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Democratic Leadership: Its Advantages and Characteristics

5 min read
Last Updated on
democratic-leadership

Leaders are the primary decision-makers in any organization. They play a pivotal role in managing teams, employee engagement, and performance management.

Great leaders help a business to grow during a crisis with their impeccable problem-solving skills. They can either make it or break it.

Leaders, depending on their personality, traits, and attributes, follow different types of leadership styles. In the past, we have discussed relatively other styles of leadership like Charismatic Leadership, Coaching Leadership, Servant Leadership, etc.

This article will focus on the democratic leadership style or participative leadership and how it can benefit your organization.

People often consider autocratic leadership as demeaning and self-centered, but democratic leadership is just the opposite. It involves equal participation of the leaders and the subordinates in the decision making process. If you’re thinking Laissez-Faire Leadership and Participative Leadership are the same, no, they’re not. The former leaders leave all the decisions for their employees to take, but Democratic leadership works by allowing their employees to participate in their company decisions.

Let’s get to know more about Democratic Leadership.

What is Democratic Leadership?

Democratic leadership or participative leadership or shared leadership is one of the leadership styles that allows equal participation of everyone in a decision-making process.

As Winston Churchill once said-

“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.”

Word ‘Democracy’ means “run by people,” and Churchill mentioned even though it might be flawed it is yet the best method of governance. And, his words fit well while governing a workplace, too.

Democratic Leadership involves not only the leaders but also their employees in every decision-making process. Even though the leaders give the final word- team members participate equally during brainstorming and find a solution to a problem. Thus, it is also called participative or shared leadership.

Good democratic leaders know they are nothing without a productive and efficient workforce to maintain work consistency.

John Gastil’s definition of democratic leadership remains the best and succinct. He has done extensive research on this leadership style, and he defines it as-.

"Distributing responsibility among the membership, empowering group members, and aiding the group’s decision-making process."

Delving deeper, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of Democratic Leadership.

Most people would want to work in a shared leadership structure as it encourages a collaborative approach. And good democratic leadership means achieving success with mutual respect and collaborative efforts without losing one’s power of authority.

Like any other leadership style, this effective style has its pros and cons. Let’s look at the brighter side first-

Advantages of Democratic Leadership

Four major advantages of incorporating this leadership style are-

  1. Increased staff productivity
  2. Diverse ideas
  3. Innovations and creativity
  4. Builds a strong team

Let's look into these advantages in detail-

  • Increased staff productivity-

Shared leadership, encourages engagement and inputs, two things necessary for improving employee’s morale and performance. Employees are more likely to be happier when they know their opinions matter and more likely to go above and beyond.

  • Diverse Ideas-

Leaders are free to consult anyone and everyone. When inputs come from frontline employees, seniors have a better chance of making the correct decisions. This increases the likelihood that democratic leaders can make decisions that benefit as many people as possible.

  • Innovation and Creativity-

Mutual respect enables individuals to collaborate effectively as a team and develop fresh new ideas. Thus team members employ the use of innovative ideas and deliver desired business results.

  • Builds a strong team-

Since employees will work together on a specific task, they will spend a lot of time with one another, making a stronger team. They will understand the importance of teamwork and garner trust and admiration with mutual respect. This further implies that democratic leaders are not biased and show no signs of favoritism. Choices are made based on the best results delivered.

Disadvantages of Democratic Leadership

Surely, when there's good there's bad as well. We have listed four disadvantages of this leadership styel, they are-

  1. Resulst in slow decision-making process
  2. Not effective in a crisis
  3. Shows a lack of expertise
  4. Chances of dealing with rejection

Let's have a look at these disadvantages in detail-

  • Slow Decision-Making Process-

As democratic leadership requires many people’s input in the decision-making process, making a choice will take a longer time. Sometimes, it will result in slow down of the workflow and eventual project delays.

  • Not Effective In a Crisis-

Because these leaders tend to hear opinions from each other, it is difficult for them to decide without their team members or employees. They might not feel confident enough to make instant decisions during a crisis as they won’t have time to consult anyone.

  • A Lack of Expertise-

Even if a democratic leader can make a final decision, employees might not have adequate experience to make the right decisions. The emphasis is on considering everyone’s viewpoints, regardless if they are the right people to make decisions. Doing so, might lead to misguided choices that do not solve the problem.

  • Dealing with Rejection-

Almost every team member puts additional effort and time to provide their inputs. These viewpoints might either be great or not. Democratic leaders will have to make some tough decisions about the approaches they choose. These rejections can hamper an employee’s morale and enthusiasm.

Characteristics of Democratic Leadership

People and leaders often misunderstand autocrats as democratic, so most people have misconceptions about applying this leadership style in their company culture.

With the help of a collaborative thought process, democratic leadership is a team effort, and the leader chooses the best solution offered by their subordinates.

To help you understand this leadership style, we have further mentioned a few qualities that a democratic leader must have-

Intelligence-

Although all leaders must have intelligence as a quality- democratic leaders top the list. These leaders are considered smart because they effectively delegate their responsibilities. Leaders are responsible for providing background information to answer their employees’ questions.

They must select the right team with the right skill set to work on a project. Leaders need good decision making skills to choose the right solution and reject the ones that might not fit the requirements. It isn’t easy to make the team perform smoothly where leaders have to hear out every voice and make decisions without discounting anybody’s efforts.

Creativity

A democratic leader must also show their creative sides. Since this leadership style requires many innovative ideas and collaboration, the leader must assist the team with adequate knowledge and creativity.

Working closely with your employees for a decision-making process requires a fair amount of creativity and patience. Though creative thinking is an innate skill, it can also be enhanced and improved with time and experience. Creativity is easily achievable when people can speak their minds freely and are respected equally. Democratic leaders encourage such behaviors by rewarding innovating thinking.

Fairness

While applying this leadership style to practice, democratic leaders must show no signs of biases or favoritism. Since employees have the liberty to speak their minds and contribute equally to the decision-making process, leaders must show fairness at all times.

One of the key ways to be fairer is to set clear guidelines. If you and the team create a set of checklists and guidelines for the objectives you want to achieve, you limit the risk of being unfair. Communicate with your subordinates more and ensure you listen to feedback, even if you think it isn’t just.

Conclusion-

Now that we have come to the end of this blog post, we hope you now have a better understanding of Democratic Leadership, its advantages, and characteristics.

If you are someone who practices or would like to apply this leadership style in your organization, do let us know in the comments if this information was helpful and insightful.

This article is written by Gautam Gayan. He works as a Content Marketer at Vantage Circle. Apart from being a passionate content creator for HR services and employee engagement, Gautam is a theatre enthusiast, an avid reader and an asipring poet. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com