The democratic leadership style is a method that includes participative leadership and sharing in the responsibilities in a team environment. Although it is most often seen in the workplace, you can spot parents using this style with their children, coaches incorporating it with their teams, and teachers using it in the classroom. The goal of using this method is to encourage everyone to have more of a participative role when there are decisions that need to be made.
Any organization, public or private, can decide to make the democratic leadership style a top priority within their executive team. This process typically focuses on group equality to encourage a free flow of ideas and information, but the leader is not exempt from their role as a mentor, providing control and guidance throughout the process. Some groups allow everyone to have a say in the process, while others allow the manager to determine who gets to be in the group and who has a voice.
The democratic leadership style is one of the most effective methods that anyone in an executive position can use. It often leads to higher levels of productivity, more contributions from the group, and better morale because everyone feels like they have some level of ownership over what they’re being asked to do each day.
List of the Advantages of the Democratic Leadership Style
1. This leadership style connects people to their work.
When employees feel like they have a connection to their team and employer, then they are more inclined to be happy and productive. Improvements of up to 25% are possible by creating more engagement through the democratic process. When the entire team buys into the solution that they’re working toward, then they have 28% less internal theft and another 20% boost in production. Workers who feel like they are engaged are then 27% more likely to report that they perform with excellence.
2. It works to promote the free flow of ideas.
Democratic leaders care about getting their team involved with the problem-solving process. They want their direct reports to feel like there is a benefit to earn when they contribute their knowledge and experience to an outcome. It provides opportunities for the manager to seek out opinions from others while encouraging each person to make an informed, empowered decision about what can become possible. Because there is more input available when using this structure, then the ideas and information flow better and become more usable for each person.
3. This structure encourages trust and respect throughout the team.
Workers must be in an environment where they feel comfortable sharing an idea with their supervisor. The democratic leadership style gives each team member the knowledge that their opinions will be given serious consideration, even if the idea presented does not become part of the solution. Sustainable relationship-building work is the only way to create this internal environment.
Democratic leaders must move beyond productivity and performance to create relationships that have meaning personally and professionally. It is this advantage which sets them apart from the autocratic or transactional leaders that are working out there today. A democratic leader wants to see the person succeed in addition to the project.
4. Democratic leaders place more of an emphasis on values and morality.
The belief system of the democratic leader will become the foundation of what the entire team decides as their identity. The people who use this style must believe that every person on their team has a fundamental right to be heard. These managers must facilitate interactions with everyone, even those who are reluctant to join, because it provides for the greater good of the entire group. That’s why you will see this philosophy in action with almost every executive leadership team in the corporate world. By soliciting more advice, it becomes easier to make decisions that are ethically and morally correct with greater regularity.
5. Leaders who use this style are seen as being more competent.
When you are a leader in any definition of the word, it becomes a challenge to remain in that position if your ideas are thrown away consistently. Trying to keep everything straight can be an immense challenge. There must be more competency in the role of an executive, manager, or team leader for the opinions, experience, or advice to become useful. These leaders must also have a natural intelligence in how they approach or utilize ideas from their team.
You must have a balance in the inclusion of a free-flowing conversation with control over the direction of its topics. If the leader doesn’t take charge of the discussion, then the group can become distracted and start talking about topics that have no meaning on the current problems which require a resolution.
6. It takes an open and honest mind to be a democratic leader.
Democratic leaders must keep an open mind when they find themselves in a management situation because there will be dissenting opinions almost all of the time. The managers and executives might even find themselves at odds with what the rest of their team wants to do. There is always a time and place where those in charge will listen and take alternative ideas into account because there might be some words of wisdom to glean from that feedback. Failing to implement this advantage indicates that the person in a leadership role is not ready to manage using democratic principles.
7. Democratic leaders receive a more diverse set of ideas.
Democratic leaders do more than make decisions based off of their personal experiences or education. They must include a diverse set of ideas that come from the team members who are around them each day. This feedback becomes a valuable source of input because the people who are working on the front lines often see internal information in a different way. Direct reports usually have a better grasp on the decisions that must be made to help an organization is clientele more than the senior leadership team. By asking these people their thoughts, opinions, or observations, it becomes possible to make a better decision because there were more team members involved in the outcome.
