Participative Leadership Style: Definition, Theory & Examples

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Shawn Grimsley

Participatory leadership style attempts to add a democratic dimension in modern management, which has generally been top-down and hierarchical in nature. In this lesson, we will provide a definition of participatory leadership, discuss some of its theoretical principles and provide a few examples. You will be given an opportunity to reinforce your new knowledge with a short quiz.

We also recommend watching The Path-Goal Theory and Leadership Styles and The Blake Mouton Managerial Grid: Five Leadership Styles

Why Is It Important?

Participatory leadership as a management style is used today by a significant number of companies and organizations. Understanding how it works will allow you, either as a manager or employee, to better function in an organization that uses it.


Participatory leadership is a style of management where decisions are made with the most feasible amount of participation from those who are affected by the decisions.

Types of Participation

In a business setting, the level and type of employee participation can vary. One form of participatory leadership is representative participation, in which a group of employees is involved in organizational decision-making. This type of participatory leadership is more dominant in Europe, where employees may serve on workers councils or even on the board of directors. Another form, more common in the United States, is participatory management , in which subordinates share a degree of joint decision-making with their immediate supervisors. For example, a self-managed work team may be responsible for a specific product and may have the authority to make decisions relating to work methods, such as scheduling, purchasing, and hiring of members.

Underlying Principles

One basis of support for the theory is that participation satisfies an employee's higher-level needs. You can readily see the influence of psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs on participatory leadership. Two of his concepts are important for our purposes: deficiency-motivation and growth-motivation. If you are deficiency motivated, you are acting to try to alleviate the need for something, such as money or shelter. If you are growth motivated, you are seeking psychological growth and the development and fulfillment of your potential. Employees that are deficiency motivated may function fine under a bureaucratic and hierarchical management structure, but those motivated by growth may not, finding it dehumanizing.


Another basis for participation is the concept of power sharing. The argument is that employee participation is necessary to redistribute power in an organization and protect employees' interests. This argument acknowledges that employees are stakeholders in the organization, entitled to a voice.

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