Participative Leadership: 7 Traits, Pros, Cons & When to Use

Participative leadership style is also known as democratic leadership. In the participative leadership approach, the leader fosters group participation in decision-making processes, although the final words might be told by the leader. We have gone through the 7 traits of participative leadership style, pros, and cons, when to use this leadership style, and when to avoid it.

Bill Gates and Jim Lentz are known as famous participative leaders. We will show some examples from their leadership as well.

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What is Participative Leadership?

The inception of the participative leadership style dates back to the 1930s. Kurt Lewin, a German-born American social psychologist known for his field theory of behavior, developed a framework based on a leader’s behavior. Lewin argued that there are three types of leaders:

  • Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their teams. You can read more in the Authoritarian Leadership article.
  • Laissez-faire leaders do not step in; they create the environment for maximum participation, and let the people make many of the decisions. You can read more in the Laissez Faire Leadership article.
  • Democratic leaders foster team participation before making a decision.

The level of participation in participative leadership depends on the leader. Democratic leadership style is considered when a consensus is important to get team buy-in. Note that, if there are several differing ideas in the team, it might be difficult to manage and reach a conclusion.

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7 Traits of Participative Leadership Style

There are several traits of participative leadership. We will go through the most common 7 traits in this article.

1- Participative Leadership Requires Active Listening

The backbone of participative leadership is about encouraging group decision-making. To do this, participative leaders must be an active listener. Active listening is about following what people say without interruption, providing feedback about their ideas, and also welcoming feedback about what you say.

To evaluate every perspective emerging from the group, participative leaders must be active listeners.

2- Approachable

Participative leadership requires being approachable. Do you know leaders who go straight to their rooms, attend meeting after meeting until the evening, and do not contact their teams? This is an old-school type of management.

Participative leadership style requires the leaders to be approachable. Team members should be able to talk with their leaders without barriers. This will encourage better communication and relationship which will lead the team members to express their ideas freely.

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3- Participative Leaders are Open-minded

Open-minded is defined as “willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced” in the dictionary. No matter what the team members bring in, participative leaders should give appropriate time to consider new ideas within the group. Personal feelings or beliefs on a particular perspective should not hinder the leader from evaluating this together with the group.

4- Communication

Participative leadership requires efficient and effective communication. Several ideas might be discussed within the group and while evaluating each idea, especially if there are opposing ideas, leaders should be careful to manage the discussion.

Efficient and effective communication ensures that the morale and motivation of the team are not hampered while evaluating different ideas.

5- Participative Leadership Fosters Accountability

Group members can bring in new ideas to discuss with the group. This fosters accountability in the group. Because, individuals are expected to bring in their ideas, and all groups will consider those perspectives in a group meeting.

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6- Participative Leadership Motivates People

Participative leadership motivates people. Because, when making a decision, a participative leader looks for the team’s buy-in. The ideal scenario is consensus.

Since people actively participate in group discussions and decision-making, they feel that their ideas are important and affect the results. This motivates people.

7- Team-Building

As the team makes the decision as a group, participative leadership improves team-building. During the discussions, team members get to know each other better, this improves the relationship among the team and increases the team performance.

đź’ˇ Read 15 Types of Leadership article to learn about other leadership styles.

When to Use Participative Leadership Style

With participative leadership, you focus on mutual participation. You consult with your group, and you consider their ideas and expertise before making a decision. This approach works best when your team members are experienced, when the task is complex and challenging, and when your team members want to give you their input. 

Even if the participative leader has the final say on decisions, team members are involved in the decision-making process. This builds trust and good working relationships, and team members feel empowered and engaged with their work. You depend on your group to develop ideas, not just offer opinions on an idea. The participative style is more about group problem-solving and brainstorming. So, make sure each person’s voice is heard equally.

Participative leadership works best when there are no tight deadlines, high-pressure, and when creativity is expected. Because, participative leadership is about hearing everyone’s voice on the team, evaluating the options, and making the best decision. This requires time.

Some example industries or places where participative leadership works best are:

  • Universities
  • Technology companies because they need innovation,
  • Creative agencies for the generation of out-of-the-box ideas

When to Avoid Participative Leadership Style

The downside of participative leadership is that it can slow the decision-making process, which can lead to missed opportunities. This can be particularly damaging in emergencies or crises. Emergencies, time-critical tasks, and having an inexperienced team are the cases when you should avoid a participative leadership style.

