Democratic leadership inspires collaboration and prioritizes employee engagement in the decision-making process

As you ascend the five levels of leadership, there will come a time for you to decide which leadership style suits you best. Are you authoritative, a coach, or a collaborator? Each style has its merits. In this article, you'll see the democratic leadership style explained, with examples of what it looks like and its pros and cons. 

What is the democratic leadership style?

While the democratic leader retains the final say in any decision-making process, the democratic leadership style (sometimes called participative management) encourages active participation from each team member. Employees who feel empowered to communicate freely become vested in the outcome, which increases productivity. 

While the democratic leadership style has been touted as the most effective, it can be slow. This is especially problematic when a quick decision is needed. Additionally, employees are not always privy to the inner workings of some organizational processes, which limits their ability to make informed decisions. 

Different types of leadership

How do you know that democratic leadership is right for you? There are at least five different leadership styles.

  1. Authoritative: This leadership style should not be confused with authoritarian. Authoritarian is an if I say it, you do it type of leadership style. Authoritative is a come, follow me style of leadership. As an authoritative leader, you provide guidance, feedback, and motivation that allows your staff to feel like they're accomplishing great things. 

  2. Transactional: You'll find transactional leadership in highly structured environments, like the military, professional sports associations, and multinational companies. The transactional leader relies on a very well-defined reward and punishment system to ensure that employees toe the company line. 

  3. Laissez-faire (also known as delegative): This is a trust your team leadership style. You tell them what to do by assigning tasks and letting them go. There is no micromanaging from this type of leader. You must truly trust your staff. If your team isn't a peak-performing team, this is probably not the best leadership style to adopt. 

  4. Transformational: This is the management style that focuses on challenging the status quo to inspire change - sometimes major change - to keep up with the times. This leader has a knack for tapping into the potential of staff members to inspire them to go above and beyond expectations. 

  5. Democratic: As mentioned earlier in this article, the democratic leader encourages collaboration, allowing the entire team to participate in identifying problems and brainstorming solutions. It requires that you be able to share your power. 

The best way to choose whether democratic leadership is right for you is to make a list of your soft skills. If things like high emotional intelligence and being articulate appear, the democratic leadership style might be right for you. 

What does democratic leadership look like?

Leaders want to inspire their team to greater levels of productivity. Employees want leaders who are honest, fair, respectful, and open to collaboration. Democratic leadership leverages all of these traits. 

  • Honest: You can't expect your team to make good decisions unless you're honest with them about expectations and outcomes.

  • Fair and respectful: At the very core of allowing staff members to participate in an open exchange of ideas is the concepts of fairness and respect. By allowing them to share their input, they feel important in the process of getting things done. 

  • Open to collaboration: While you get the final say, employees get to provide their input into everything from timelines, to breaking up tasks, to how the final pieces of a project fall into place. 

Obviously, allowing your team to participate in decisions means that you should have specific skills, including adaptability, effective communication, creativity, and innovation. It can be challenging to fuse diverse ideas into a cohesive plan. If you're adaptable and creative, you'll find this task less daunting. 

How to engage your staff in the democratic leadership style

Successfully executing democratic leadership isn't as simple as telling the group, “Hey, we have this project coming up. Gather together and prepare a timeline and the budget, and define the deliverables.” You have to participate with them in the process. That involves:

  • Asking open-ended questions that allow them to dive further into the process

  • Not allowing a single person or a clique of people to run the show, but rather making sure that everyone is taking part in the process

  • Watching your own body language - for example, don't grimace at a bad idea

  • Not allowing frustration at the process to creep in and turn you into an authoritarian

The democratic process is an effective one or else it wouldn't be so widely used. Planning and preparing are crucial to your success as a democratic leader. 

Pros and cons of democratic leadership

While it may seem that distributing power to staff is good for championing improved productivity, it can be quite inefficient, as we've alluded to earlier in this article. One of the great things about this leadership style, if you're able to make it work for you, is that you can use it anywhere. 

The pros

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are becoming more important in today's business environment. Allowing team members to participate in the decision-making process goes a long way to creating a culture of excellence with a focus on equity and inclusivity. Your team will be cohesive and will often be able to solve the most complex problems through active engagement in open communication. 

Some other pros to democratic leadership:

  • Employees express increased job satisfaction

  • Your staff will tap into possibly unknown sources of creativity

  • The members of your team will trust each other

The cons

As with everything in life, there's the good and the bad. The same is true with democratic leadership. You already know that it can be a slow process. This is, of course, potentially problematic if you have to solve a problem quickly. Perhaps your team is coming to the end of a project, but there is an unexpected issue. The deadline is looming. This is a moment when the democratic leadership style may be detrimental to operational success. 

