What is the Democratic Leadership Style?
Also known as participative leadership, the democratic leadership style is one that encourages team members to participate in most or all decision-making processes. This leader takes steps to ensure more voices are heard in a given discussion. The democratic leader often creates an atmosphere of unity, blurring the lines between management and staff. The democratic leader emphasizes equality and encourages discussion and a flow of ideas.
The introduction of the democratic leadership style was through the observations of Psychologist Dr. Kurt Lewin. This was the first widely accepted study of leadership styles. Lewin’s articles introducing the concept of authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire leaders appeared in the “American Journal of Sociology” in the 1930s.
Dr. Kurt Lewin introduced the Democratic Leadership Style in the 1930s.
The democratic or participative leadership style — sometimes known as the “style with two names” — has become popular in recent decades. Its other name, participative, is a good reflection of the style, since having the participation of the team is central to the approach. Having a democratic leadership style is a powerful way to cultivate potential within organizations and teams. It is most effective when you need to generate new ideas, or when a leader is more reliant on the team for expert opinions. Collaborative or creative environments like startup companies, advertising agencies, and other teams looking to harness the collective power of the team’s individual experiences can really benefit from this style.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Democratic Leadership
The advantages of this style are more obvious to the team members since many people prefer to work in a collaborative manner. The democratic leader is great for creating an inclusive team environment, especially when you want to solicit participation from team members who are typically shy or softspoken.
How does this leadership style compare with your own style? How does it compare to your manager? Whether you are a democratic leader, another style, or a combination of styles below are some advantages and disadvantages to the democratic leadership style to consider:
- Teams have a sense of empowerment
- Trust teams and management
- Productivity may increase due to the solution-centric workforce
- Creativity and innovation can increase through team collaboration
- Promotes inclusion and diversity of opinions
- Leaders can become overly-dependent on the experience of the team
- Speed of decisions may suffer while trying to reach a consensus
- It depends on a broadly knowledgable team to be effective
Yes, there are pros and cons to each of the leadership styles, but understanding the balance is key to being a successful leader. Still unsure about your own style? To learn more about your style as a leader or an aspiring leader, take our short quiz that will give you a sense of your own style. To start the 2-minute leadership style quiz, click here.
Famous Leaders with the Democratic Leadership Style
From tech entrepreneurs to presidents, below are a few of the many leaders that have displayed the democratic leadership style.
- Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page
- CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent
- Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM
- U.S. President Jimmy Carter
RECAP: Democratic or Participative Leadership
Want to know more about other leadership styles? Select one of these links for more comprehensive information about each style: Situational Leadership | Servant Leadership | Supportive Leadership | Transactional Leadership | Laissez-fair Leadership | Transformational Leadership | Charismatic Leadership | Autocratic Leadership