Is Democratic Leadership Effective?

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a type of leadership style in which members of the group take a more participative role in the decision-making process. Democratic leaders are characterized for allowing all members of their teams to share their ideas, who also share the decision-making responsibilities. Democratic leaders focus on quality rather than on pure productivity, in addition to gaining the trust and respect from the members of their teams, becoming task delegation “drivers”, following an approach based on assigning tasks as efficiently as possible.

Some of the main advantages of democratic leadership include:

  • The best way to find the optimum solution to complex problems is to listen to many different ideas.
  • A creative environment fosters cooperation and generates a relaxed atmosphere in which plans can be arranged and ideas can be shared and compared.
  • Stronger and more respectful teams, capable of achieving common goals, with mutual trust and admiration between team members.
  • An increase in productivity and employee commitment, since they participate and see that their opinion counts.

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But, is democratic leadership effective in all contexts? Participative leadership is not fail-safe, as any other theory model. Therefore, we must understand its weaknesses before we implement it:

  • This type of leadership slows down decision-making processes. Having more people participate in this process and listening to the opinions of everyone can take some time, which, oddly enough, can be frustrating to participants.
  • Participative leadership is not usually effective in a situation of crisis, since the speed of response is vital in these cases and, again, decision-making processes can be slower.
  • The lack of experience in making decisions of most of the members of a team with a participative leader can result in tedious and confusing decision-making processes that come up with solutions that are not as effective to handle the original problem.
  • Finally, a democratic leader is committed to listening to all ideas and must be capable of rejecting those that cannot be used to solve the problem adequately. Employees providing their ideas might feel discouraged if such ideas are not going to be used; the leader must use the adequate tone to lighten the mood with employees feeling their ideas are dispensable.

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If you consider that the advantages of this participative or democratic leadership style outweigh the disadvantages, as a result of its team work, collaboration and creativity values, it is essential to design action plans for the times in which the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. For example:

  • Note down all your ideas. Some will be discarded at any given time, but they might be useful in the future.
  • Create a decision-making flowchart and common problem and solution approach, so the most frequent matters have a pre-established process and can be solved quickly.
  • Have the correct persons participate on specific matters, so persons only participate in decision-making processes associated with their field of expertise.
  • Transform rejection into opportunity, i.e., return to the starting point and inform others that any idea that is rejected does not mean that the idea is not valid, since it might be useful in the future.

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