The democratic leadership style, which is also referred to as shared leadership or participative leadership, encourages members of a team to take on responsibilities in decision-making. It is a leadership style that can be used by any leader in any industry, from corporations to educational facilities to government positions.
The trademark of the democratic leadership style is that everyone is encouraged to participate. Ideas are offered freely and without judgment. The goal is to take advantage of the diversity of a team and discuss all ideas, rather than rely on a single person to decide what is best for everyone.
Here are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of a democratic leadership style to think about.
List of the Advantages of a Democratic Leadership Style
1. It works well when trying to solve a complex concern.
Leaders know how to solve problems, but they may not be able to solve all problems. Their knowledge base is limited to their own education and experience. The democratic leadership style empowers leaders to work with their team, based on consensus, to create open lines of communication that acknowledge the problems being faced. By allowing everyone to work on a solution using their own education and experience, innovation is encouraged, making it possible to address complex and critical concerns.
2. It encourages creativity.
The democratic leadership style is more of a hands-off approach. Instead of micro-managing the situation, leaders use this style to encourage individualized creativity. For many teams, this creates higher levels of productivity and insightful inputs because each team member is encouraged to use their strengths to benefit everyone. It encourages more opportunities to think “outside of the box” instead of relying on traditional methods of completing tasks or solving problems. It also allows employees to develop a plan that helps them be able to evaluate their own performance.
3. It strengthens the relationships of a team.
People who work with a leader that practices the democratic leadership style tend to form closer, more supportive bonds with one another compared to leaders using other leadership styles. Team members are naturally connected to one another because their ideas, and their feedback, are important to everyone. It is a leadership style that encourages voluntary collaboration, yet still allows someone to sit in the background if they prefer. Everyone has the chance to share their own opinion and make a positive impact for everyone.
4. It is a leadership style that anyone can practice.
Any leader in any industry has opportunities to implement the democratic leadership style. Even leaders who don’t use this style naturally can begin to use its techniques to shift their perspectives over time. Team members tend to prefer this leadership style because it makes them feel like they are a valued member of the organization. It can be difficult for some leaders to accept this style if the consensus goes against their instincts, but more often than not, the benefits of the democratic leadership style far outweigh its negatives.
5. It encourages honesty within the workplace.
The democratic leadership style does not work unless the leader using it is honest. Leaders must be able to communicate the situation accurately to ensure the decisions and feedback being generated are based on real information. Even when leaders have the final say, the honesty required for this style forces each leader to share their ideas on an equal level for discussion. By staying open and honest, leaders encourage their team members to have the same traits.
6. It improves job satisfaction.
When team members feel like they have an equal role in running the team, then there is a sense of empowerment that comes with that responsibility. When there is empowerment in the workplace, there is a naturally higher rate of job satisfaction. The democratic leadership style encourages workers to be more than just a machine or a “warm body.” It allows people to feel like they really are an important part of the organization.
7. It encourages stronger commitment levels.
For the average worker, if they do not feel passionate about a request or task, then their commitment levels to it will be minimal. They have no ownership over the task, so they have no ties to completing it to the best of their ability. When workers feel like their contributions are taken seriously and are important, then stronger commitment levels appear because there is more ownership to the task that is required. If people are given the chance to be creative, then they invest themselves into the outcomes that can be achieved.
8. It increases team knowledge.
Diverse opinions and ideas are important for the creative process. They are also important for the team’s overall knowledge base. Different people on any given team are experts at something. One person may be a writer. Another may be a graphic designer. By giving each person a chance to contribute their personal expertise to the conversation, it gives everyone an opportunity to expand their knowledge base. That, in turn, creates more competence within the decision-making process.
9. It builds a stronger vision for the future.
There will always be team members who disagree with the group decision or the leader’s decision within the democratic leadership style. Because those who disagree have been part of the conversation, however, there is a greater chance that they’ll understand the reasoning behind the decisions that were made. That dissent also builds a stronger vision for the future for each team or organization that utilizes this leadership style. It encourages everyone to be more committed to the final goal.
