A democratic leadership style has gained popularity with notions of an empowered workforce. But how do you get the best from such an approach? Whilst it has much to commend it, as a style of leadership, it isn’t necessarily an easy approach to do well.
A democratic leadership style is an open approach to leading, where decision making is shared and the views of a team or group are valued and contribute to the vison, goals and decision that are made. The Greek roots of the word democratic suggest people are participating in power or control. Another way to describe this style of leadership is to call it participative leadership, capturing the ideas of involvement and engagement.
Benefits of a democratic leadership style
- Invites discussion, opinions and views
- Builds a consensus
- Encourages the ideas and creativity of others
- Recognises that people other than the leader may well have ideas about a better way forward
- creates a shared vision and goals
- Builds commitment as individuals agree together what needs to be done.
Limitations of the style
- Can caused difficulties when quick decision are needed in a crisis
- Confusion if communication is not clear about what or whether anything has been decided
- When people are in-experienced or don’t feel confident they may struggle with being asked to participate
- Some people may regard being asked as a sign that a leader isn’t leading – “I’m not paid to do this – you are!”
When to use a democratic leadership style
A democratic leadership style can be a powerful way to realise the potential within teams and organisations. That’s especially the case because:
- It fits well with the current ideas of empowerment and engagement of staff
- It is particularly beneficial for helping get the best out of teams
- If fosters creativity and ideas
- it builds a sense of commitment and demonstrates that skills and expertise are valued
- It makes time to think about important decisions that need everybody to be on-board
- It is effective with knowledge workers where their expertise are greater than the leaders.
There are however some cautionary notes about adopting a democratic leadership style:
- It can be demanding seeking to consult and achieve consensus
- It should not be an excuse for procastination, discuss, consult and then come to a decision and act. Avoid the situation of becoming bogged down in meetings that don’t go anywhere.
Think about your own view of democratic leadership:
- What do you notice in others who adopt a democratic leadership style?
- How could this leadership style help you improve your leadership approach?
- How ready and willing are your team for a democrtaic leadership style?
You can find out more about leadership styles in our section on styles of leadership.
There is also a good overview of the democratic leadership style here.