Participatory Leadership and Decision Making

Participatory Leadership and Decision Making: Not All About Consensus

By Kathy Jourdain

Collaborative or participatory leadership surfaces interdependence, within a team and among teams. It invites people to bring their strengths, talents, passion and voice and to step in where they have something to offer and step back when they don’t.

Interestingly, the awareness of interdependence and the use of participatory leadership, not done well, often leads to a mistaken belief that all decisions need to be made by the collective or through consensus. This is a shadow of participatory leadership. In a high functioning team, or a high performance team, the team operates as if by consensus because the trust levels are so high the team trusts individuals or smaller groups of individuals to make appropriate decisions. There is no sense of one-upmanship. When decision-making processes are not clear, there is confusion about where decision-making authority resides, how decisions get made and who makes them.

Clarity on decision making strategies and a collective understanding of who makes what decisions when, under what circumstances offers the greatest flexibility and responsiveness to the situation at hand. Only a small number of decisions really need to be made collectively. Clarity on what those are and trust in the intentions of everyone on the team, allows for autonomy in the vast majority of decisions.