8. It allows teams to develop more strength.
Because the democratic leadership style encourages teams to work together through discussion to find the best possible decision, it is more likely than not that a strong team unit will begin forming. Workers typically understand the importance of being a team player with regards to the implementation of the mission and vision of the organization. There is a natural respect for the ideas and thoughts of their co-workers, even in disagreement, because the different perspectives allow everyone to reach their goals with greater simplicity.
This advantage makes it possible for the individual relationships on the team to experience an increase in admiration and trust, which then enhances all of the other benefits that come with the democratic style.
9. This leadership style can create a robust vision for the future.
There will always be people who disagree with the group decision that is made when using the democratic leadership style. An entire team might decide that they should move in a different direction than the course of action that was decided upon by their supervisor. Instead of offering feedback that suggests one idea is superior to another, this method of making decisions encourages team members to discuss the pros and cons of each idea to ensure that the best possible outcomes occur every single time.
10. It increases the amount of knowledge that is available to the team.
Diverse ideas do more than build a firm foundation for the corporate choices that must be made. These discussions also help people to expand their knowledge in a variety of ways. Different people bring their unique skills and experiences so that everyone contributes their personal perspectives. This process allows each team member to work on their unique strengths to support the overall mission of the organization. It is an advantage which often provides an outcome where more competencies develop over time for everyone involved.
List of the Disadvantages of the Democratic Leadership Style
1. The democratic leadership style requires extra time to implement a decision.
Democratic leaders can quickly increase the levels of morale other team by soliciting ideas, opinions, or advice from each team member. The only problem with this approach is that you can take a significant amount of time to complete. Because there are a large number of direct reports involved in the decision-making process, it takes more resources to reach the correct choice. If this process is inefficient, then it can hinder productivity and reduce the pace of the workflow. This disadvantage can often leave employees feeling more frustrated about their team compared to having a leader make decisions immediately.
2. This leadership style in ineffective during crisis situations.
The democratic leadership style works exceptionally well when there is enough time to develop an informational database from an entire team of direct reports. If an organization is facing an emergency situation, then the time it takes to solicit feedback from each worker becomes a hindrance because it increases the delay of resource implementation. Even leaders who are tasked with making an immediate choice in the situation may feel uncomfortable doing so because they are so used to involving the input of their team or fellow managers.
3. This method relies on the expertise of the team to be useful.
Most managers and executives get into their leadership position because they have the capability to make a final decision when it becomes necessary to do so. Their experiences in the industry in which they work allows them to steer their direct reports in the correct direction for each project. When supervisors decide to implement the democratic leadership style, then there is a direct reliance on the experience of each team member. Even when the emphasis is on hearing every possible voice, there is no guarantee that the employees will have the necessary experience to provide meaningful feedback.
4. The emphasis of the leadership style can take a priority.
The democratic leadership style can sometimes cause managers to solicit as many opinions as possible when a decision must be made even though they already have their mind set on a specific course of action. When the emphasis of the leader’s activities is to hear has many voices as possible instead of listening to the opinions or advice they receive, then there is no point to this process. This disadvantage can lead executives to make a poorly informed choice that doesn’t solve the problem at hand because they are blinded by their own misguided self-confidence.
5. Democratic leaders must often deal with rejection.
There are two layers to this disadvantage that must be taken under consideration when thinking about the democratic leadership style.
- Anyone on the team who offers an opinion that is disregarded by the leader for the final decision will experience the negative emotions that come from that rejection.
- Leaders who have their mind set on having an idea implement it one way, but then their team overrules that concept with a different approach, will need to manage the rejection that they experience from their direct reports.
Whenever someone asks another person for their opinion, then there is an expectation that the concepts shared through that discussion will be implemented in some manner. There will be times when a democratic leader must make a challenging decision about which approach to use, and how they will inform their direct reports about which ideas were excepted and the ones that were rejected. Intense feelings often come from this interaction.
6. This leadership style can sometimes encourage workplace procrastination.
When a leader finds themselves in a position where decision must be made, then a heavy reliance on their team members can lead to a position of procrastination. There are times when a choice must be made immediately, but a desire to avoid conflict or confrontation might cause a different outcome. Even when a decision doesn’t need to be made immediately, and the leaders who use the style might decide to wait to see if they can receive a better idea than the ones that they have available to them at the moment.
