Back in 1973, Professor Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton published “The Normative Model of Leadership Behavior,” in which they delved into the effects of involving subordinates into decision making. Their research lead to what is known today as the participative leadership theories—a democratic leadership style. However, participative leadership has its disadvantages: decision making takes more time, it is less effective with unskilled labor and there are potential dangers when it comes to information sharing.

Participative Leadership Theories

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At the core of the participative leadership theories is democracy: Workers have the ability to provide input into managerial decisions—although, the manager makes the final decision. This was a relatively controversial leadership style in 1973, when autocratic leadership was prevalent in the workplace. Later, the theories evolved to include Vroom’s “decision tree” and “time-driven decision tree,” which are diagrams and matrices that help subordinates to arrive to a quicker strategic decision. The decision tree is a participative leadership theory that attempts to pare down the decisions a subordinate can make by prescribing a finite amount of strategies from which he can choose. The time-driven decision tree furthers this concept by applying a matrix that assigns levels of importance to the factors that influence the decision. Even with these changes to the original participative leadership theory, there are still flaws that plague the theories' implementation.


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One of the major flaws in participative leadership theories is the level of time it takes from problem to solution. When a group of people are supposed to deliberate on a problem and possible strategies, they must have structure and guidance to help them be more time effective when arriving to a decision. Though later amendments, such as the decision tree and the time-driven decision tree, tried to give the participative style more structure, time efficiency is still a problem. For example, in a scenario where there are only six priorities strategies to choose from, subordinates would still have to come to accord one of the six strategies. In cases where there is a time constraint or an immediate deadline, it might not be feasible to accommodate this deliberation process.

Less Effective with Unskilled Workers

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Another disadvantage of participative leadership theories is that they don't work on every type of workplace environment. Manufacturing companies that have a large workforce might have more difficulty arriving to a business decision using a democratic leadership style. Additionally, level of skills play a role, as a large percentage of unskilled labor might hinder business decisions. Or, an employee who lacks group skills might not have his voice heard in the democratic process. Thus, this leadership style works best with smaller, more skilled labor force that can provide management with informed input.

Information Sharing

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Managers might not be inclined to inform every employee about sensitive business information. Though this information might be vital for assessing the proper strategy, but may not be information in which every employee should be privy. In participative leadership theories, however, vital information might be shared regardless of its sensitive nature. This not only can lead to a possible information leak, but also conflict among workers.