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Participating: The Inclusion Dynamic of Holistic Leadership

June 26, 2016

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If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach.

We all know that participation is key to achieving meaningful results in organizations, whether it’s in the private sector, government or not-for-profit sector. However, it’s easy to espouse the importance of participation, especially from the management rooftop. It’s quite another challenge to bring it down to the ground where those leading others actually put participation into daily practice. This means engaging everyone throughout the organization, and encouraging people to bring out their personal leadership attributes.

It doesn’t matter what expression is used: shared leadership, participatory leadership, post-heroic leadership or roving leadership. The point is that participation, as one of the four main components of Holistic Leadership, is critical to helping organizations create learning cultures that are based on the five enabling elements:

  1. Power-sharing
  2. Inclusion
  3. Enrolling/Aligning
  4. Collaboration
  5. Commitment

Much has been written on participatory leadership. In both the private and public sectors, it’s often espoused by senior management as how people should work together. However, what’s said publicly is often not practiced. This applies not just to management but staff as well.

Modelling the desired behaviors that accompany participatory leadership is fundamental to its eventual success. Network leaders, for example, must practice the enabling elements contained in this Holistic Leadership component. As staff, these leaders need to learn how to collaborate and how to find common ground when conflict arises. People need to take ownership of their actions and not necessarily expect management to come riding to the rescue whenever conflict among staff members breaks out.

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Some time ago, I read an article that talked about the tacit collusion employees engage in to protect their job’s boundaries. People follow unspoken norms with respect to staying out of one another’s job areas. When these norms are not followed, conflict typically emerges. The consequence is the cementing of behaviors and practices in organizations. When a major change initiative is introduced, senior management becomes frustrated by the rigid silos that have been erected among functional groups, and which in turn contribute to resistance to the change effort.

Participating is an important component of Holistic Leadership because it provides the conduit to unleashing the potential of people. Again, this is important to those in senior and front-line managerial positions, and also to those who seek to play informal leadership roles.

For an example of an individual who excelled at Participating read the following leadership vignette.

Pat Tillman began his football career as a linebacker at Arizona State University in 1994. By his senior year he was voted best defensive player. He was also a strong business student, and in 1998 had been recruited by the Arizona Cardinals. Early on in his NFL career, he refused a highly lucrative offer from the St. Louis Rams because of his loyalty to the Cardinals.


Despite his solid performance in the NFL, he declined a $3.5 million contract offer from the Cardinals so that he could join the U.S. Army. Why? Because his country had just been attacked by al-Qaeda and he felt duty-bound to serve. He and his brother joined the Rangers in 2002, and they completed the program after the first invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was later deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire during a firefight. The subsequent cover-up was finally revealed, to a degree, and a U.S. Congressional investigation found that the President G.W. Bush administration and the Pentagon withheld critical documents on Tillman’s death, refusing new document release requests from Congress citing executive privilege.

Tillman was known to be well-read on a variety of topics by many authors. After the invasion of Iraq he became critical of that effort and had openly expressed his views. He had planned to pursue exploring that issue upon his return to America after his Afghanistan tour was completed.

Pat Tillman didn’t have to enlist in the U.S. Army–there was no draft at that time–but he did it out of unselfish service to his country. The road was paved to a highly lucrative professional football career, but he put that aside for what he saw as a higher calling.

Reflection Question: How do you share your leadership within your team and more broadly within your organization?

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
— Muhammad Ali

Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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