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Leadership styles: Switching from authoritarian to participatory leadership

Leadership styles: Switching from authoritarian to participatory leadership

There is no singular style of leadership that is appropriate for all situations. The type of leadership that is required to command soldiers in the field of battle is very different than the type of leadership demanded at an advertising agency. The latter situation requires soliciting creative input from all employees, not reflexive obedience like a wartime scenario. At the organization in question, the manager is deploying an authoritarian style of leadership at a company where individuals believe they can make a positive contribution to the organization’s growth and development. Rather than in line, the manager’s style is merely causing anger and resentment. Also, through manipulating the staff, the manager is ‘playing’ certain staff members ‘off’ against one another, rather than creating an effective and united team dynamic. This merely bolsters the manager’s leadership position, rather than advances real organizational objectives.

Because of the anger generated amongst the staff members, the manager is also dividing his team of subordinates through his actions. This is not even characteristic of an effective authoritarian style of leadership, even though authoritarian leadership is occasionally necessary when leading an organization in a state of crisis or commanding very inexperienced staff members. Even an effective military leader needs a united front, but in this case, personalities rather than tasks are the focus of the team. The organization needs to adopt a more participatory leadership approach to make team members feel more included, and also to encourage subordinates to feel as if they have an investment in the future of the company.

To further this objective, employees should be given the opportunity to offer feedback about organizational procedures, as well as be told what to do. Having a general meeting informing employees of the shift in standard operating procedures is essential. Employees must be convinced that there is a change occurring at the organization and that a personal investment in the policies of the company is essential for the organization’s future. Having an email address to which employees can send suggestions and enabling employees to provide feedback during regular performance reviews are two permanent structural changes that can make a difference in changing the tone of organization over the long-term. Capable and experienced employees should also be encouraged to pursue propose new team projects, to generate new ideas that can inject a new perspective into an entrenched and divided organization.

Employees must be rewarded for their genuine contribution to the organization, not because of favoritism and their ability to curry favor with the manager. A gradual shifting to a results-focused organization, which rewards output rather than seniority, position, or even hours logged at the company can also create a more positive approach that takes the emphasis off personality and ‘who’ an employee is at the organization, versus what he or she does.

To repair the current rift will also require immediate attention through to generate a more positive attitude overall. Workers must receive training in communication and working together. They should also be able to discuss how interpersonal conflicts arise and how to deal them. Managers should receive training in how to use more participatory approaches that motivate individuals by making individuals ‘want’ to do what they are supposed to do, rather than simply force employees to do so through coercion.

The organizational philosophy of participatory management is as follows: “Participatory management means that staff, not only the designated managers, have input and influence over the decisions that affect the organization” (Bartle 2010). Unlike democratic management, which is often seen as the polarized opposite of authoritarian managerial styles, it is not government by ‘majority rules, ‘which can be unwieldy, particularly for an organization that has been under a more autocratic regime for some time. “In participatory management, the designated managers [have]final responsibility for making decisions and answering for them, but members of the staff who are affected by those decisions are actively sought to provide observations, analysis, suggestions and recommendations in the ” (Bartle 2010).

In a participatory organization, managers still exercise oversight, and review the performance of teams and individuals in terms of the results they produce, but the relationship between managers and subordinates is a dialogue, rather than purely directive. Managers act as coaches of experienced employees and as mentors of younger employees who need more guidance. The emphasis, even in mentorship, is on weaning employees away from dependent relationships, rather than to demand approval for even small decisions, as is the case with authoritarian styles of leadership.

Creating dialogue between superiors and subordinates and between equals creates a sense of common mission, something that this organization desperately needs at present. The organization must redefine its method of operations and rewards. Of course, it must be prepared for an initial period of adjustment — participatory management tends to take longer than authoritarian management, and creating a trusting and cohesive organizational bond, united under a common mission will not happen overnight. But the rewards will outweigh any potential negatives. “The manager must put in extra time and effort to reach a decision — with staff participation” (Bartle 2010). The success of companies that have pursued innovative types of management and treat employees like valued partners is testimony to the value of this leadership style. Having regular staff meetings and detailed performance reviews; in dialogue with employees at meetings; and ensuring criticism is conveyed in a clear, ambiguous and specific manner is essential for participatory management to work. But although it may not always proceed smoothly, the results are far better than the current impasse, which stifles creativity and only satisfies the ego of the manager.


Bartle, Phil. (2007, May 17). Participatory management. CMC (Community Empowerment

Collective). Retrieved December 23, 2010 at