What you need to know about the democratic leadership style

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanOctober 29th, 20213 min read
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Summary

The word democracy means "run by the people." When implemented as a form of leadership, it means making room for multiple people to participate in the decision-making process. This article discusses key characteristics of this form of leadership, and when it's most applicable for your team.

One of the most challenging parts about being a leader is trying to take everyone's opinion into account. Are you being fair to everyone on your team? When is the right time to consider their opinions?

Luckily, there is a form of leadership that's designed around the thoughts and opinions of your team members. If you're looking for unique solutions and diverse ways of solving problems, democratic leadership is a good place to start.

What is the democratic leadership style?

The word democracy means "run by the people." This style of leadership means making room for multiple people to participate in the decision-making process. Democratic leadership is also commonly referred to as participative leadership. 

Some of the world's most democratic leaders are heads of government or of large businesses. A democratic approach to leadership involves getting input from everyone on your team to make a decision, much like voting on the policies that you want your government to enact.

Read: Qualities of a leader: 15 traits of effective leadership

Characteristics of democratic leadership

When a team is managed under democratic leadership, there are a few characteristics teams exhibit. Here are some of the qualities of a democratically led team. 

High employee engagement

High employee engagement is a signifier of effective democratic leadership. This type of leadership style requires team participation during the decision-making process. Good democratic leaders actively encourage their team members to come up with ideas and creative solutions, and they listen to these suggestions.

When team members feel secure enough to share their thoughts and ideas, it gives them a sense of psychological safety. Psychological safety helps problem solving, increases collaboration, and can help prevent employee turnover. 

Many opportunities for brainstorming

The goal of democratic leadership is to have many different options from various perspectives. 

If done correctly, teams often come together for brainstorming sessions in which individuals regularly share their ideas. This allows team members to work together to come up with creative solutions, and leaders to use the expertise of their team members effectively. 

Company culture encourages teamwork

The democratic leadership management style fosters teamwork. Effective leaders encourage their team members to work together to come up with different ideas and creative solutions to complicated problems. 

If this collaboration weren't possible, team members would be required to come up with ideas in a silo. Facilitating moments of collaboration is an important responsibility for effective leaders. 

Advantages of democratic leadership

Democratic leadership offers many different advantages to teams. Here are a few of those advantages.

Wide range of ideas

Democratic leaders can encourage brainstorms and get a wide range of ideas from other group members. This can lead to innovation, unique problem-solving processes, and creative solutions. 

Democratic leadership also encourages empowerment for team members. This creates space  for group members from all different viewpoints to share opinions that may not have originally been considered.

Complex problems are solved collaboratively

The democratic style of leadership encourages team members to bring their unique ideas together to come up with creative solutions. If you have a diverse, multi-faceted team, you’re more likely to come up with innovative solutions collaboratively, as opposed to thinking about solving the problem in a silo.

Increases job satisfaction

When team leaders choose to use the democratic leadership style, their team members are more likely to be satisfied with their job. This is because democratic leadership allows for everyone's thoughts and opinions to be shared and valued.

Read: 10 team management skills to start building today

Disadvantages of democratic leadership

While a democratic approach allows for the free flow of ideas, there are some downsides to the type of leadership. Here are a few.

Decision making can be slow 

While having a wide array of ideas is a major benefit to the democratic process, it can also be detrimental as well. If your team is looking to make a fast decision, the democratic option might not be the best choice. 

Leaders might experience having too many cooks in the kitchen—if there are too many people offering different options, making a final decision can be a challenge. While the democratic leader has final say, making a choice is not a quick process when they have to consider the input from an entire team. 

Expertise may not be taken into account

One of the challenges of being a democratic leader is that every idea has to be taken seriously, regardless of the expertise of the individual offering the idea. There may be team members who may weigh in on issues that fall outside their zone of genius, and their input has to be considered just as valuable as anyone else’s idea.

The opposite situation can also happen - those in high-paying positions may dominate conversation, and everyone falls in line with their opinions. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant refers to this as the HIPPO (Highest paid person’s opinion) effect. To prevent this, he suggests have everyone else share their opinions before leaders share their ideas. 

Effective leaders facilitate situations like these with openness and curiosity. While they do have the final say, they still have to consider everyone's viewpoints. 

Read: How to build expert power (and become a better leader)

Challenges with rejection

With several people in the room offering suggestions and ideas, it's likely that most people’s ideas won't get chosen. If the team lands on a specific solution, or a blend of solutions, most of the ideas that get pitched will not come to fruition. 

If there are teammates who are more sensitive towards rejection, this process can be challenging for them if their idea doesn't get implemented. 

Learn about other forms of effective leadership

Democratic leadership is just one form of leadership that a team leader can use to encourage innovative ideas. There are many different forms of effective leadership, and if you’re interested in learning about different leadership styles, visit Asana’s leadership resources leadership page.

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