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Participation in decision-making with democratic leadership provides better decisions

Updated January 19, 2023 by Carl Lindberg

Democratic leadership is a mighty tool in providing participation as well as inclusion in most areas, but perhaps particularly in decision-making. I have used this tool successfully in leadership positions for decades, and this article explains why it is important and how to do it. But first, a quick intro to this leadership style from our main article on democratic leadership is pasted below.

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.

Inclusion and participation in decision-making: a cornerstone of democratic leadership

The whole idea of democratic leadership is to involve others and thereby obtain the following critical advantages:

  • Empowering people to make decisions also creates accountability
  • Inclusion in decision-making provides additional perspectives and viewpoints
  • Group participation enables tapping into the vast experience of the entire team
  • Joint decisions tend to be easier to execute once everyone is on board.

This is really a subset of the advantages of democratic leadership, but they are particularly key for the topic of participation in decision-making.

Let me explain these aspects a bit further.

Empowering people to make decisions also creates accountability

If a leader makes a decision single-handedly, team members can always swear off responsibility and accountability by pointing at any of these typical statements:

  • It’s not my fault. I was just doing what I was told.
  • I knew from the start that this was a bad decision.

Compare with the opposite, i.e., when team members are involved and participate in decision-making. If they are part of making decisions, they are also responsible for the outcome to a bigger degree. After all, it was “our decision”, which means people have a personal stake, if nothing else due to prestige reasons at least, to see their decision through.

Inclusion in decision-making provides additional perspectives and viewpoints

Let us again compare with the opposite approach, commanding leadership, where the leader makes all the decisions single-handedly. The more complex a decision is, the less likely it is that one person with specific experience and skills will find the most optimum decision alone. Complex topics can be highlighted from different angles and perspectives when additional people are included. Let me give you an example.

How to best plan staffing during the Christmas holiday sales at a Toy Store

  • A team member with kids might highlight that family situations should be considered when deciding who should work
  • Someone could underline that not every staff member celebrates Christmas and that those might be more interested in working
  • Another team member might suggest longer opening hours and spreading out the staff instead of staying with the usual approach
  • A cashier could add that plan staffing will not matter much unless the two extra cash registers are repaired and back in working order before the holidays

These are just examples. It is simply a fact that people see things from different perspectives, and as a leader, you want to catch the perspectives that you are blind to. I have many, many times had discussions in management teams where I have had realizations of new angles that I had completely missed in my own thinking. Often, those added perspectives have been critical to making the right decision. It helps further if you manage to build consensus in decision-making.

Group participation enables tapping into the vast experience of the entire team

Let me provide you with a simple example. Let us say a decision on whether to develop a new product is under consideration.

In that case, the decision will likely be more robust if:

  • Someone with a financial background can assess the potential profitability
  • A person with sales experience can gauge the possibility of sales and how to create unique selling points enabling substantial sales volumes
  • The team member with a production background can highlight whether this product will be easy, difficult, or at all possible to manufacture
  • An engineering expert will be able to assess better how long it will take to develop this product and what type of resources it will require

It is unlikely that one single person, as in the commanding leadership case, can make the most optimum conclusion within all these different fields of expertise. It is all about gaining additional and diverse perspectives. By including these example team members in an open and honest discussion, where they contribute their perspectives, concerns, and ambition, the decision is much more likely to be correct. You can read more about concrete and real examples of democratic leadership from my CEO career if you are interested.

Joint decisions tend to be easier to execute once everyone is on board.

After a decision has been taken jointly in a participative manner, everyone knows more about the aspects, considerations, risks, and opportunities that this decision brings. Hence, once it is time to execute, people will know what truly needs to be accomplished.

Secondly, they are also more motivated to execute since they get an opportunity to weigh in personally on the decision, thanks to the empowerment of the participative decision-making process in democratic leadership.

Thirdly, they are personally invested in the decision and want or even need to prove that this was the right way.

As if this was not enough, the team as a group is much more likely to help and support each other in execution since they know this is a matter of group success rather than individual sub-optimization. This is further strengthened by the fact that each team member has heard the other team members’ observations, thoughts, reservations, and concerns, i.e., they know what others will struggle with and how everyone can contribute.

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