  • Emergency cases: quick decisions and fast reactions are needed in case of emergencies. This requires minimum time to decide on a solution. Autocratic leadership will work in emergencies.
  • Time-critical tasks: When there is time pressure, there might not be time to evaluate different perspectives and opinions from the team.
  • Inexperienced teams: If your team members are junior and need maximum guidance to perform, it is less likely to receive creative ideas from them. So, group participation may not be needed if you have an inexperienced team.
  • Operational works: If the team is working on operational tasks such as customer support requests, answering phone calls, or working on field cases, you might avoid participative leadership as the key performance indicators will be timely responses and the procedure is already defined in most of the cases.

3 Benefits of Participative Leadership Style

There are several benefits of the participative leadership style. We will go through the top 3 benefits here.

1- Employee Retention

People may think their existence is not important to the organization if their ideas are not asked or if they do not contribute in the decision-making process. This can cause absenteeism. Absenteeism is a habitual pattern of absence from a duty or obligation without good reason.

Participative leadership values the individuals’ ideas and perspectives. Therefore, they feel they are important to the organization. This cuts down on turnover and absenteeism.

2- Higher Morale

Having words in group discussions, contributing to the decision-making, and taking a more active part in the organization make employees feel like more than just a number, they’re more likely to engage in company policy and enjoy their work.

No doubt, higher morale will lead to higher productivity.

3- Creative and Innovative Thinking

Every individual has a different experience, insight, and perspective. Therefore, having words from each member can lead to creative and innovative ideas.

Sometimes, management can get stuck in a loop that leads them to make stagnant or outdated decisions. By opening up the floor to employee input, creative thinking ensues—and that opens the door for cost-saving innovations, unique approaches to productivity and efficiency, and more.

3 Flaws of Participative Leadership Style

Nothing is perfect, participative leadership has some flaws as well. While there may be many flaws, we’ve listed the top three here.

1- Slower Decision-Making Process

Group participation, hearing every voice in the team may require a significant amount of time especially if the team is big. If you are trying to reach a consensus, it might be impractical as well. This causes slower decision-making. If there are tight deadlines or high pressure such as an emergency, participative leadership may not be possible.

2- May Not Work in Inexperienced Teams

Group participation and welcoming new rationale ideas and perspectives are possible only if the team members are experienced. Inexperienced team members will have limited knowledge and insights, so, applying a participative leadership style with an inexperienced team may not work.

3- May Question the Leadership Existence

As the group is making decisions, in some cases, the existence of the participative leader may be questioned. Because, the team evaluates the different ideas on their own, makes a decision, and comes to a conclusion. Team members might question the existence of the leader in this case even though the final words rely on the leader.

Famous Participative Leaders

Although there are several participative leaders, the most famous two most famous participative leaders are Bill Gates and Jim Lentz.

Bill Gates as a Participative Leader

I think everyone knows who Bill Gates is. Co-founder of Microsoft, billionaire, computer tycoon, and a predictor of future technology. Gates managed Microsoft’s product strategy from 1975 until 2006.

Bill Gates was using both transactional leadership and participative leadership. He asked for the ideas of his team members and valued the group participation. However, in some cases, he was the quick decision maker and excellent delegator of the tasks even if the majority of the team was thinking differently than him.

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Jim Lentz as a Participative Leader

James E. Lentz is an American business executive and former chief executive officer for Toyota North America. Lentz began his career at Toyota in 1982 as a Merchandising Manager climbed up the ladder to the top and ended his Toyota career by 2019.

Through his years at the company, he has realized that being a “tyrant boss” isn’t going to get you very far. The following quotes from an interview show his participative leadership style:

“You’re not going to motivate people that way. Even back in the day, if you were very dictatorial in your management style, you got exactly what someone asked you to do. Not less, but not more. Today if people really understand why they’re doing something, I think they give more.”


The participative leadership style allows group discussion in decision-making processes, evaluating different ideas and perspectives, and looking for a consensus and team buy-in. This increases morale, motivation, and performance as the team members feel their ideas are important. Also, creative and innovative ideas emerge under participative leadership.

Participative leadership can be applied when there is no high pressure when deadlines are not critical, and if the team is experienced. Some examples are universities, technology companies, and creative agencies. If there are tight deadlines, if there is an emergency, or if the tasks are operational, a participative leadership style is not appropriate.

Benefits of the participative leadership are employee retention, higher morale, and creativity. Flaws are a slower decision-making process, inapplicable in inexperienced teams, and leadership existence may be questioned.

Bill Gates and Jim Lentz are famous participative leaders to name a few from several famous leaders believing in participative leadership.

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