Embracing participatory leadership

Tags: bizguide, bizguide-extract, business, collective intelligence, control, leadership, safety, trust
Published on December 09, 2019

Nobody is born a perfect leader or entrepreneur. To be good at either means being able to take a risk. A leader might at first fear such actions, as they might think it appears as ‘weak leadership’, or not ‘leading from the front’. These fears are understandable, but as a business matures we naturally need to create space for participatory leadership…you can’t do everything yourself!

Lili David, Sociocracy 3.0

“Decentralize as much as possible, and retain as much influence as necessary.”
Lili David, Co-Developer at Sociocracy 3.0


Skilled leadership comes through an awareness of yourself as well as your changing external conditions. Understanding how the two combine is critical to knowing how your leadership can best serve the business. 

We have identified two key features of leadership and participation in a business that can flourish in a wellbeing economy: Trust and Control


Trust as a balancing act 

According to recent 4 year research study on team effectiveness carried out by Google, psychological safety was identified as the single most important dynamic of an effective team compared to a less effective one. Their research also revealed that sales teams with high ratings for psychological safety actually brought in more revenue.

A climate of openness with the possibility of admitting errors and speaking about them openly, is one of the key factors that also Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson confirms to be crucial for psychological safety. 

Miki Kashtan, author

When we don’t experience trust, as when we don’t experience safety, we shut down, protect, and hide our vulnerability. We also, in both cases, tend to place responsibility for our experience on the outside.
Miki Kashtan, author and international CNVC trainer (from her blog post) 


As a leader you can support a sense of safety by framing challenges as open learning questions that require everybody’s input. 


Marcos Leite, OLX Brazil

“We need people who challenge the status quo, and openness in the management team to be challenged.
Marcos Leite, EVP & Chief Commercial Officer at OLX Brazil


Showing your own fallibility by openly requesting support and modelling curiosity by asking many questions can also help to stimulate a learning environment that creates space for innovation, exploration of new ideas and the possibility to make mistakes.  


Feeling good in and out of control 

We like to feel in control and often delegating responsibility is a big challenge for leaders. Sometimes, because of a lack of knowledge and maturity in the team. Sometimes because the leader struggles to let go of control. 

How can we provide the minimum amount of structure to allow the maximum amount of autonomy in our team; the best value to our customers; whilst making the leader feel good being ‘out of control’?

Erinch Sahan, WFTO

To move towards wellbeing economy you need to give up power, are the decision makers ready to do it?
Erinch Sahan, Chief Executive at World Fair Trade Organization


‘Giving up’…or as we would rather put it…’sharing’ power can be one of the best things a leader can do for the organisation. The Google study has identified dependability, clarity and structure as additional key elements for effective teams. 


Distribute the power to influence, to enable people to decide and act for themselves within defined constraints. Being clear about responsibilities and constraints when you delegate, as well as offering support if necessary, are key to the success of effective collaboration.Lili David, Co-Developer at Sociocracy 3.0


The benefits of effective delegation of responsibilities can be many: Firstly, delegating decision making creates a broader accountability base within the business. Secondly, decisions can be more effective as they no longer just rely on one person’s gut. Decisions can be made by those closer to the effects of those decisions.

Activating collective intelligence across the system

Ultimately, sharing control can liberate a leader as the business grows to provide guidance and strengthen the capabilities of their team. It can afford them to play the role of coach and mentor in areas they once dominated themselves.

We want to spend the time we have available where we can create most value, and often leaders create value by serving as motivational leaders, inviting in clarity and structure where it is needed and creating a culture of learning and innovation. 

James Vaccaro, Triodos Bank

We need to support founders with the elements they struggle with most so they can focus on what they are good at and where they can create impact.
James Vaccaro, Special Advisor at Triodos Bank





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