What Is a Democratic Leader? (With Pros, Cons, and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many organizations place importance on developing a strong leadership model that motivates and encourages employees to perform well and feel satisfaction. There are many leadership styles that an organization can implement depending on its organizational structure, including democratic leadership. By understanding what democratic leadership involves, it can help you to determine whether this is the type of leader you want to become. In this article, we explore what a democratic leader is, discuss the characteristics of democratic leadership, list its advantages and disadvantages, and provide some tips for implementing it in the workplace.

What is a democratic leader?

A democratic leader is an individual with authority in an organization that uses the democratic leadership model to guide a team. Participative leadership or shared leadership are also terms for democratic leadership. As a leader in a democratic environment, you place a lot of emphasis and importance on involving team members in the decision-making process. You may also involve other stakeholders that are relevant to the project or task, such as external parties, senior managers, subject experts, and other departments. For example, you may schedule a meeting with team members to discuss the best implementation for an upcoming project.

Team members participate equally during brainstorming sessions, and leaders value the opinions and ideas of the employees. There's always open communication and discussion between members of the leadership team and the employees. Leaders encourage employees to provide feedback, which they use to make improvements on how they lead.

Related: The Importance of Leadership (With Essential Skills)

Characteristics of democratic leadership

A leader in a democratic organization understands the importance of employee creativity. As leaders in this leadership style value transparency and participation in the communication and decision-making process, it inspires trust, confidence, and motivation from their employees. The following are some characteristics and qualities of these leaders:

  • Intelligent: Democratic leadership requires leaders to listen to all ideas and opinions to make a well-balanced decision that benefits the project and the success of the team. Leaders require intelligence to delegate their responsibilities effectively and ensure employees feel involved.

  • Flexible: Democratic leaders require certain flexibility to try new solutions that may benefit the team and organization. Democratic leadership teams often weigh the pros and cons of the ideas and adapt solutions to their team's dynamics.

  • Creative: The democratic leadership process involves innovation by employees, sessions for brainstorming, and collaboration between several people. Leaders require creativity to participate in and facilitate these aspects of the leadership model to assist the team.

  • Fair: It's important for the democratic leadership process to be fair and unbiased without any favouritism. Fairness creates a transparent and trusting environment where team members feel comfortable speaking their minds and contributing equally to the team.

  • Communicative: A successful democratic leadership model relies on effective and transparent communication between leaders and team members. To ensure the team is proactive, leaders provide resources to enable the team to make and communicate decisions.

  • Collaborative: Even though leaders have the final say in many decisions, it's a team effort to brainstorm ideas and identify the best solution for the project and the team. Direct participation helps leaders build trust with team members and create a healthy environment that enables successful democratic leadership.

Related: 10 Qualities That Can Help You Become a Successful Leader

Advantages of the democratic leadership style

A democratic leadership style can benefit organizations that value employee participation and open communication. The following are some benefits you may experience if you implement this leadership style:

Greater productivity

Participative leadership encourages employee engagement and ideas. These two factors are important for promoting productivity within a team and an organization. When employees feel that their opinions have value and that leaders care about their ideas, they're more likely to feel motivation and encouragement to work towards the collective goals. Participative leadership also helps employees understand the reasoning behind specific solutions, which makes them more efficient and effective in their tasks.

Related: What Is the Servant Leader Model? And How to Apply It

Better team alignment

When multiple people take part in the decision-making process, there's better alignment between employees and organizational goals. Employees share different ideas and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, which helps them understand the motivations behind the final decision. They know the team is working towards a common goal and have a better grasp of their part in helping the organization reach that goal.

Related: What Is Participative Leadership? (With Processes and Types)

Stronger teams

Since employees and leaders work together in the decision-making process, it creates a stronger relationship between all parties. Team members spend a lot of time together brainstorming ideas, solving challenges, and working towards project goals and deliverables. Not only do team members understand the importance of open communication and communication between each other, but they also have trust and confidence in their leader.

Related: What Are the 5 Leadership Models and How Can You Use Them?

More awareness of company values

Participative leaders focus on sharing company values and goals with team members to use as guidance in the decision-making process. Leaders are also transparent in communicating decisions, values, knowledge, and organizational changes with a team. They also share the vision, mission, and objective of every company member. When everyone shows commitment, then every person is aware of what they're working towards. They also know how leaders compare their ideas against company values to make the best choice among the options available.

Related: A Guide to Project Management Leadership Styles (With Tips)

Greater innovation

When team members openly discuss their ideas and share them with each other, it promotes creativity and innovation. Each team member has different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise that shape their values, thoughts, and opinions. The more people that share new ideas, the more existing processes can improve to become more efficient and effective. Team members can also look at problems from different aspects and openly discuss the pros and cons of different options to create the best solution for the scenario.

Disadvantages of a democratic leadership style

The following are some disadvantages you may experience as a participative leader:

Slow decision-making process

Since the democratic leadership style values opinions from multiple parties, it may slow down the decision-making process as discussions take place. For example, it could cause a slower start or workflow process for a project. If there's a crisis in the project or organization that requires urgent solutions, confident decisions by participative leaders may not be readily available, as they have a history of asking for input from others.

Lack of expertise

While all employees actively and equally take part in the decision-making process, they may not be subject experts. The focus is on ensuring everyone on the team contributes and not on whether they have the experience to make those decisions. This could create decisions that are not as effective at solving the problem or making improvements.

Different involvement preferences

Not all employees enjoy having an active role in making decisions, so some may take on a role that involves implementing the leaders' solutions. If generating ideas isn't your strength, it could make the democratic leadership model less effective. This could also cause solutions to be less effective than if everyone took part in the discussions.

Rejection

Leaders select from the many great ideas available from the team. If a team member actively participates in the democratic leadership model, but the leader frequently chooses ideas from other team members, it could cause lower employee morale and enthusiasm. The team member may choose not to share as many ideas in the future or begin to refrain from discussions altogether.

Tips to implement democratic leadership in the workplace

The following are some tips you can follow to help you implement a democratic leadership style in the workplace effectively:

Evaluate the team's needs and goals

While democratic leadership has many benefits for organizations and teams, not every team or project is compatible with this leadership style. Consideration of several factors is necessary, such as team size, project details, and organizational goals and structure. It's important to evaluate each aspect carefully and determine if democratic leadership brings value to the organization.

Provide training

Once implementation of a democratic leadership style is complete, it's important to equip team members with the right skills and tools to take part in the model. For example, employees require strong communication skills to share their ideas and listen to opinions in an unbiased way. It's also important to teach employees how to provide constructive feedback.

Encourage participation

Democratic leadership relies on active participation from employees. Encourage team members to share any ideas they have that may improve processes or solve problems. During group discussions and meetings, ensure each participant voices their ideas. It's important to let people know you encourage and welcome their thoughts.

Provide motivation

During the decision-making process, praise employees for their participation and provide constructive feedback that team members can discuss openly. Motivation is important to help familiarize team members with the decision-making process, especially if they don't enjoy being a part of it. It improves employee morale and helps them gain confidence to share their ideas.

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