The Advantages Of Democratic Leadership In The Workplace
This leadership style is considered to be one of the most effective for leaders in executive positions, and it can bring myriad benefits to an organisation.
But how do you define democratic leadership?
A democratic leader is one who invites participation from others in the organisation as part of the decision-making process. Under their leadership, everyone is encouraged to participate, leading to increased feelings of involvement, recognition, and satisfaction.
Sounds pretty good right?
This blog post explores the benefits that effective democratic leadership can bring to the workplace. After reading you’ll have a firm understanding of what this leadership style is, and how to reap its rewards.
The advantages of democratic leadership
The word ‘democracy’ comes from Greek roots, and means “rule by people.” In democratic systems, people have a say in the rules and laws that will ultimately govern them.
Winston Churchill once said the following of democracy:
“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Here, with his trademark wit, he suggests that while flawed, democratic governance is still more effective than any alternative.
When talking about democratic leadership in the workplace, we think his quote isn’t too far wrong.
Involving subordinates in the decision-making process won’t be perfect. Their contributions won’t be all-wise. But the benefits it can deliver are invaluable and numerous.
Democratic leadership encourages participation
By its very definition, this leadership style invites participation and involvement from people within an organisation who may not otherwise be (or feel) represented.
By fostering feelings of involvement and inclusion, team members are made to feel more important. By having their concerns heard, they feel more valued and integrated into an organisation.
Brings more viewpoints to the table
Drawing on a wider pool of experience and opinion brings more input to the decision-making process. This free flow of ideas, strengthened by differing viewpoints reflecting the diversity of your team, may lead to decisions being made that have been held to higher standards of scrutiny than they might have been otherwise.
And although not every contribution can be actioned, effective implementation of democratic leadership involves explaining that contributions are valued nonetheless.
Allows for more efficient problem solving
With more minds working on a problem, the number of potential solutions increases. While decisions may be reached less quickly than under other leadership styles - autocratic leadership, we’re looking at you -it’s likely that the eventual solution will be arrived at via a more rigorous process.
Holding up a potential solution to commentary - and criticism - from members of the team is a good way to identify weaknesses and drawbacks before implementation, rather than cleaning up the mess afterward.
Invites higher levels of commitment
When you bring an idea to the table and it is heard, discussed, and potentially implemented in the eventual course of action, it’s hard not to feel more involved in your team.
As this culture becomes established, teams become more tight-knit, and team members are likely to feel higher levels of commitment and involvement. When used correctly, democratic leadership can foster positive and healthy company cultures.
Builds team relationships
We used the word “tight-knit” just now. By creating a workplace where people communicate, ideas flow, and discussions are had, the seeds are sown for stronger team relationships.
Under effective democratic leadership, discussion becomes the norm. Frequent communication with colleagues - especially around topics that have direct impact on your work life - can quickly form the basis for stronger professional (and personal) relationships.
Increases morale and job satisfaction
The two previous points combine to create a workplace where job satisfaction and morale are likely to be higher than they would be otherwise.
In a workplace where they feel valued, and where their contributions are clearly respected and sometimes taken on board, team members are likely to feel more satisfaction.
Everyone has had the experience of being subordinate to a leader who has no interest in what you say or think, and who sees you only as an extra pair of hands: Done right, this is not how people will feel under democratic leadership.
Honesty is prioritised
If the course of action ultimately decided upon by the leader is at odds with suggestions within the group (which, unless unanimous, will always be the case to some extent), then they must offer a convincing explanation to those whose input was not taken on board.
In this situation, honesty is the best policy. It allows for the preservation of goodwill, and ensures that contributions will be forthcoming.
A strong and clear vision for the future is built
To succeed, a democratic leader needs to define and articulate a vision for the future that team members can align with. We’ve spoken about inviting contributions and facilitating greater teamwork: A solid organisational vision is the foundation for these things.
In the context of a clearly articulated vision, the method of engaging with an idea you may disagree with changes. Instead of rejecting it, shooting it down, or criticising, team members are more likely to scrutinise and offer constructive feedback.
It can function in almost any workplace
Whereas some leadership styles perform best in a narrow range of settings (bureaucratic leadership, for example), democratic leadership is able to thrive in many workplaces.
In situations with strong procedural elements - like manufacturing, or the military - there is not as much scope to incorporate collective decision-making, but any workplace with teams can benefit.
Anyone can practice this leadership style
Democratic leadership is available to anyone, and because some of the burden of decision-making is transferred from the leader to the team, there is a potentially lower level of entry.
Despite this, higher competence is associated with better success. Cultivating a personal understanding of traits required to make democratic leadership work, and an understanding of how to effectively implement them, is important.
There are a few caveats. An effective democratic leader must be aware of the following risks:
- Procrastination: While collective decision-making has many benefits (outlined above), it can fall into the trap of circling around an issue without any movement actually being made toward a solution. This is where a leader must step in and steer the discussion and, eventually, make the final call.
- Poor solutions: Crowdsourced solutions aren’t always the best. A leader must be able to guide discussion to productive areas, and to step in if good ideas are not forthcoming.
- Dissent: If team members’ contributions are required for every decision, they may begin to question whether the leader actually knows what they are doing.
Preventing these relies on an awareness of the risks, and an understanding of how to effectively implement democratic leadership principles. To get a clearer idea of how your leadership talents can be applied, read our blog post about how leadership talents can be used to drive success.
Many of the advantages tap directly into the characteristics of democratic leadership, which is built on the assumption that involving team members in the process of arriving at decisions is a healthy way for an organisation to operate.
There are many benefits offered by democratic leadership. We’ve discussed how it can encourage participation, boost confidence, strengthen relationships, prioritise good qualities like honesty, and have noticeable impacts on morale.
As with any leadership style, getting the most out of democratic leadership requires an understanding of its principles, and a willingness of a leader to learn and improve their leadership technique.