March 24, 2023
7 min read

Democratic Leadership: Key Features, Examples, Pros & Cons to Consider

In this article:

Team managers account for over 70% of team engagement results and influence employee wellbeing. That’s why outstanding leadership plays such a big part in company success.

Democratic leadership has been found to effectively promote creativity, innovation, and increase job satisfaction among group members. Company culture improves as team members feel valued and appreciated, with a new sense of ownership and commitment.

Research shows that employees showing low engagement cost the global economy an astounding $7.8 trillion. The same study found that only 21% of employees worldwide report being engaged, and 33% describe themselves as thriving in their wellbeing.

The takeaway is clear – it’s time to change things up in your business structure and give the people more power and agency. Engaged employees feel more motivated, appreciated, and satisfied with their job.

Let's dive in to find out whether this is the right leadership style for your business.

What is democratic leadership?

Democratic leadership is a leadership style in which all team members share power. Democratic leaders act as facilitators, encouraging and empowering group members to participate in decision-making. They should value the free flow of ideas and always seek the group's input and feedback.

The group as a whole makes a final decision through a consensus-building process. However, such leaders still need a voice. They consider the outcomes of brainstorming sessions and suggestions from multiple company members. 

This kind of approach can be contrasted with autocratic leaders, who are in charge of all decisions and exercise complete control. In a democratic approach, the leader is more of a coach or mentor. They empower and inspire others to work together towards a common goal.

Examples of democratic leaders

Among the many great leaders who base their management style on democracy is a well-known and widely appreciated man in the business and tech industries – Satya Nadella. He's the CEO of Microsoft, having taken on the role in 2014.

Nadella is known for his collaborative and inclusive leadership style, which focuses on teamwork and empathy. Under his leadership, Microsoft has become more innovative and customer-focused.

In an interview with Paul Keijzer, CEO of The Talent Games, he emphasizes how important it is to bring people together, drive them with passion, and create positive energy.

Some other worthy of mentioning democratic leaders are:

  • Tony Hsieh – former CEO of Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer
  • Richard Branson – founder of Virgin Group, a conglomerate that includes more than 400 companies
  • Indra Nooyi – former CEO of PepsiCo
  • Reed Hastings – co-founder and CEO of Netflix

Democratic leadership: key characteristics

Team play & collaboration

In this type of workspace, you will see a collaborative work environment at the forefront. The democratic management style is all about teamwork and cooperation among group members.

Good democratic leaders encourage collaboration between teams. This dynamic exchange of ideas leads to mutual respect, improved communication skills, and frequently achieving better results.

Creativity

Democratic leadership works only when there is enough openness, freedom, and space for a free flow of ideas. On this ground, it's easy to see more creative solutions.

This is only possible by mixing diverse perspectives and experiences, and promoting experimentation. Companies encouraging creativity are rewarded with unprecedented ideas, better employee engagement, satisfaction, and motivation.

Flexibility

Unlike an autocratic or bureaucratic leader, a manager who operates in a democratic style is flexible and adaptable. They're willing to adjust their approach to suit the needs and preferences of the group. Such people are open to feedback and make changes based on group input.

Transparency & open communication 

Clear and honest communication is necessary – not just between the leader and their group, but also among teams and their members. Participative management wouldn't be possible otherwise, as its basis is sharing information freely and building mutual trust and accountability.

Fairness

Fairness builds on the foundations of transparency. A democratic environment is all about inclusivity. You cannot achieve satisfactory team participation if the group (leader included) doesn't value all group members’ input, opinions, and individual worth.

Leaders must realize the incredible worth of diverse perspectives in a company setting. A good, charismatic leader should encourage open communication and empowerment of individuals and facilitate fair treatment and opportunities for all. 

Democratic leadership style: benefits

Employee engagement & satisfaction

When you give employees a voice and involve them in the democratic process, they're more likely to feel satisfied with their work. This can lead to better retention rates, lower turnover, and a more positive work culture.

