Democratic Leadership Style: How To Effectively Use It at Work

CoachHub · 1 December 2022 · 5 min read

Many people think that the only way to lead a business is by being authoritarian. In other words, they think that there’s no other way to run things except for telling everyone what to do, when to do it and how to do it. But times have changed, and this kind of leadership style is just not effective in today’s business world. Employees have become much more independent, both individually and as a whole. As a result, it’s critical that leaders learn new leadership techniques adapted from democratic (as opposed to autocratic) leadership styles. This requires managers to be able to give their team members the freedom for creativity without giving them total control or destroying any type of hierarchy at all.

What is a democratic leadership style?

The democratic leadership style is defined by collaboration, shared decision making and the equal distribution of power. 

Democratic leaders take their team members’ opinions into account when making decisions. All employees are encouraged to share their ideas and have an equal say regardless of their titles and position in the company hierarchy. Managers encourage brainstorming and compromise and consider a diverse range of perspectives. 

Examples of democratic leaders are President Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower (34th President of the United States), Nelson Mandela, Tim Cook (CEO of Apple), Muhtar Kent (CEO of Coca-Cola) and Larry Page (Cofounder of Google).

Examples of democratic leadership in the workplace

  • Managers surround themselves with people who have different points of view and who can offer varied perspectives. They are not afraid to be challenged or to be wrong.
  • Managers empower people around them and are not concerned with having all the power.
  • Employees are encouraged to speak up in team meetings and share their ideas.
  • Leaders have an open-door policy where employees can approach them for advice and voice concerns.
  • Meetings are treated more like group discussions.
    Employees are organized into small groups to work on projects.
  • Open communication is encouraged and a safe environment for sharing thoughts is created.
democratic leadership style

Benefits of a democratic leadership style

  • Creates emotional fulfillment in those being led as they feel trusted and valued 
  • Creates a sense of belonging within teams and higher group satisfaction 
  • Develops skills of those being lead as they are given more responsibility to use their initiative and creativity 
  • Increases respect for leaders as they are seen as fair and reasonable 
  • Contributes to employee development as employees are challenged to find solutions and make decisions
  • Increases employee retention through improved job satisfaction

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Challenges of a democratic leadership style 

  • Difficult during a crisis when problems need immediate attention
  • Too many ideas being shared can cause some employees to feel devalued if their idea is not followed
  • With multiple perspectives to consider, decision-making takes time and operations can be slowed down
  • Some employees may not have the experience or expertise to make the right decisions 

 

Other types of leadership styles

There are many types of management styles to consider with even more being developed as the modern workplace evolves. Kurt Lewin’s research defined three prominent leadership styles: democratic, authoritarian and laissez-faire, determining that a democratic was most effective. Since then, with values shifting in the workplace more modern styles of leadership have emerged such as servant, transactional, transformational, charismatic, etc. The following list briefly evaluates some of the most popular leadership styles

 

Authoritarian 

  • Opposite of democratic leadership
  • Decisions made without input from the team 
  • Useful when a business needs ultimate control ie. the military 
  • Could cause a lack of initiative, creativity and an over-reliance on one leader

 

Delegative

  • Also called ‘Lassez-Faire’ 
  • Almost all authority is given to employees
  • Improves accountability and creates a relaxed work environment
  • Employees make take advantage of the freedom and struggle when newly employed 

 

Servant 

  • Leader puts the development of their employees first 
  • Creates a culture of service and knowledge sharing 
  • Relies on leaders to have highly developed morals and few leaders have the experience necessary to be a servant leader

 

Transactional

  • Based on motivating employees to perform by giving rewards and acknowledgments
  • Gives clarity and structure, employees clearly know what is expected of them
  • May lead to low creativity and doing the bare minimum 

 

Transformational 

  • Leaders focus on inspiring employees to innovate and think in new ways
  • Great during times of organizational change 
  • May not take into account the difference in learning curves

 

Bureaucratic 

  • Leadership is based on rules and company policies 
  • Decisions prioritize existing rules over employee input
  • Reduces favoritism and increases job predictability 
  • Creates a lack of freedom and may reduce innovation

 

How to implement the democratic leadership style

Mirror democratic leadership values in company values

Develop a company mission and vision statement that is clearly communicated to leadership and employees that echoes the values of the democratic leadership style. Equality, collaboration, idea sharing, diversity, teamwork and respect should be prominent in your company’s values. Communicating these values within the company will help the democratic leadership style to naturally emerge among leadership and teams. 

 

Employ a leadership coach 

Providing coaching to your leadership teams is arguably the most effective way to instill a certain leadership style. Chose a coach with experience and expertise in the democratic leadership style and work with them to curate a program to promote this style of leadership. Giving your leadership team the tools and knowledge to improve their skills as a leader will be vital in implementing this leadership style. 

 

Incentivized management 

Provide incentives for managers to follow a democratic leadership style. Encourage managers to engage their employees in decision-making, accept their ideas and hold team discussions when making decisions. Incentivize equality and diversity initiatives and reward teamwork and collaboration. Celebrating and acknowledging the practices that mirror the democratic leadership style will encourage it to grow within your organization. 

 

Include democratic leadership style training in onboarding 

Ensure the democratic leadership style is at the core of management onboarding. Newly hired managers must be aware of the importance of this style of management to the company and be given the tools to act in alignment with company values. If such values are instilled from the beginning it will be easy for this style to be followed as managers progress in their roles. 

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In conclusion

Effectively following a democratic leadership style at work is about strongly communicating the same values and encouraging the practices of collaboration, idea-sharing and equality. It is important management be given the tools and opportunities to implement a democratic leadership style, such as leadership coaching. Working with a leadership coach can be a huge driver in implementing a new leadership style or reinforcing the current style. A democratic leader is one of the most well-respected and fair leaders and will have a meaningful contribution to company culture and productivity.

Cathy Stapleton

Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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