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Transformational and participatory leadership styles lead to a well-balanced, change-oriented work environment

07 July 2011

Change is playing an ever-increasing role in many organizations. In both economic and social contexts they are being challenged to be innovative and flexible. This in turn demands a change-oriented work environment. The way that managers cope with this turns out to have a major influence on the effective functioning of staff, Frouke de Poel has discovered. ‘The most effective management style also strongly depends on the composition of the team.’ Effective managers are able to choose a suitable management style to promote more work effectiveness and work satisfaction. De Poel will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 11 July.

A great deal is asked of staff in a change-oriented organization – they not only need to be flexible, but also to be able to cope with uncertainty. After all, it’s stability in the work environment that is under threat. Managers therefore have an extremely important task to perform. De Poel: ‘On the one hand, they have to stimulate a feeling of security among the staff (cohesion), while on the other, the challenge is to keep them flexible and mobile (also referred to as locomotion).’

Good balance

De Poel’s research reveals that two management styles are particularly well suited to create a balance between cohesion and locomotion with regard to staff: transformational and participatory leadership. De Poel: ‘Transformational leaders have an inspiring and motivating style. They are primarily concerned with imparting a vision. The focus is on the future – where is the organization heading and what do we want. A participatory leader will more often encourage staff to contribute to the decision-making process. Staff are also asked to provide input and they share responsibility for any changes.’
Although both types of leadership are suitable for a change-oriented work environment, they each have a distinctive role. For example, transformational leadership can strengthen the cohesion among individual staff members by imparting a strong vision for the future of the organization. Participatory leadership stimulates locomotion, for example by actively involving the entire team in the decision-making process.

Team composition

Effectiveness, however, also relies significantly on team composition. ‘Transformational leadership is primarily effective in a team with a rather diverse composition. A team comprised of people with varied experience runs the risk of everyone wanting to go their own way. In order to prevent this leading to conflicts, a transformational leader can manage the team by concentrating on the similarities. That way you get everyone pulling in the same direction.’ This approach mainly turns out to stimulate individual work results, such as work effectiveness and work satisfaction, by creating a strong identification with the organization.


Participatory leadership turns out to be more effective in teams with a homogenous composition. ‘In teams where the staff mainly share the same type of experience, it’s possible that there is less attention paid to the possibilities for change and renewal. In those cases a participatory approach provides a symbolic kick in the pants’, according to De Poel. ‘A participatory leader will primarily stimulate cooperation within a team. They work together towards the change goals, creating a favourable climate for them. The result is that the teams become more innovative and experience less conflict.’

Curriculum Vitae

Frouke de Poel (Delft, 1981) studied psychology at the University of Groningen and conducted her PhD research at the SOM research school of the Faculty of Economics and Business. Her supervisors were Prof. J.I. Stoker and Prof. K.K. van Oudenhoven-van der Zee. Her thesis is entitled ‘Making a Difference: About the mechanisms underlying effective leadership in a change-oriented organizational context’. De Poel is currently a lecturer in the department of HRM & OB of the Faculty of Economics and Business. In addition, she is a researcher for the Institute of Integration and Social Efficacy of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Studies.

Note for the press

For more information: Frouke de Poel

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.53 a.m.
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