Improved team morale

A participative leadership style fosters a sense of collaboration and teamwork. Involving team members in decision-making makes them feel more involved in the company’s success, leading to increased group morale and a more positive work environment.

High productivity

Employees who feel engaged and satisfied with their work are more likely to be productive. Additionally, a democratic leadership style can encourage team members to feel a sense of ownership of their work. 

Creative ideas & innovation

When employees get involved and actively exchange ideas, they're more likely to show creativity and come up with unique solutions. A democratic leadership style encourages independent critical thinking, which leads to innovative approaches to business challenges.

Better work environment

The best leaders in business create a positive work environment by fostering a sense of trust, respect, and mutual support among team members. 94% of managers agree that a positive workplace culture creates a resilient team of employees.

Democratic leadership: drawbacks

Poor decision-making

Every solution comes with its drawbacks. One such disadvantage of this leadership style is that it can sometimes lead to poor outcomes. This happens when there needs to be more clarity or consensus among team members. 

Another potential reason is that employees need to gain the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision.

Managers should establish clear criteria for making certain decisions to avoid unsatisfactory results without using autocratic leadership. This involves identifying the most important factors and establishing guidelines to follow.

Effective leaders should also offer guidance and share their expertise whenever necessary and appropriate.

Slow process

Since a democratic way of working involves much more conversation and compromise than a dominant management style, reaching solutions can be much slower than other leadership styles. This can get frustrating or even stressful when deadlines are tight.

While participatory leaders need to focus on distributing responsibility and involving team members, they should also emphasize the importance of making decisions promptly.

Most leaders using this style achieve this by setting clear deadlines and creating a sense of urgency around specific topics. The leader retains some power, mostly by diverting attention where necessary.

Communication failures

Communication failures occur when employees or managers aren't effective in getting their ideas across or when teammates lack understanding.

Effective communication is essential in the democratic leadership style. Managers should ensure that group members communicate their ideas clearly and concisely. It's also necessary to work on listening skills and empathy.

Choosing between multiple opinions leaves some disappointed

In a democratic leadership style, everyone has a say. However, this isn’t always positive, as it can easily lead to conflicts and disagreements. Settling on one solution can be challenging, especially when trying to balance the needs and interests of the whole team.

To ensure that everyone feels heard and valued, democratic leaders should facilitate consensus-building among team members. This can involve encouraging open debate and something as simple as teaching to compromise.

Conclusion

While democratic leadership has drawbacks, it remains a popular and effective leadership style. At its core lie: 

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Involvement

You can mitigate most disadvantages by implementing effective communication strategies, emphasizing timely decision-making, establishing clear decision-making criteria, and facilitating consensus-building among team members.

Despite some of the challenges it brings, research shows that democratic leadership can lead to higher levels of employee engagement, strengthen the impact of traditional corporate governance, as well as improve decision-making and communication within the company. 

Of course, many well-being factors must be considered when talking about good company culture, but the feeling of purpose and engagement at work is certainly one of them. Your absent-minded, presenteeist employees are probably at only 49% of their productivity and cost you up to £890 monthly.

When used appropriately and in the proper context, democratic leadership can be a powerful tool for creating a productive and positive work environment while increasing revenue.

FAQs: Democratic Leadership Style

What is democratic leadership?


Democratic leadership is a leadership style that focuses on engaging all team members in the decision-making process.

What are the characteristics of democratic leadership?


The primary characteristics of shared leadership include teamwork, cooperation and collaboration, encouraging creativity, flexibility, transparency, inclusivity, fairness, accountability, and open communication.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of democratic leadership?


The benefits of democratic leadership include improved employee engagement, better morale, increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, an influx in creative solutions, more innovative ideas, and an overall more pleasant work environment.
However, participative leadership has its drawbacks, much like any other leadership style. These can be poor and slow decision-making, a lack of critical thinking, and communication difficulties, leaving some group members disappointed with the results.

What is a good example of a democratic leader?


One of the best examples of a successful democratic leader is Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

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