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Adopting a Democratic Coaching Style in Business


  1. It’s Called Delegation, Not Idleness
  2. You Need Constant Dialogue
  3. Your Team Should Be On Board
  4. Encourage Creativity
  5. You Need to Embody the Style
  6. Keep the Future in Mind

When I mention the term ‘coaching’, you probably think of a sporting mentor. Am I right? Well, I’m here to tell you that coaching doesn’t need to be limited to a field, court or arena.

Coaching simply refers to the process of teaching and developing a team or individual to the point of achieving a specific goal or target. The characteristics of coaching work perfectly in a sporting setting because, while results are important, it’s well established that you can’t win trophies without the best processes. That said, there’s no reason this can’t translate to business.

According to Daniel Goleman, “coaching leaders help employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. They encourage employees to establish long-term development goals and help them conceptualize a plan for attaining them.

So, what is a democratic coaching style?

In a business context, democratic coaches are master delegators. They place the onus on the team when it comes to their own development and they let them figure out a process that works with their own personal strengths as well as those of the team. Let’s discuss a democratic coaching style in more depth…

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It’s Called Delegation, Not Idleness

It's Called Delegation Not Idleness

When I talk about delegating responsibility to the team, giving them control over their own development, I don’t mean sitting back and laying the brunt of the work on their heads.

The idea of this style is all about letting the team set up their own processes and find their own way of working - challenging them to work towards their own personal development.

Think about it: how can you expect the members of your team to grow with one another if you micro-manage at every stage? Leaders who fail to adopt this style are missing out on the chance to create a culture of self-development.

So, why is democratic coaching so seldom used? The answer lies in the fact that you need to allow your team to stumble, face challenges and overcome them. This can be difficult in high-pressure business environments, where it’s all too tempting to take control when you’re unsure if your team is on track.

Delegation can often be misunderstood as idleness. In the case of democratic coaching, this is certainly not the case. The delegation isn’t implemented to serve the coach but, rather, to serve the development of the team. This is what democracy is all about, leaving the process up to the people to decide and letting a natural culture develop over time.

This style can also sometimes receive a lot of initial pushback from teams. The challenge to create their own way of working can force them outside of their comfort zone, but, once the style is implemented, they’ll appreciate being able to manage their time and working style themselves.

As with any new style of leadership, not everyone in your team is going to immediately hit the ground running. Some will need a little more support.That’s why it’s so important that you, as the democratic coach, don’t sit back. You need to always be communicating with your team, so they can share any issues they are having and you can lend support without taking over. Let’s discuss that...

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You Need Constant Dialogue

You Need Constant Dialogue

What a democratic coaching style demands is communication - and lots of it.

Not only does the democratic coach have an open-door policy, but they are in constant dialogue with their team about each and every task they undertake.

Don’t mistake this for micro-management. A democratic leader doesn’t tell the team how to complete a task - or even when it needs to be completed by - but offers support whenever it is needed. They listen to their team and make their concerns a top priority.

Much like an affiliative leader, the democratic coach looks to solve their teams’ problems. This means that any underlying issues are dealt with as soon as they arise, leading to more effective performance all round.

By continually communicating and having review sessions at regular intervals, the leader actually reduces the need to intervene and keeps everyone on the track to success. A lack of communication can result in the team starting to move away from the goal and cause the leader to have to ‘course correct’.

Communication creates an environment where each member of the team knows they are listened to and appreciated, as well as encouraging them to communicate well with one another.

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Your Team Should Be On Board

Your Team Should Be On Board

Democratic coaching is a very different approach to many other leadership styles and it’s important to realise that your team needs to be fully on board with this kind of process.

We’ve just spoken about the importance of communication, so don’t be afraid to tell your team about the change of office culture you want to implement. If they don’t know about democratic coaching, how will they buy into it?

A democratic coaching style works best when each and every member of the team wants to improve their strengths and develop their own style within the organisation. They have to want democratic coaching to give them more control over their roles - even if it means more responsibility.

It’s worth mentioning that everyone adapts to change at different rates. There might be members of your team that you identify as slow to adapt to the switch to democratic coaching. Just remember to give them every chance to adapt.

When looking to implement this type of leadership style, it’s worth considering whether any future recruits will be able to adapt as quickly as you’d like.

Before you give up on these though, take some time to speak to them about their aspirations. Many employees have strengths and weaknesses they want to develop, they’ve just never been asked to think about them.

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Encourage Creativity

Encourage Creativity

In order to find a process that plays to their strengths and develops their weaknesses, teams need to be able to be creative. They need to be able to consider the way things have been done before and develop a new way of working.

In order to encourage creative thinking, you, as the democratic coach, need to create an environment in which your team isn’t afraid to fail. When your team isn’t afraid to fail, they are free to be able to create.

The way to develop this kind of environment is to provide incentives for employees to think creatively and challenge conventions.

It might sound counterintuitive but, if you incentivise creative thinking (even if it results in failure), you tear away the stigma attached risk-taking and, thereby, encourage creativity.

Obviously, you don’t want to create a culture of failure but, by rewarding your team when they take risks, you build a team that is fearless, thrives on responsibility and embraces accountability.

The key is to make it clear to your team that they are free to create and develop their own style that plays to their strengths.

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You Need to Embody the Style


When you leave processes up to your team to define, there will naturally be some trepidation. As a democratic coach, you need to remember that you are still the boss and your team will still look to you as an example.

If you aren’t a figurehead for the style you’re trying to adopt, you’ll never see the success you’re hoping to achieve. You need to serve as a source of inspiration for your team and lead by example when it comes to personal development. If they see that you aren’t following the principles you have set for them, they’ll see no reason to follow them.

You should be passionate about giving them more control in their roles and questioning current processes (yes, even the ones you’ve implemented). If you keep overriding their ideas, they’ll stop generating them. If you keep second-guessing your approach, they’ll lose trust in the style.

As well as a chance to transform your team, look at this as an opportunity to develop yourself as a democratic coach. As your team determines their own processes, look at ways to incorporate your own strengths into the leadership style and work on your weaknesses. If your team sees you doing this, they’ll follow suit.

If you find it tough to stick to the style, you need to consider the following...

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Keep the Future in Mind


When adopting a democratic coaching style, you shouldn’t get disheartened when you don’t see results right away.

Remember, this is a process and it can take some time. You’re allowing your team to develop their own way of working, individually and with one another. For some, it might be a speedy process but, for other members, it could take longer than you expect.

You need to stick with the process and not get rattled if you encounter a lack of results. Don’t lose faith in the style, keep communicating and challenging your team towards personal development.

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When adopting a democratic coaching style in business, it’s important to be bold. There might be some pushback - especially if your team isn’t entirely on board but, if you stick with it and demonstrate why you’ve chosen this style, you’ll start to see your team transform into a group of self-developing individuals who work together and thrive on responsibility.

Remember, coaches don’t just belong on the sports field!

Every success,

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About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!