The search offered some answers on the topic, nevertheless I was amazed that most authors won’t distinguish two important but different roles, managers and leaders: “… as it is within the managers' whim to give or deny control…” or “…in the participative leadership style, effective managers solicit input from subordinates …”. Participative leadership pertains to leaders, doesn't it? (see: Leader vs. manager).
Another statement “a participative leader, rather than taking autocratic decisions, seeks to involve other people in the process” was pretty much familiar - the same definition was ascribed to charismatic leadership (Charismatic Leadership).
Among many more publications about participative leadership I came across the definition “… the leader turns to the team for input, ideas and observations instead of making all decision on his or her own.” Well, can a leader really lead without inputs from his team? I sincerely doubt it.
I was puzzled by the following definition “… a leadership style in which the leader works closely with team members, focusing on building relationships and rapport…” Can a leader be apart from his / her team? An absentee? Long ago Goleman said that relationship is a key to a leadership not to mention emotional intelligence that a leader should possess and is a part of any relationship.
I liked this one “… participative leadership tends to work best when you aren't making decisions ‘under fire’…” So, you have a leadership style that doesn't even work in all situations and you are promoting it? Isn't leadership about leading people in all situations?
So at the heart of participative leadership style I found that participative leadership is when leaders:
- ask for input from subordinates,
- manage daily operations more efficiently,
- ensure a positive long-term impact (I would say have vision),
- handle risks and/or uncertainty,
- maintain energy and enthusiasm for solving complex problems,
- require the advice of others to achieve the company’s strategic goals.
Quite some time ago my boss asked me about the outcome of a project I was leading. I began to explain giving all details I knew. He was listening attentively, grasping the information but at the end his reply was simple “I have a management meeting. If any question arises about the project I’ll call you to explain as I just cannot repeat what you've said!” Surely this attitude could be ascribed to participative leadership and be in accordance with most definitions of the said style or not?