7. It is very rare for a team to reach a consensus decision.
Democratic leaders who decide to wait for a consensus when pushing forward with the decision may find themselves waiting forever. Unless you are working with a very small team, reaching a true consensus can be virtually impossible. Because everyone has an opportunity to share their experiences, voice their opinions, or offer a perspective they learned through their education, the time it takes to reach a final decision can become a liability. Having discussions that creates uniformity with the team could cause lower levels of productivity instead of inspiring additional work.
8. There is always an element of uncertainty when using the Democratic leadership style.
Every team has a set of unique personalities that can encourage some members to share ideas readily and others to avoid speaking at all. People who are uncomfortable with the idea of discussing a critical decision with their supervisor are more prone to stay quiet during a brainstorming period even if they have a great idea. There can be apprehension involved with this environment because someone’s ideas may have been rejected multiple times without any positive feedback in return. Sometimes leaders only use this method sporadically, so their direct reports never know when they’ll be called upon to offer an idea.
When there is no consistency in the application of the democratic leadership style, then the employees will begin to lose confidence in their leader. The executive team might lose control of their policies. You might even see a complete abandonment of effort by the front-line workers.
9. This leadership style does not always come with a clear definition.
Managers to use the democratic leadership style often define themselves by their own conduct instead of using the team concept. It is not unusual for the direct reports of a supervisor to define themselves as a team based off of the decisions and conduct that they see in their immediate leadership. Trying to measure the responses our outcomes that are generated from the group discussions and free flow of information can be challenging because they’re not always clear definitions for creative answers. It is necessary to start this process with a firm structure to ensure this disadvantage is avoided at all costs.
10. Some leaders do not know how to correctly use this technique.
Some executives struggle with the democratic leadership style because they are so used to making decisions by themselves. Team members can find the structures of this option challenging because they are so used to being told what to do. Many direct reports already feel like they do more of the important work for the organization and then their direct manager, so there can be feelings of discontent already in place. If the manager always uses one person’s ideas without giving that individual recognition, then there can be problems with insubordination, higher levels of employee turnover, or a refusal to participate in the decision-making processes of the future.
11. The democratic style encourages no one to take responsibility for a bad idea.
Because everyone is involved in the decision making process with the democratic leadership style, then it encourages not want to take responsibility should a failure occur. There will always be a lot of blame to pass around when something unexpected happens, but the structure doesn’t start with the person who offered the suggestion that didn’t work. Because everyone from the executive team to leadership to the frontline workers can have a say in the process, an organization can find itself struggling to survive because no one steps up to fix the situation.
12. Democratic leaders must know how to request information from others.
Feedback is only beneficial when using this leadership style if there is an authenticity to it. Leaders must have a specific level of confidence in themselves so that they can solicit information from their direct reports to ensure that the advantages of diversity are present in whatever solution that occurs. People who do not have the necessary education or needed skills will be less likely to provide a creative solution that could produce meaningful results – and this disadvantage applies to the entire chain of command in an organization. Unless there is wisdom present in the democratic discussions, then positive outcomes become exceptionally rare to find.
Conclusion of the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Democratic Leadership Style
One of the best practices to follow when implementing the democratic leadership style is to keep a record of every idea that a team suggests. It is almost impossible to utilize every approach or idea that could be suggested during a brainstorming session. By keeping track of each idea in some way, executives can keep track of possible solutions that could be useful in future situations.
There will always be people who are not excited about the idea of a long, drawn out process to make a decision. Sometimes workers benefit from immediate feedback instead of waiting for their annual review. Organization succeed more often when there are specific issues that can bypass this leadership style so that emergency situations can reach a quicker resolution. Simple problems and common issues should be noted as such to make the decision-making process faster.
The advantages and disadvantages of the democratic leadership style promote productivity, encourage each employee to have a voice in the problem-solving process, and encourage individual creativity. By creating an environment which focuses upon diversity, companies can create strong teams with high morale that can drive innovation forward. Because this style is more of a skill than a talent, it is up to the hiring managers of each organization to pick out the people that they believe will make the most significant impact today, tomorrow, and into the future.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.