The world of work has changed and there will be no going back to “business as usual”. COVID-19 propelled work from home and now employees are willing to leave an organisation if they are forced back into full time work. These changes, while accelerated by the global pandemic has been happening for a number of years. As people look for more work life balance and even changes in the type of people that are hired, have forced organisations to relook at the way they operate when it comes to staff. In the past leaders were seen to be unwavering captains that guide their organisation with data and past experiences have failed to fully grasp at how to lead a team of employees who no longer work or operate in the traditional ways of work. They also fail to grasp the needs of a neurodivergent team. This is where using democratic leadership can be a powerful tool for building consensus and motivating a team. But like any other style of leadership, it’s important to assess whether it will be suitable for your unique organisation. In this article, we’ll explore when the democratic leadership style would be appropriate and some of the advantages it can have in the workplace. What democratic leadership is, and what sets it apart from other leadership styles A democratic leadership style allows people at all levels in an organisation to engage in the decision-making process. It was first coined in 1939, by psychologist Kurt Lewin, when he and his colleagues documented three leadership styles:
- Laissez faire
You may have heard of democratic leadership already Some other names for democratic leadership include:
- participative leadership,
- shared leadership,
- collaborative leadership, and
- consensual leadership.
How to know when democratic leadership is the best choice Democratic leadership is an effective way to manage a team, especially when there is a need to build morale, increase collaboration or make a shared decision. For example, remote teams benefit greatly from this leadership style as it helps everyone feel connected to the day-to-day and longer term goals of the business. However, it’s not all sunshine and roses – there are some disadvantages to this leadership style that need to be considered. Advantages of democratic leadership
- Building engagement By involving team members in the decision-making process, you can ensure that everyone is on board with the final decision. This group morale and collaboration, as team members feel like their voices are heard.
- Improving performance Because team members are involved in the decision-making process, they’re more likely to be motivated to see the project through to completion. They care more about end results, which leads to higher productivity.
- Developing creativity Team members are more likely to share their ideas when they feel like they have a say in decision-making processes. Brainstorming can also be more effective under democratic leadership, as team members will feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
- Making better decisions When all team members have a say, the final decision is likely to be of higher quality. Democratic leadership can also help prevent groupthink, as team members are more likely to share alternative ideas especially if you have a diverse team..
- Boosts remote or hybrid team culture Leadership challenges are only amplified when managing a hybrid or remote team. Leaders must be decisive and clear, while also being collaborative; strategic, while also understanding the grassroots; action-oriented while also being risk-aware; and attentive, while not micromanaging. A democratic leadership style involves everyone in the decision-making process and encourages them to contribute new ideas. It also helps employees working in disparate locations feel empowered and motivated.
- It can take longer to make decisions The leader needs to take time to gather input from all team members before making decisions, which can slow the process down. Tip: decide what the team is empowered to make decisions on at the coal face, without having to bottleneck everything through the leader.
- It can be challenging to implement in large organisations In large organisations, it can be difficult to get everyone’s input in a cohesive manner, especially across multiple teams and stakeholder groups. Tip: learn to collaborate asynchronously, so people can review and share their thoughts faster
How to implement democratic leadership in your workplace You can start to develop your democratic leadership skills in a variety of ways, from getting your team involved in decision making, to taking part in professional development programs. Quick tips for implementing a democratic leadership style
- Start small: If you’re new to democratic leadership, start with great questions about small decisions, like: “How might we…?” Ask your team what they think about how you should pitch to an upcoming prospect, or how they’d approach the start of a new project. It will help your team members get used to having a say in decisions and you might be surprised by the quality of new ideas and ownership it generates
- Explain the advantages: Explain the advantages of democratic leadership to your team. Let them know you’d like to start gaining their input more often, and why it’s important to you and the business to move in this direction. This will help them understand why you’re using this leadership style and how it benefits them and how they can best contribute.
- Be patient: Plan ahead and allow more time than usual for decisions you need to make. Gathering everyone’s input takes time, meaning decisions will take longer to make than you’re used to in the past, but typically execution of the plan is more efficient because you have higher levels of understanding and ownership over the outcomes you are trying to achieve. . Be patient and allow team members the time they need to provide their input. Rushed or pressured requests for input isn’t fun for anyone.
- Don’t force it: If democratic leadership isn’t working for your team, don’t force it. Reflect on what is lacking in your own skills, or those of your team, or how the business context may have changed. Try another leadership style that may be more appropriate for your organisation while you build the underlying capability required. .