I have often used the highly effective Democratic leadership style during my career as a CEO. Democratic leadership is particularly effective in experienced and skilled teams and can result in genuinely empowered teams. It is such a fantastic style that I put together a democratic leadership course showing you how to implement it, based on my CEO experience.
Democratic leadership is when an empowered team takes full part 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.
How can democratic leadership be effective?
Democratic leadership can be very effective if it is used as a participation tool that builds innovation, empowerment, and accountability while avoiding too much emphasis on reaching consensus, which leads to inefficient use of time and constant compromising.
Keep reading to understand this in detail, or check out our in-depth article on the democratic leadership style, one of the most effective ways of leading today. You can also read our article on Democratic Leadership Examples to see how it can be used at work, or get my book Leadership Styles Classics: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (Amazon).
How can Democratic Leadership be effective?
Democratic leadership can be effective by utilizing its strengths and avoiding its pitfalls and weaknesses.
Do not depend on reaching consensus
Participation in decision-making is a core element of democratic leadership. Some sources describe democratic leadership as consensus-seeking, and I agree. You seek consensus by finding out the opinions and viewpoints of the entire team and adjusting your solution to avoid any major issues or risks highlighted by the team during this process. Once a strong solution is available and properly thought-through, it is nice if the entire team agrees. This is seeking consensus, which should never be confused with needing consensus. In the end, the leader needs to make the decision. The democratic team needs to understand this, and the empowerment is not always in making the decision but instead in influencing and shaping it. In the end, it is the leader who either confirms the team’s decision or solely decides after carefully considering the input from the group.
The leader needs to be very careful to explain why a particular decision was made to avoid mistrust and resentment. This shows that the leader is cognizant of acting against the will of some of the team members. By acknowledging this, the leader shows respect for the process, and the team will not walk away wondering if their opinions even matter.
Be careful with making decisions without the team
Democratic leaders need to make fast decisions independently, but they should be avoided when possible. Decisions that do not affect the team and decisions that must be made very fast are examples of when participation cannot be secured.
The leader can avoid any fallout by simply informing the team about the decision taken and why the team could not be involved in it. If the leader has reasons that make sense, which is mostly the case, the team will likely accept the situation and move forward.
This avoids the pitfall of the decision-making process is too time-consuming. For additional information on the implementation of this style, you can refer to our article about Democratic Leadership Examples in the workplace. If you are serious about becoming a manager or increasing your impact and performance as a leader, you should consider our democratic leadership course which will transform you into a better and more modern leader.
Alternate democratic leadership with other leadership styles
When there is no time to be democratic, the leader needs to use another style, such as commanding leadership. When the leader is working with one person on their personal development, again, it is not time to be democratic but rather to be coaching. When goals and milestones must be met, and the team disagrees on the importance, the leader might need to use some pacesetting leadership. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)
You get the point. Do not entirely depend on a single leadership style since it will not fit all situations. Construction workers use several tools and not just a hammer, so why shouldn’t leaders use different tools for different situations? Check out transformational vs democratic leadership if you are interested.
Carefully calibrate democratic leadership in low-skilled and inexperienced teams
Do not go utterly democratic with a low-skilled and inexperienced team. I will give you a quick example of a franchise fast food joint. There is no need to sit the team down and discuss if the recipes are good enough. First of all, you are not supposed to change them, and secondly, the team likely lacks the skill to create a better recipe. Put your democratic leadership approach where it makes sense, and again, use multiple leadership styles. In this example, you can use democratic leadership to plan work rotation, discuss the upcoming family day, what kind of newspapers to have in the break room, new ideas on cleaning the place up quickly so people can get home faster, etc. You can be a democratic leader; you just need to pick the right topics. In a senior team, such as a management team, the participative issues could be the strategy, budgeting, and product portfolio.
Conclusion on How Democratic Leadership can be effective?
I use democratic leadership frequently, and I have used it in low-skilled environments as well. I even wrote a book that includes democratic leadership which you can find here:Leadership Styles Classics: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (Amazon). Democratic Leadership builds engagement, and people feel like they matter. The key is to use it when it makes sense and not all the time. (Learn how to become a democratic leader step by step in our democratic leadership course.) Frequently switch your leadership style to fit the team, the surroundings, the topic, and the general situation. I strongly suggest you read our article on the six leadership styles by Goleman. I have used that framework successfully for years in my job as a CEO. You could use it too! (Here are some democratic leadership examples from my career.)
Additional resources on Democratic Leadership
Please have a look at our vast collection of articles concerning democratic leadership: