22 June 2022
Democratic leadership – also called “participative leadership” or “shared leadership” – encourages employees to help leaders make key decisions.
Before making their final decision, democratic leaders tap into the knowledge of the people in their team to gain different ideas on what action should be taken solve business issues.
Democratic leadership suits managers who lead teams consisting of experienced and highly skilled professionals, who know their company’s operations and culture very well.
By leaning on the team’s expert knowledge, leaders can gain further context from people who are exposed to different areas of the business and can alert leaders of lesser-known factors that could impact the success of their decisions.
Time management is also crucial to successful democratic leadership. Employees will need both time to contribute and deadlines to ensure everyone's input is received in enough time to act on it.
High job satisfaction is linked to improved organisational productivity, decreased employee turnover, and reduced job stress in the workplace.
Research shows that teams of three, four, or five people outperform the best individuals when solving complex problems because they find the solution quicker and process information efficiently.
High-trust cultures also lead to stock market returns two-to-three-times greater than the market average for employers and staff turnover rates approximately 50% lower than average.
Creativity and innovation
Competence and fairness
General Dwight Eisenhower
As America’s Supreme Allied Commander during the Second World War, Eisenhower regularly collaborated with his staff to form plans and act - a sharp contrast to the authoritarian leadership approach often associated with the early 20th century military leaders.
When he became president, Mandela led the rebuild of South Africa by attempting to create a broad coalition of experts from across the country - including members of the previous apartheid regime.
The former chairperson and chief executive of PepsiCo, who has twice been ranked the second most powerful woman in the world, is known for building highly successful teams with the autonomy to generate great results for the company.
When employees feel engaged in their work, team, and employer, they are more inclined to be happy and productive. Companies with a highly engaged workforce also have 21% higher profitability and 17% higher productivity than companies with a disengaged workforce.
When leaders seek the counsel of their employees, they show their respect for their opinions, and research shows that 72% of employees rated showing respect of all employees as “very important.”
By facilitating interactions with the whole team, democratic leaders help individuals achieve a stronger sense of belonging with their colleagues. Employees in highly inclusive companies are four times more likely to report high wellbeing, compared to those in less inclusive workplaces.
Research shows teams solve problems faster when they’re more cognitively diverse.
Because democratic leaders are aiming to gather consensus among their team, it takes extra time and effort to reach the correct decision – unless the team is very small.
And managers are already time poor. Most managers spend up to 10 hours a week in meetings, and 90% say more than half that time is wasted.
During an emergency, delaying decision making until all team members can submit their feedback and reach a consensus can cause significant delays that make things worse.
Because everyone is involved in the decision-making process, it makes it easier for individuals to pass blame on others when ideas fail.
Also, accountability helps individuals who feel responsible for their actions to perform better with their tasks, research shows.
On complicated problems, it can be a struggle to gain a consensus from the whole team to take one direction or the other.
The transition to hybrid working has made it even more difficult, as studies show that task and interpersonal conflict increases when people are not working in the same location.
Democratic leadership, like other traditional leadership models, provides a helpful guideline on how to lead, but fails to make a lasting impact on leadership development.
It shows a collaborative approach to leadership can be fruitful, but the model is often impractical because it doesn’t consider how effective leaders think.
A cookie-cutter approach to leadership may be useful for simple tasks, but when complex issues arise, leadership models aren’t flexible enough to meet the demands needed.
This includes balancing the pressure of hitting short term targets vs long term planning, or pushing the team to perform better, while giving them extra flexibility to ensure they don’t burn out.
The failure of leadership models to help leaders to solve these issues effectively leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and overworked. To help leaders to succeed, employers need to rethink how to make leadership learnable.
Already used by the highest-performing business leaders, attunement is the leadership skill that equips leaders to successfully tackle their problems head-on.
Drawing on how great leaders think, feel and act, the art of attunement equips leaders with the ability to consistently pre-empt workplace problems, identify the key issues and pick the right tool to solve them.
Follow these steps to unlock the next level of leadership by developing skills to nimbly navigate organisational tensions.
Find out how to make leadership learnable for leaders at your organisation.