Some other cons to democratic leadership:

  • You can become overwhelmed by the number of solutions you receive

  • You have to be prepared to deal with the negative emotions surrounding your staff members feeling rejected if you don't choose their ideas

  • If you're in a role that allows you to use the democratic leadership style, there may not be much of a roadmap for what your own success will look like

Overcome the challenges of democratic leadership

A great leader will be able to get past the pitfalls of their leadership style. This is equally true for the democratic leader. Yes, allowing the team to participate in decision-making activities may be a slow process. You may have ideas that are too diverse. It may even be that your team simply can't reach a consensus on a topic. You combat these problems by planning for them. 

  1. Set deadlines for ideas and input: The democratic leadership style can certainly lead to procrastination. It's easy for a manager to tell executives that something is falling behind because the team hasn't reached a decision. Of course, that makes the democratic leader look bad. The best way to avoid this is by setting deadlines. You can also hold daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings to ascertain progress and get verbal feedback as to any outstanding decisions. 

  2. Put a specific plan into place: By building a standardized process that allows team members to share ideas, you will overcome some of the potential cons before they even happen. Set clearly defined goals and objectives for your team, so that they understand what is expected. Just because they get to participate in the decision-making process, doesn't mean they don't need guidance and direction. 

  3. Solicit expert information when appropriate: You're committed to the democratic process. You want everyone to have a voice. However, you have to realize that there are times when it isn't appropriate or even justified for staff to participate in a decision. 

When should you use democratic leadership?

As you develop your democratic leadership style, you may wonder where it would work best. Should you use it at a large, multinational corporation? Perhaps it would be best used at a smaller enterprise. The good news is that the democratic leadership style can be used almost anywhere. 

Here are some ideas for when it's best to use a democratic leadership style:

  • When creativity is a necessity: It's been said already, but it is worth repeating. Creativity and innovation are one of the perks of the democratic leadership style. You will receive diverse ideas born from the creative minds of your diverse workforce. 

  • When your workforce is in a younger age bracket: People in their 20s and 30s want managers who allow them the freedom to learn and grow. These members of staff often desire professional development. A Gallup poll found that “87% of millennials rate 'professional career growth and development opportunities' as important to them.”

  • When you're working with subject matter experts: If the people in your charge have already been recognized as leaders in their field, there would be no point in trying to manage them with an iron fist. They'd find it insulting, so you'd probably get a lot of pushback from them, making your job as their leader more difficult. 

Put your democratic leadership style to work

That's it; you've decided that democratic leadership will work best for you. Now, it's time to get your plans together to get it implemented into your everyday work life. You can begin to define how to put it into place by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the goal of each project?

  • What do I need my team to accomplish?

  • Does this leadership style affect the right people? Who are those people? How do they benefit from it?

  • Does the timeline allow the right amount of time for staff to collaborate effectively?

  • What is the most important outcome of this project?

By being transparent about your expectations, your team will be able to properly focus their efforts on specific situations. There must be a time when you will step in as the leader to make the final decision. Let the team know when that is. It will increase the feeling that they're in a safe environment and improve their ability to openly communicate ideas. 

Remember to be on the lookout for people who aren't participating in the process. It may not be something lacking on their part. They may be being left out. Encourage your team to allow everyone to take part in the process. 

What are some examples of democratic leadership?

Possibly, the first thing you think of when you hear democratic leadership has to do with government. The United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, and several other countries use democracy as a way to solve national problems. But, considering that democratic leadership can be utilized almost anywhere, it's just as effective in the daily operation of small to large businesses.

Outside of government, you can model your leadership style after industry giants like Tim Cook of Apple, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Muhtar Kent of the Coca-Cola Corporation. All of these folks built reputations for surrounding themselves with people who could challenge them and would participate with them in hard-hitting decision-making processes. Like the leaders at Google, you should work to adopt the idea that great ideas can be born anywhere. 

On top of those industry powerhouses, you can also consider the democratic leadership portrayed by entities like 4-H organizations, the Boy Scouts, and worker cooperatives. These groups elect a leader and then work together to make pertinent decisions. 

The takeaway

The democratic leadership style may have some downfalls, but it's considered one of the best management styles because it allows improved productivity through open communication. Allowing team members to be a part of the overall process of their own jobs allows them to take ownership of processes and procedures. It also allows them to have a better understanding of how what they do fits in the whole operational picture. 

By showcasing your commitment to the democratic leadership style on your resume, you will stand a better chance of landing a position that puts you in a place to use it. TopResume has a team of professional resume writers standing by to help you put your best foot forward in moving into a leadership role. Why not submit your own resume for a free review today?

Recommended reading:

Related Articles: