What is a Participating Leadership Style?

A participating leadership style is a low task behavior, high relationship behavior approach to leadership that helps followers solve problems. The style is anchored by the leader’s ability to actively listen and collaboratively engage. A leader who employs this style of leadership helps an individual to determine the next steps and is sharing the decision-making process.

In general terms, a participating leadership style helps followers who have demonstrated the skill to effectively complete a task but who are struggling with either confidence or commitment/motivation to perform at a sustained and acceptable standard.

What a participating leadership style looks like:

The leader:

  • Encourages input
  • Actively listens
  • Supports risk-taking
  • Recognizes the individual’s skills
  • Praises the individual’s effort

Key Indicators of when to use a participating leadership style:

The individual:

  • Is able to complete the task but remains apprehensive about doing so (developing)
  • Is in need of feedback and encouragement (developing or regressing)
  • Is slipping in their performance (regressing)
  • Is losing commitment or motivation (regressing)
  • Is attempting to complete the task on their own for the first time (developing)

Situational Leadership® and a participating leadership style:

Situational Leadership® refers to a participating style as S3 (or Style 3). At The Center for Leadership Studies, we believe that a leader needs to adapt their approach based on the current performance of the person they are trying to influence. Situational Leaders are routinely shifting between one of the four styles with each person they influence on a task-by-task basis.

Based on the above indicators for the individual, we would identify them as R3 (or Readiness Level 3). This means the individual is able but either insecure or unwilling to complete the task at a sustained and acceptable level. Once a Situational Leader has assessed an individual to be R3 for a specific task, the leader should engage the follower in a two-way discussion (focused on the task) and what the follower is going to do to either gain confidence or reestablish the motivation to perform it (providing S3 leadership).

An example of using S3 or a participating leadership style correctly:

A manager approaches a tenured employee who has successfully organized the company picnic in the past and initiates a discussion regarding recent indicators that suggest this year’s event is well behind schedule.

An example of using S3 or a participating leadership style incorrectly:

A manager seeks the input of a recently promoted individual contributor who has never even attended the company picnic regarding potential process improvements intended to improve organizational efficiency.

Understanding the benefits of participation is relatively straightforward. Knowing both how and when to participate is significantly more difficult! In that context, the real job of any leader is to identify what style of leadership a follower needs for a given situation. Consider Situational Leadership® as a timing mechanism that helps leaders determine when … to do what in that regard!