreed-upon goals but leaves some decision-making authority to employees. Employee motivation is at the heart of this style of leadership, which gives employees more autonomy as they are simply guided by long-term goals.

Participative Leadership style

This leadership style allows each team member to participate in the decision-making process in a democratic way. Participative leadership is not one style, it rather introduces different styles which includes the team members in the decision making. The range is wide: there are companies which allow team members to join the decision making which has an impact on the whole company, and there are companies that are listening for the suggestions of the team members but the decision itself is still made by one leader or a board of directors, according to the research of Alaux (2019.

Different approaches include:

  • Consensus decision-making, which means that every employee is capable to join the decision-making process to influence the company-level decisions. Decisions are made when there is a consensus between all the workers and the nominal leader is leading merely the discussion around the decisions.
  • Collective leadership, here the company might be divided into separate divisions which are making the decision concerning their own division. There is a possible work freely between different divisions.
  • Democratic leadership, here the leaders are collecting the issues and concerns from the employees and they explain thoroughly the resulting decisions that the leaders have done.
  • Autocratic leadership, at the lowest level of participative leadership, leaders let the employees contribute their views and concerns, but the decision-making process is owned by the leaders. The made decisions are not necessarily justified.

Example of Companies

Table 1. Participative Leadership Style – Example of Companies – The “FANTASTIC 7” community own creation – by Cécile Abril

Consensus decision makingUnicorn GroceryUnicorn Grocery is a grocery store in the UK that is owned by workers. They are successfully operating with the consensus decision-making where all the workers have a vote on the company, as presented by UnicornGrocery (2021).
Collective leadershipCiscoCisco, a company that provides technological solutions, noticed in 2009 that its results are dropping. They made organizational changes which included the change in the decision-making process. They gave the workers in their own divisions a possibility to influence the issues and their numbers started to increase after that. All they did, was replacing the centralized power with shared responsibility, according to the research of Cook (2018) and Waltner (2009).
Democratic leadershipGoogleThe most well-known company with democratic leadership is Google. They are emphasizing on innovation and human resources, and every member of the team is listened (GeekNack.com 2020).
Autocratic leadershipTesla and Space XElon Musk is the leader who is making the decisions. He might justify why he did make the decisions and workers are listened to. As pointed out by Meyer (2019) they emphasize innovation and teamwork, but in the end, there is one leader who is making the decisions.

Participative leadership is taking time for the team to adjust to. It provides lots of different views from different people which will enable teams’ efficient work covering multiple aspects. This will make the whole team united and strong in the decision-making, and the most probable result is that most of the questions have been covered very well (WGU.com 2021).

The team has to bond properly before achieving the true state of participative leadership: having room also for arguments and different views. Every team member should be able to compromise their thoughts about the decisions, and problems are rising if there are too authoritarian people.  Members need to know each other well and the work nature cannot be too fast-paced, otherwise participative leadership is taking too much time to function correctly.

Participative leadership is most suitable for creative work. Innovation requires people to come together to generate ideas and find solutions. In this kind of work, participative leadership is at its element. People feed each other’s ideas and complement them (WGU.com 2021).

Participative leadership enhances the development of employees and the company. The use of this form of leadership has many advantages:

  1. Employees feel more involved in the success of the company. It gives them motivation in their work.
  2. It improves the quality of their working environment. Indeed, the employees have a stronger feeling of belonging and recognition.
  3. Thanks to this management style, it is easier to get decisions accepted. These decisions are made after consultation with the team.
  4. Finally, it creates a “collective intelligence”: ideas are shared, social relations are improved, etc.

Participative Leader

Rather than imposing decisions, a democratic leader will include his or her team in the decision-making process. In this way, he or she ensures that the decision made will be understood and applied correctly.  A participative leader has two qualities on which he bases his leadership: his listening skills and his open-mindedness. The leader’s goal is to create a good relationship with the team members to encourage them to express themselves and share their ideas. It’s an ambitious goal but one that allows the team to grow in their work.

It is important for the leader to receive opinions from different team members. This helps to maintain teamwork, thus making employees more efficient in their work. It is essential to involve employees in the decision-making process.  As far as possible, he will seek a consensus, even if he must sometimes decide.

But there is another essential point in participative leadership: the leader consults his team to make decisions, but he can also let them decide without consulting him. As mentioned by Alaux (2019), depending on the situation, the importance of the decision, and its complexity, the leader will choose between these two approaches.

The positive effect of participative leadership is because it fulfills three of the needs identified in Maslow’s pyramid:

  • The need for self-esteem and the esteem of others: the participative leader consults his employees to find out their opinions and take them into account.
  • The need to belong because the fact of making decisions together allows for the development of a community spirit.
  • The need for accomplishment: Knowing that they are involved in the decision-making process, employees will make an effort to better understand the work context to make decisions that will influence the final outcome. They feel part of the company, according to the research of Alaux (2019).

Figure 1. Maslow’s Pyramid – The “FANTASTIC 7” community own illustration, designed by Cécile Abril

How to recognize a participative manager?

As said before, the participative manager-leader will ask for the opinion of the employees, and it will be very important for him/her. He/she is a person who delegates and gives trust easily. He/she is willing to make decisions, but the most important thing is team spirit. Participative leadership will perfectly serve a leader looking for good ideas or looking to create commitment and a sense of community, as mentioned by Lambert (2017).

