Democratic Leadership | How does it work?

Democratic is as a leadership style where leaders share decision-making with members of the organisation.

The initial philosophical belief behind taking this approach, comes from the notion that merely by being human, anyone and everyone should  play a part in the decisions that a group or organisation makes.

There is still a leader within the group of course, hence it being referred to as a leadership style.

The role of the leader here is to offer guidance and control, deciding who should be called upon from within a group, depending on the circumstances and skills within the organisation.

Why leaders use it...

Research has proven this leadership style to be one of the most effective, creating higher levels of productivity, whilst getting better contributions from  members of the organisation. It is also known to increase morale in organisations by making its members feel more valued.

There are obviously leaders that do not like this approach, but if you think about idea generation, if you are getting more members of the organisation sharing their thoughts and ideas, statistically you are more likely to find a solution.

Why leaders don't use it...

Well to start with, it’s time consuming. As with all democratic processes, they take longer to make sure everyone is heard, and it also inevitably creates a back and forth between members of the group making the decision.

Creating a decision making group comes with a lot of problems when the roles and objectives within the group become unclear.

Whilst you are more likely to generate more ideas, the chances of the right solution being chosen doesn’t always increase.

Personality traits of democratic leaders

At the core of all democratic leaders, is a desire to encourage members of organisations to share their ideas, they naturally want to involve other members of the organisation.

Their long term ambition is to built up the confidence in their subordinates to a stage where they can make progress without supervision.

Creativity is not always wanted and rarely recognised in organisations, simply because it is hard to do so comparatively to other achievements that are considered normal best practice within an organisation, but a true democratic leader has become consciously aware of this and keeps an eye out to recognise this.

Researchers believe that the traits of leaders who are able to operate democratically include being: trustworthy, honest, brave, creative and fair. 

Voices of dissent are not silenced by the democratic leader, but are heard even when they don’t want to hear them!

Making democratic leadership effective

Democratic leadership works best in situations where group members are skilled and eager to share their knowledge. It is also important to have plenty of time to allow people to contribute, develop a plan, and then vote on the best course of action.

The best possible outcome of going through the process of trying to implement a democratic leadership process is a ‘shared vision’ that everybody believes in.

It’s hard to say what’s worse, having no vision, or a vision that the rest of the organisation don’t buy into, but whether it comes from an individual or a collective, the collective is carrying it out.

This means at some point you are going to need to involve them, so why not from the start?

A few things to look out for

  • Procrastination within a decision making group often leads to circling around an issue, and avoiding decisions that lead to a solution. If a leader notices this happening then they must step in and steer the discussion.
  • Dissent: Once a leader says that they need input from team members then they may begin to think that leader doesn’t know what they are doing. This makes it a good idea for the leader to earn trust and respect before trying to implement this solution.
  • Camels: ‘A camel is a horse designed by committee’, this phrase emphasises the ineffectiveness of incorporating too many conflicting opinions into a single project through compromise. This can easily happen in organisations where you have multiple stakeholders all trying to make sure that the solution put in place best suits their area.

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