There are some disadvantages to democratic leadership that you need to be aware of. Once you understand these disadvantages, you can counter them and limit any drawbacks of the style. Most of the democratic leadership disadvantages are centered on time and lengthy decision-making, and I have managed to limit these drawbacks as well in my role as an international CEO.
Democratic leadership is when an empowered team fully participates in the decision-making process. Ideas and suggestions can be brought forward by any team member, and there is a strive for consensus in decision-making. In the end, the democratic leader approves or makes the decision. Democratic leadership is an effective leadership style but can sometimes be too slow when fast decisions are needed.
To understand and learn the entire concept, read our main democratic leadership article, which contains an overview, how to implement it, and loads of other information and links concerning democratic leadership.
The disadvantages of Democratic Leadership
Democratic leadership may seem like the perfect leadership style for any business serious about growth. However, like any other leadership style, it has some flaws. Learn these weaknesses and monitor them as you move forward with implementing democratic leadership.
1. Resent may creep in.
A positive work environment is created when all team members are respected and valued. However, it is possible that some team members’ ideas and opinions may consistently be better or get more attention than the ideas of others. This may lead to others believing their ideas are not valued - the opposite of what democratic leadership should be. A democratic leader should know how to incorporate the ideas of as many team members as possible so that it does not seem that preference is being given to a select group of team members over others, thereby building empowerment in the entire team.
2. Collaborative decision-making is time-consuming.
Leaders often need to make quick decisions. Having to defer decisions to the team may cause unnecessary delays which either increase the problem or worsen the consequences. A strong democratic leader will know when to use collaborative decision-making and when to use a quicker approach that involves discussion with selected individuals or no discussion at all.
3. Team members can lose trust.
After some time in an environment of democratic leadership, team members start to expect a participative leadership approach and perhaps even see it as mandatory. Therefore, they become confused if and when the leader makes quick decisions without their input and without building consensus first. This can lead to uncertainty about when they’ll be included in decisions and a sense of feeling left out. A democratic leader needs to effectively communicate the reasons for quick decisions so that discord doesn’t permeate throughout the team.
4. There can be lulls where there is limited productivity.
Valuing the input of all team members is great. However, waiting for consensus in order so that the team can move forward creates periods where people are not sure what to do. This waiting time could lead to a reduction in productivity. Team leaders should understand how to simplify the decision-making process and reduce moments of low productivity. Furthermore, striving towards consensus does not mean that consensus is always a requirement.
5. The team’s expertise may be insufficient.
The input of team members can be more valuable when they are skilled and experienced as participation in decision-making leads to better decisions. Democratic leaders with an inexperienced team may get more ideas with limited viability or too many flaws. This can make the decision-making process longer so the leader should be mindful of this when setting up the decision-making team. (For these teams, use some coaching leadership as well, to develop your people.)
In order to limit the drawbacks of democratic leadership, you can alternate it with other styles, especially the six leadership styles by Goleman, which also contain the coaching leadership style and the visionary leadership style, for instance. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.) I go through the ins and outs of democratic leadership in this course: Democratic leadership training, which includes many of the methods and tricks I use in my job as a CEO. On top of that, it also includes some concrete and real examples that you can learn from and a step-by-step guide on how to become a great democratic leader.
Read about the definition, implementation steps, famous examples, practical democratic leadership situations etc., in our main democratic leadership article, or try our Lewin leadership styles test (new tab) to see if you are an autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire leader.
Additional resources on Democratic Leadership
Please have a look at our vast collection of articles concerning democratic leadership: