Democratic leadership is one of the most empowering leadership styles available. I have seen how truly empowered teams can sometimes become more effective in the absence of the leader during my CEO career, believe it or not! If you want team productivity to stay solid without the presence of the leader, then democratic leadership is the way to go. The following short description of this style is copied from our overview article on democratic leadership.
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.
This article is divided into a few different areas that can be used to develop solid and lasting empowerment in a team.
Empowerment through transparency
Providing transparency is one of the key responsibilities of a democratic leader. By constantly keeping a team informed and in the know, team members feel important and respected since they are way beyond the ”need to know basis” of commanding leadership.
By going further and explaining the purpose, circumstances, and overall challenges to the team, they will be able to put the information into a wider context, which gives a more complete understanding.
Giving people information and transparency empowers them to understand their situation and see how their tasks, activities, and performance affect the overall organization. Information access is also a sign of trust toward the employees, and trust is also empowering.
Empowerment through participation in decision making
With informed team members who understand their environment, the leader gets a great decision-making forum that can be used daily. Decisions are likely to become more solid, robust, and thought through when various skills, perspectives, and experiences are put into them, as I explained in our article on how inclusion and participation help in decision-making.
Besides better decisions, the team obtains a great sense of empowerment since they are actively asked to contribute to decision-making, rendering them the power to affect their situations and future direction. Besides empowering, participation in decision-making also strengthens motivation and creativity. It helps if the leader does not dominate any decision-making meetings, and there are plenty of reasons why the leader should speak last, if possible.
Empowerment through responsibility and accountability
After information access and participation in decision-making, the third layer is responsibility and accountability of the outcome. Often seen as a negative side of decision-making, accountability is actually also empowering. Having accountability and responsibility means you are empowered to affect the outcome. Hence, democratic leaders must ensure that the participative and inclusive approach continues beyond decision-making into execution. Planning activities and executing them along the lines of the joint decision should also be a democratic process done in collaboration, meaning that team members can affect how and when they execute what activities to transform a decision into real effects.
Empowerment through openness
Throughout all these different layers of empowerment rest an ever-present sense of openness within democratic leadership, where diverse and varied perspectives are valued. That means that not only are opinions allowed but they are also actually asked for and welcomed by the democratic leader. Speaking your mind, providing feedback, presenting your objections, etc., are also greatly empowering and let people challenge the status quo and the opinions of others in general, also when it comes to their boss. Besides individual empowerment, the team itself is empowered through collaboration and the consensus-seeking process. Read more about this in How to build consensus in democratic leadership.
Although empowerment is definitely among the advantages of democratic leadership, you need to remember some of the problems with this style. Among the disadvantages of the democratic leadership style you find potential productivity drops, slow execution, and many others, but if done right and mixed in with other styles, empowerment is an essential pillar in modern leadership. After all, empowerment is one of the key aspects that retain productivity and action even in the absence of a leader. An empowered team will know what to do and dare to take the initiative to get things done without being told, which is necessary once an organization grows beyond what the leader can monitor personally. In order to keep speed and result orientation, turn to pacesetting leadership and use visionary leadership to make sure the team looks beyond the short-term and remembers what is truly important.
Additional resources on Democratic Leadership
Please have a look at our vast collection of articles concerning democratic leadership: