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Democratic Leadership Examples at work

Updated January 18, 2023 by Carl Lindberg

I have been asked to provide a few more democratic leadership examples to bring this leadership style alive more concretely. The democratic leadership examples in this article are all based on real-life stories from my leadership career and my role as a CEO. Before we go into the democratic leadership examples, I will provide you with a brief answer and a short overview of the democratic leadership style. If you really want to master this style, then take our democratic leadership course where I teach you how to use democratic leadership like a CEO or check out my book For starters, I would like to recommend my book Leadership Styles Classics: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (Amazon).

What are examples of Democratic Leadership in the workplace?

Democratic leadership examples are abundant in the world of businesses. When you gather a team to jointly handle a problem, improve a process, set targets, or simply plan the week ahead, democratic leadership can serve the team very well.

What are example elements of Democratic Leadership at work?

These are examples of democratic leadership elements at work: everyone can voice their opinion, are respected, feel important, participate in planning and decision-making, especially when it comes to setting joint targets and goals.

Democratic Leadership, a short introduction

For a complete understanding of the democratic leadership style, its advantages, disadvantages, how and when to apply it, etc., I suggest you read our main article on democratic leadership. The below is just a brief introduction before we present the democratic leadership examples.          

Democratic leadership is when an empowered team fully participates in the decision-making process. Any team member can bring forward ideas and suggestions, 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.

Democratic Leadership Example Elements

Now that you are familiar with the democratic leadership style, let us look at seven example elements that drive democratic leadership and also represent some of the advantages of this leadership style.

These are examples of democratic leadership:

  1. All opinions are brought forward in team meetings.
  2. Everyone speaks their minds in team meetings. Silent team members are specifically asked their opinions to make sure all perspectives are heard.
  3. When a democratic leader makes sure to be the last to state an opinion, which reduces the risk of others taking the easy way of simply agreeing with the leader.
  4. When everyone feels important during planning and decision making
  5. When targets are set jointly after listening to opinions, challenges, and any other facts or opinions
  6. When suggestion boxes are taken seriously
  7. When everyone’s calendar matters when booking meetings, not leaving everyone to adjust to the leader’s availability, regardless of the impact on others

You can get further inspiration from our article How can democratic leadership be effective? Besides these broad examples that can apply to many, many different settings and situations in the workplace, I want to give you a few democratic leadership examples in business, i.e., the area where I am personally active as a democratic leader myself, additional examples are presented in my democratic leadership course.

Democratic Leadership Examples: When democratic leadership has been successful

I will tell you three stories and examples from my leadership career, providing you with a more concrete understanding of how democratic leadership can be part of your job as well.

The three democratic leadership stories are:

  • The weekly meeting example of democratic leadership
  • How to set budgets, targets, and goals together in democratic leadership
  • A troubleshooting or continous improvement example of democratic leadership

After that, I outline a few areas where I have used democratic leadership and failed. If you want to learn my secret tips and tricks on how to successfully use this style, then refer to my course in democratic leadership.

Democratic Leadership Example: The weekly meeting

Most leaders gather their team frequently for status and update reasons. I use weekly huddles with my team, and I ensure that they are run with a democratic leadership approach as a basis rather than a commanding or pacesetting leadership style. Rather than checking everyone’s KPIs and detailed progress or requesting them to show a weekly update on their action plans, I go around the table and ask if they have any topics for the meeting. Each person names any topics that they want to be handled at the meeting. The topics could be important news, information sharing, an unresolved problem, a customer complaint, a logistical issue, or pretty much anything. As I go through all the team members, I keep a list of the topics each person quickly mentions. After five minutes, the circle is complete, and I have a rough list of issues in my hand. I decide, perhaps not democratically, which topics are the most urgent, and we start with them. Each topic is handled in just a few minutes, and we quickly set up ways forward or decide to have separate meetings with a few selected individuals to address them. This way, the entire group does not sit idle while a topic for two individuals is discussed in front of the others. In one hour, we shared vital information within the team, had the opportunity to ask for input, agreed on additional meetings, etc.

So, why do I see this as a democratic leadership example? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Everyone gets the opportunity to bring up what is important to them
  2. We quickly decide on the next steps by any team member suggesting a natural next step in a consensus direction. Rather than voting, we ask if anyone is against or has a better idea.
  3. All team members get a rough understanding of what is going on in all areas of the organization and get the same information, which builds transparency
  4. Although speedy and efficient, anyone can halt the process if they disagree on something
  5. Everyone has the opportunity to ask questions or come with ideas, even if it is outside of their specialization or area of control
  6. We regularly discuss the methodology, length, attendance needs, and occasions concerning this meeting. If the process starts to fail us, we discuss how to improve together.

The entire process builds strong empowerment with a democratic approach. If the leader is absent, any other team member can assume the role to chair the meeting and gather and prioritize the topics. Do note that this effective setup works well in a team that happens to have a great climate. We trust each other, dare to speak up, and respect each other. Suppose those dimensions are not in place and perceived by all. In that case, the above meeting will have a smokescreen of democratic leadership but most likely be autocratic or commanding leadership in the end. (You can find information on all these styles in our leadership styles portal.)

Is it undemocratic that one person prioritizes the topics in this democratic leadership example? Democratic leadership is not about voting and agreeing on every single detail. There is a difference between consensus-seeking and actual consensus, and the former is more important than the latter. The key things are openness, avoiding commanding leadership, information transparency, and everyone having a say. I show you exactly how to run meetings like this in my democratic leadership course.

If you go too far with democratic leadership, the meeting described above can easily take three times longer without any real benefit in the end, a typical disadvantage of the style. Find guidance by using these seven steps for implementing democratic leadership.

Try our Lewin leadership styles test (new tab) to see if you are an autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire leader.

Democratic Leadership Example: Budgeting and target setting

When the budgeting season comes, I participate in a large number of budget meetings. I make the final decisions in the end, as expected in my leadership role. I still apply democratic leadership in the budget meetings by following these principles:

  • Whenever possible, have a bottom-up budget process where the responsible parties suggest their numbers and actions
  • Discuss their plans and goals, ensuring all opinions, limitations, problems, and opportunities come out
  • Ask a lot of questions and seek additional information from the people presenting their numbers rather than making assumptions and judging them
  • If the goal needs to be increased, don’t start with saying how much it needs to be, but rather ask questions such as “What would it take to increase further?”, “How could you potentially stretch your goal a bit more?”, etc., to stimulate further joint discussion
  • Set a reasonable goal together in the end. Listen to concerns, complaints, and frustrations, and seek ways to address them together as a team.
  • Explains why the target needs to change and what happens if this does not take place. Explaining the underlying reasons provides important transparency and context.

I have used this approach for years, and it usually builds targets and goals that are difficult but not impossible to achieve. When probed, asked, inspired, and stimulated, most people think they can do more if certain enablers are implemented. Your job as a leader is to facilitate an understanding and agreement that works for you and leaves others still feeling empowered and accountable for their goals. The moment they become the leader’s goal, others might give up and stop trying.

Remember, you are supposed to use all the Six Leadership styles by Goleman, not just democratic leadership. My guidelines above contain affiliative leadership, coaching leadership, pacesetting and visionary leadership as well; they are all part of the Goleman framework.

Democratic Leadership Example: A Process improvement case

Let me take an example that is of a bit more practical nature from earlier in my career.

I set out to optimize a cross-functional delivery process in the company where I worked at the time. To do this, I gathered the key stakeholders, essentially the people doing different parts and in some cases controlling the resources involved in execution. The whole idea was to provide multiple and diverse perspectives on the topic. We sat down together, and I described the current process and why it was necessary to optimize it. Then I turned to the group and asked, “What and where do you see the problems in this process?” which started a good discussion and mapping of bottlenecks. The next portion was “How can we improve the process?” which is not necessarily just solving the problems coming out of the first question – it can be various other things as well. So, what happened during and after this meeting?

  • We got a good overview of the challenges
  • We got good ideas on how to improve
  • We jointly decided on how to proceed
  • People felt empowered to contribute
  • They felt more accountable since they had gotten empowered

As always, people are different. Some fought to resolve “their problems” whereas a few had a larger perspective, wanted to improve the overall process, and feared sub-optimizing.

My role in this was facilitating the discussion, ensuring participation of all parties, asking questions, listing items, asking and helping with consequence assessment, and guiding the decision-making process. I happen to personally enjoy this type of role very much, by the way. If you like what you do, you usually get better at it too. I go deeper into this and many other things in the democratic leadership course which will radically improve your career development and your impact as a leader.

Democratic leadership examples: When democratic leadership has failed

Naturally, I have some examples of when I failed with using democratic leadership. This has happened rather few times, though, I must say. These occasions would primarily fit into one of the following areas:

  • The consequences of the decision were too significant, so people did not want to be part of deciding. This has often been about letting people go.
  • The decision turned out to be less important than I anticipated. The team simply didn’t care which way we would go
  • The team completely failed to contribute to the decision-making process, and I had to move slightly in the autocratic, or rather pacesetting and directive direction to get people moving. This has often been the case when the outcome of the decision would have raised the requirements or targets for the team members themselves. Even if they believe in reaching the targets, there is substantial reluctance in doing so.

I would have benefited from applying other leadership styles on those occasions.

Try our Lewin leadership styles test (new tab) to see if you are an autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire leader.

I hope these few democratic leadership examples gave you further insight into this style. Please consider acquiring my book Leadership Styles Classics: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (Amazon), which teaches you all about these styles and how to use them, as well as explain their origins more thoroughly. You can also learn more about this great leadership style in our democratic leadership course or read further here: Democratic Leadership, or look into a few of our other subtopic articles such as: How can democratic leadership be effective, or Comparison between transformational and democratic leadership. Visit our huge leadership styles portal or 12 common leadership styles and how to pick yours, for loads of articles on charismatic leadership, bureaucratic leadership, transformational, laissez-faire, country club, and middle-of-the-road leadership.

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