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How can managers use participative leadership effectively?

Written By

Ray Lamb

Executive & Leadership Coach

Briefly Speaking

A manager who uses participative leadership, rather than making all the decisions, seeks to involve other people, thus improving commitment and increasing collaboration, which leads to better quality decisions and a more successful business.
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Managers who control autocratically, telling people what to do, create a working environment that is compliant at best, open to sabotage at worst.  An environment where process failures are hidden, customers are badly treated, and the response to your challenge as to why no one told about problems is, "You never asked me boss" - of course you were too busy telling them stuff to ask them.

"So what's wrong with that?" some managers may ask.  Depends what you want I guess.  If your business can truly thrive and survive and change with such a management style then keep doing it!  If on the other hand, in an ever more complex and uncertain world,  you want to change for the better, grow, improve, create new offerings, be ever more responsive to a moving marketplace, be tuned in to the needs of your customers / clients, then you have to unlock the experience and capability of your team.  You'll need the cooperation and discretionary effort of your people in order to survive and be successful.

The manager is always ultimately accountable for the end result, so why might it be important to involve others; what are the benefits of participative leadership?

  • There comes a time when the manager cannot have all the answers.  An amazing store of knowledge and experience is locked up in team members  Unlocking and using this can give birth to new ideas, expose flawed processes, improve customer satisfaction, and because they are involved, massively increase employee engagement and fulfillment in the workplace - Oh, and by the way the business is more successful, who wouldn't want that?

So how can a manger maintain an appropriate level of control, and at the same time give away the power to the people with participative leadership?

  • Be clear on expectations
    • What do you as the manager expect of the team - what's the deal?
    • What can the team expect from you - what will you give?
    • How will success be measured and understood?
    • What behaviours and approaches do we value?
  • Be sure the team knows the 'What?' and 'Why?'
    • What's the 'big picture' for the business and what part does the team play in the overall success of the business, what's their role?
    • Why is the business important, what purpose does it serve for it's stakeholders, customers etc.  (If you don't know find out!!)
    • Why is this team important to the success of the business? - and what are the implications if the team under performs?
  • Delegate / involve the team in the 'How?'
    • The manager my well be clear about the direction of the business, and the team etc.,  and what about how we get there?  It's likely the team, collectively and individually, know what's best, what works, what doesn't work, what processes need adjustment, who is good at what, where the gaps are in getting the required performance.
    • Involve the team in crafting how the job gets done.
    • Open up channels of communication, be honest, brave and passionate about the business and the team, and encourage that environment everywhere and every day
    • Create a management system so that everyone knows and understands their responsibilities and boundaries, how things get reviewed etc.
    • Don't ask or demand to be involved in all the detail, create an 'exception management' approach where you're only involved when absolutely necessary.
  • Now it's all up and running, walk about, talk, understand and know your people; what makes them tick. Ask what's working and what's not; remove barriers for the  team, be passionately involved in the team's success, and know what your role is - if you're unsure about this, guess what - ask the team?
  • Have fun, celebrate, be proud, enjoy your life at work, with your people.

"First Break all the Rules" is a book that helped me immensely get my head around the whole concept of participative leadership.

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