Participative leadership has earned a lot of support and popularity in recent years due to successful corporate experiences, in addition to research conducted on organizational behavior and leadership. The debate over leadership style is now more vigorous than ever and this is the result of certain emphatic changes that have taken place in the past few years. To start with, the educational and skill levels of employees and staff have improved significantly in recent years, and with such higher educational and skill standards, workers expect to be involved in the decision making process. Secondly, leadership has become more important than ever, in the face of the challenges that face organizations. Hence, leaders need more time, information and effort to achieve successful results. Participation and support by subordinates provides a relief to leaders who are aspiring to achieve change and success at the same time. Nevertheless, participative management, regardless of how effective it could be, is not to be seen as an all-purpose treatment. Participative management can be costly, faulty, and even with negative implications on factors such as responsibility and accountability.
Participative management is self-defined. It simply implies the involvement of employees and subordinates in the decision making process. It does not involve the waving of authority by the leader or manager, but rather, the sharing of information and power by the leader or manager with his subordinates in order to achieve better results.
Two advantages have been proven as consequences of participative leadership, namely job satisfaction and increased productivity. Research shows that subordinates who are involved in participative management will reflect a higher level of job satisfaction because their feeling of belonging, self-worth and self-esteem are higher. The subordinate’s involvement in the decision making process makes him not only enthusiastic about giving in his opinion that could be innovative or useful, but it will also encourage him to invest more efforts in achieving the goals and objectives that he was involved in setting with the superiors.
Participative management enhances the team spirit in an organization. It encourages subordinates to behave as players collaborating with their coaches. This certainly implements the cooperative ties in the organization and helps eliminate many barriers that usually stand in the way of development, growth and progress. Among such barriers are obstacles to communication, resistance to change, and rejection of influence.
Participative management also has another advantage over autocratic or authoritative management. It has the ability to legitimize certain decisions that would not be acceptable under other conditions. The nature of participative management involves subordinates in understanding the problem and identifying solutions to it. Certain problems require certain harm to be inflicted on subordinates (eg, the delay of pay raises). When employees participate in the decision making process, they feel that they are more responsible for what is going on and hence, they may be willing to accept the sacrifice so long as they know that they will in the future still have the power to participate in making things improve.
Participative management disadvantages:
Yet, participative management is not always applicable. The nature of the organization is by all means a major obstacle to participative management. We cannot expect such style to develop in the military organization for example, where formality runs extremely high. Similarly, participative management, if ever applicable in public administrations, will be allowed to take place at minimal levels because of the centralized nature of decision making in the bureaucracy. Hence, participative management will not be applicable or acceptable in organizations where decision making has to be highly centralized and where organizational structure is highly formal.
Yet, even where applicable, participative management has its own woes. It has been found that participative management often boosts employee satisfaction more than productivity. If applied erroneously, participative management can result in turning subordinates into a team of managers who do not necessarily do their jobs in as much as they think high of themselves. Participative management is more likely to be productive when management needs to ease change, to seek innovation, and to improve teamwork, but it does not always yield the expected results on the level of productivity.
Another problem with participative management is that it weakens the concepts of accountability and responsibility. When managers decide to use the participative leadership approach, they fall in a dilemma. On the one hand, they realize that if they do not allow subordinates to involve in the decision making process with a certain degree of independence, they will simply undermine the credibility of their intentions towards participative leadership. At the same time, faulty applications of independence by subordinates will not lead to failures, but it will also embarrass the leaders who will stand accountable and responsible for the faults of their subordinates. Evidently, the risks are always there and they come with the participative leadership package, but are leaders always willing to take such risks? Certainly not. Hence, when authority and responsibility are delegated to subordinates, it is necessary to establish sufficient checks in order to keep a relative degree of control over the process. Yet, the establishment of such controls could in itself undermine the concept of participative leadership. Therefore, it lies in the ability of the leader or manager to make this process work successfully.
Participative leadership could also give rise to a political problem within the organization, thus, negatively influencing the decision making process. Those subordinates involved in the participative decision making may push and pull in the process, taking into consideration the interests of their fellows and departments. This could give rise to conflict, or at best, to the making of compromise decisions that please everybody. The decision making process becomes slow and ineffective, not to mention the faultiness in its efficiency. Such a problem is inevitable, especially in organizations with highly competitive or sensitive cultures.
Participative leadership is certainly an effective method that has been resorted to by many organizations in recent years. This process has developed as a result of the need of innovation, diversified views, and at the same time, due to the increased levels of skill and education among subordinates and workers. This approach results in boosting employee satisfaction and to a less degree, productivity. The major setbacks, however, are in the defects that could arise in responsibility, accountability, in addition to the influence of political interests. This is not to mention the fact that participative leadership is not applicable to all kinds of organizations. It must be pointed out, however, that the success or failure of the participative leadership as an approach depends on the culture of the organization as well as on the ability of those in leadership to organize and manage the decision-making process in a responsible and accountable manner.
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