Weaknesses of participative leadership

There can also be some challenges with participative leadership. The decision-making process takes longer. It is up to the leader to succeed in setting up an appropriate organization and to put an end to discussions that impinge on important tasks. As pointed out by Lenoir (2017) the leader must know how to handle urgent problems and decide that they know will not be unanimous.

This style of leadership is best suited to teams made up of employees with a recognized level of competence. Otherwise, there is a risk of wasting time or making bad decisions. The leader must be able to integrate each member into the team. Each member must be motivated to make decisions to better understand the issues. As presented by Lenoir (2017) this allows to train the employees and to favor the communication between the members.

Points of improvement for the participatory leader:

The participative leader must be able to make quick decisions in emergency situations. He/she must also be able to organize and allocate tasks in project management teams.

The leader must be able to impose his leadership and authority when the situation requires it. It is sometimes necessary to conclude a discussion by deciding even if it does not suit everyone.

Participative management is based on the sharing of knowledge and ideas. This type of leadership is recommended for the long term. A participative manager listens, analyses, and advises his collaborators. Power is distributed, and the notion of hierarchy is diluted, according to the research of Lenoir (2017).

For Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, participative leadership makes employees more efficient.

  • “Linking employees’ work to results, making them understand that their work influences the result.”
  • “Taking power away from manager: that permit to make employee fell free and accordingly more productive.”
  • “Making sure that the decision we make when it comes to people right.”

Laszlo Bock explains that this is not always intuitive for the company. Leaders want to make good decisions, achieve their goals, and they forget to give freedom to employees. It is significant to build trust and share things to make better decisions, and as a result, better products, as presented by Bock (2015).

What this leadership style brings

Here are three companies that have implemented participatory leadership in their organizations:

Table 2. Participative Leadership Style applied – The “FANTASTIC 7” community own creation – by Cécile Abril

GOOGLEGoogle offers its employees to spend 20% of their working time on side projects. It has been said that some projects have been created such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Map, or Google News. The company encourages the creativity and innovation of its employees, according to a study by Rousseau (2016).  
INNOCENTInnocent is a company that produces fruit juices and smoothies, the company has relied on the ideas of its employees to innovate. One employee had the idea to create a separate entity to market a product that was not selling. The sales results were multiplied by 4, going from 10 million to 40 million, as mentioned by Rousseau (2016).  
AMAZONPRIMEAmazon Prime is a subscription system that delivers many benefits to users who subscribe to it was born from a suggestion of the team members. Now, consumers increase their spending by 150% after subscribing to the program and these subscribers account for 20% of Amazon’s sales, as presented by Rousseau (2016).  


Participative leadership creates a trusting work environment that encourages employees to develop their skills. Implementing this style of leadership results in a renewed motivation of the employees and promotes innovation. This is a very important factor to stay competitive.

A participative leader must possess certain qualities. He/she is at the service of his team: he places himself as a support to the team. Leaders should be recognized as facilitators. They should come to the aid of employees when needed, advise them, etc.  Their authority means experience.

Examples are good sources of inspiration; they allow you to understand in what way the employees of a company can make its human and economic wealth. As pointed out by Lambert (2017) employees can lead the company towards new markets and new products.

The most important attitude to adopt is to be yourself. Indeed, participative management is benevolent. Do not hesitate to ask your employees questions, to consider their ideas and requests. The participative manager-leader prefers to believe in people above all as pointed out by Lambert (2017).


Alaux, V. 2019. Leadership participatif qu’est-ce que c’est ? [What is participative leadership?] Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://destination-leadership.fr/2019/01/07/leadership-participatif/

Bock, L. 2015. How Google’s Rules Can Work In Your Office. Accessed on 14 April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOYti8YxiAQ&ab_channel=KnowledgeAtWharton

Cocheteux, P. 2020. Comment le management participatif fonctionne-t-il ? [How does participative management work?] Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://pierrecocheteux.com/p-qu_est_ce_que_leadership_participatif

Cook, G. 2018. Collective Leadership in Business. Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.plecto.com/blog/motivation/collective-leadership-business-foto/

GeekNack. 2021. Google Leadership Principles at a Glance. Accessed on April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.geeknack.com/2020/07/31/google-leadership-principles-at-a-glance/

Lambert. 2017. Management Participatif au travail [Participative Management at work] Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.opti-diag.fr/gestion-entreprise/management-equipe/type-management/management-participatif/

Lenoir, S. 2017. Management Participatif : définition, avantages et inconvénients. [Participative Management: definition, advantages and disadvantages] Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from  https://kostango.com/management-participatif/

Rousseau, C. 2016. 15 entreprises qui ont gagné à écouter leurs salariés. [15 companies that have won by listening to their employees] Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.seemy.com/fr/2016/02/15-entreprises-qui-ont-gagne-a-ecouter-leurs-salaries.html

Waltner, C. 2009. Cisco Creates a New Generation of Collaborative Leaders. Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://newsroom.cisco.com/feature-content?articleId=5263198

WGU. 2021. What is participative leadership? Accessed on 28 April 2021. Retrieved from https://www.wgu.edu/blog/participative-leadership2102.html#close



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