Why Your IT Team Sees You as a Manipulative Leader

Sep 28, 2015
7 Min Read

Participative leadership is a managerial style that invites input from employees and has managers sharing more decisions with workers. But a new study finds that it can backfire if IT managers make a common mistake when implementing it.

In a new book, “Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How you Live and Lead,” author Laszlo Bock says that the company wants to serve as an example of how to better treat employees and do business.

Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, stresses that the key for any manager is to share information and be transparent with workers.

The benefit of transparency “is not just that people feel trusted…The other benefit is that they’ll know what’s going on. They’ll make better decisions and they’ll create better products,” he says.

Two of the terms Bock mentions -- sharing and transparency – often are used in connection with what is known as “participative leadership.” Under such a management style, a manager not only shares his or her thoughts with teams, but the teams share their ideas with a manager.

While Google goes much further and implements other ideas, more companies are looking at participative management as a way to stir collaboration, productivity and engagement. However, new research finds that it isn’t always a panacea for leaders and organizations.

Specifically, a new study from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the City University of Hong Kong finds that employees don’t always buy what the boss is selling. Namely, they can spot when a manager is truly committed to participative leadership – and when he or she is just going through the motions. When that happens – when the manager isn’t engaged in the process 100% -- it can lead employees to have a “negative assessment” of the leader and see it only as a way to increase the employees’ “workload and responsibilities with no reward,” finds the study.

"It is no secret that participative leadership is a challenge for managers, and this study reinforces the message that a casual approach will not only fall short but may very well make things worse. In short, go all out or don't go at all,” says Catherine K. Lam of the City University of Hong Kong.

Lam recommends the “go all out” approach, because the study found that is the key to truly boosting a team’s performance. While half-hearted participative leadership showed little or no change in worker performance, those managers who threw themselves into the process saw a jump in performance when information-sharing was high.

The authors of the study recommend that companies foster effective participative leadership by training leaders in two-way communications with their employees, so that workers clearly understand how much they need to participate in decisions, and the positive outcomes if they do. Equally important, they stress, is that the employees understand the “good participative intentions” of their leaders.

Experts say the best way to implement participative leadership is to do your homework and unveil it in a deliberative way. If not, your efforts will show little results, and may even damage employee morale and trust.

Here are some things to think about if you believe participative management could benefit your team and your organization:

  • Understand the goals. IT managers need to clearly state what they hope to achieve with a more participative style, but workers also need to define what they would like to see happen. If the two goals clash, then it won’t work.
  • Keep talking. One of the keys for participative management to work is that communication continues to flow. Without it, trust breaks down and workers believe the boss is hiding something from them, or is just going through the motions with no real intention of being participative. It can make them feel manipulated and could even prompt some of them to leave the organization.
  • Provide training. Participative management and its concepts will be new to many workers, so IT leaders should provide some education and training so that employees understand how it will unfold. They need to also understand how they will be important to the process, and how they will participate. Workers need to be reassured that they will not be coerced into participating, or their position threatened in any way.
  • Give encouragement. As workers participate, provide positive feedback on how their participation makes a difference to you as a leader and to the organization. The encouragement will help those participating develop more confidence in the process – and help urge others to join.
  • Make the connection. Workers need to understand how their participation ties directly to your organization’s culture and strategy. Continue to reinforce that message as the process continues and more employees become engaged in it.

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