List of the Disadvantages of a Democratic Leadership Style
1. It can create negative emotions.
The democratic leadership style does solicit for opinions, perspectives, and experiences. It will also highlight team members that have strong creative skills and those that do not. If one team member is consistently having their ideas implemented, the other team members can grow resentful of the leadership style. It makes them feel like their opinions are not valued, which eventually causes them to stop participating in the process. Unless those negative emotions are managed, this leadership style can often reduce productivity instead of enhancing it.
2. It can lead to procrastination.
Leaders that use this style of leadership can fall into a dangerous trap. Instead of making a decision, they defer to their team for ideas. There is not always time to do so. Sometimes, being a leader means making a decision for the whole team in the moment. Leaders that rely on the framework of this leadership style may find themselves procrastinating more often because they wait for someone else to tell them what ideas might be good.
3. It takes time to reach a consensus.
Even if procrastination is eliminated from the leadership style, it still takes more time to reach a consensus with democratic leadership when compared to other styles. That is because everyone is permitted the chance to voice an opinion or offer an idea. Each idea must be thoroughly discussed before it can be dismissed. For larger teams, the discussions can lead to delays in productivity as everyone attempts to find the best possible solution and get onto the same page.
4. It offers an element of continuing uncertainty.
Democratic leadership styles can create feelings of uncertainty within a team because of the need to make fast decisions sometimes. If leaders make these needed decisions without consulting their team, then the team members may wonder when, or if, they’ll be consulted for future needs. It places the leader into a lose/lose situation. They either lose time by discussing all ideas with their team and getting feedback on each idea, or they lose confidence because their team is uncertain about the approach that is being used.
5. It is often poorly defined.
The democratic leadership style is often defined by the leader instead of following a clearly defined theory. Definitions matter, especially when working with people, and that means measuring the outcomes and responses that are generated by this style can be difficult. Many leaders may believe that they are using this style with their team when they may not be soliciting opinions or feedback at all because there is such a lack of structure for this style.
6. It does not guarantee the best possible solution.
Diversified opinions and feedback make it likely that the best possible solution will be found, but that is not a guarantee. The majority decision that a team reaches may not be the best decision. There are times when compromise is not valuable. In the democratic leadership style, the best idea does not always win. Instead, it is the version of the idea that garners the most votes. In some situations, that means this style has more negatives for the team than positives once the idea is implemented.
7. It is not a style of leadership for everyone.
There are going to be team members that work better under one type of leadership style over another. Some may prefer the democratic leadership style. Others may prefer an authoritative leadership style. The bottom line here is this: there are some personalities that prefer to avoid the responsibility that comes with making a decision. Some people might feel embarrassed or burdened by the idea of participating in the idea-sharing process.
8. It can cause team members to question the capabilities of the leadership.
Under the democratic leadership style, it is not uncommon for team members to believe that they are doing more work than their team leader. That is especially true for workers that are consistently offering the best ideas that the team implements. In this scenario, the affected team members often feel like the leader is being compensated more for their ideas than they are. This leads to a decreased level of team morale and, in severe cases, can lead to insubordination, employees quitting, or a refusal to participate in future discussions.
9. It encourages no one to take responsibility for failure.
When the team fails for some reason under this leadership style, there tends to be a lot of blame that is passed around. Taking responsibility for failure should lie with the leadership, but it is often passed along to the person who offered the idea that failed and those who supported the idea. Should this occur, the morale of the individuals being blamed becomes even lower and negative responses become more common.
10. It requires a certain skill or educational level.
For ideas or feedback to be beneficial using the democratic style of leadership, there must be a certain level of confidence found within the team. Employees that do not have the needed skills or education are going to be less likely to offer creative solutions or meaningful feedback during each discussion. If the entire team fits into this category, then this leadership style will be ineffective.
The advantages and disadvantages of a democratic leadership style show how important it is to embrace the diversity which exists within every team and workplace. This style also shows us that it must be carefully managed to be beneficial and may need to be combined with other leadership styles to maximize its effectiveness.