What is democratic leadership?
Democratic leadership is a style that produces changes in organizations due to its impact on the satisfaction of human needs, specifically those in the domain of self-fulfillment and sense of belonging. It is exercised by leaders who place the principles of collaboration and teamwork above all others, in addition to having excellent communication skills. A democratic leader uses his or her level of influence to bring people together and encourage them to participate in consensus or decision making at work, as opposed to an autocratic or authoritarian leader who only issues orders.
How to apply democratic leadership? The following case is an example that can help you better understand the concept of democratic leadership and how to exercise such a style in a company.
Case study of a Democratic leader
Omar was the Supervisor of an auto parts assembly line in plant 2, one of the three plants of the brand that were located in the same industrial complex and managed by the same management. One of these plants, plant 3, had been losing money for months due to a high rate of defective material coming from its smelting process. Customer rejections were high and they were barely salvaging their commercial agreements to remain suppliers.
The only means that would ensure the rescue of the plant would be to reduce costs at the other two plants to help it. The decree reached the other plants and they were quick to look for ways to reduce costs, one of them being the elimination of overtime.
The assembly area that Omar supervised is a 24/7 area and until that time weekend work was accomplished by paying overtime. When Omar was finally instructed to eliminate overtime, he did not simply change the operators’ work schedules. He summoned everyone to a meeting and explained the details of the financial crisis; for some it was the first time they had been informed about the financial aspects of the company. He asked them for ideas on how best to accommodate the new work schedules so that some of the employees would work weekends and have two days off during the week without affecting personal and family activities as much.
For most of the meeting, Omar just listened. He did the same in subsequent encounters. After two days, there was a consensus: the workers had decided which days they should rest during the week according to their personal needs in order to ensure the operation of the area on weekends. The end result was not much different than if Omar had gone ahead and imposed workdays for each person. But by allowing the stakeholders to collectively come to that decision, Omar received none of the backlash that would have accompanied such a move. People regretted the loss of the extra time and the change in working days, but understood the inevitability of the situation. Virtually no one objected to the change.
Compare that with the experiences of a Supervisor from another area. He was also ordered to remove overtime and change working days, and he did so by decree. The result was disastrous: the operators began to complain to the union, some resigned from the job claiming that it was not convenient for them. Resolution took time as the area’s productivity plummeted. Omar is the example of a democratic leader in action as he found benefits in building consensus. By investing time in getting ideas and agreements from people, you build trust, respect and commitment.
Advantages and disadvantages of democratic leadership
Like all leadership styles, this style has both positive and negative aspects. By allowing workers the right to have a say in a democratic or participatory environment about decisions that affect their goals and functions, the democratic leader encourages flexibility and accountability. And by listening to employee concerns, he learns what to do to keep morale high. Because they have a say in setting goals and standards for evaluating success, people working under a democratic style tend to be very realistic about what can and cannot be achieved. However, the democratic style has weaknesses, which is why its impact on climate is not as high as that of some other styles.
One of its most exasperating consequences can be endless meetings, in which the same ideas are revisited again and again, consensus remains elusive, and the only visible result is to schedule more meetings. Some democratic leaders use this style to avoid making drastic decisions, hoping that enough detailed discussions at some point will illuminate the solution. But the truth is that his people end up feeling confused and without leadership. Even this approach can intensify conflicts.
When to use democratic leadership? This approach is ideal when it is the leader himself who is unsure about the best direction to take and needs ideas and advice from capable employees. Even if the leader has a strong vision, the democratic style works well for generating fresh ideas. Of course, the democratic style makes much less sense when employees are not competent or knowledgeable enough to offer sound advice. Needless to say, it is a mistake to build consensus in times of crisis. Consider the case of a Supervisor, whose area was seriously threatened by low machine efficiencies. The Supervisor always sought consensus on what to do. As productivity continued to worsen, he continued to appoint committees to consider the situation. When the machines began to report sudden changes due to lack of maintenance, the Supervisor was stuck in the middle of the problem. Management replaced him before he could appoint another working group to consider the situation and get their different opinions.
In the book How to be a Leader, Daniel Golema makes a magnificent comparison between the six most effective leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence skills, and teaches us how to use them to generate a positive impact on the emotional climate of the organization. It is one of the best leadership books of all time.
Summary of democratic leadership
The leader’s modus operandi.
Forges consensus through participation.
Which phrase defines an affiliative leader?
“What do you think?”
Collaboration, team leadership, communication.
When does it work best?
To build consensus or obtain input from valued employees.
When does it not work?
When the team is not competent or knowledgeable. Nor does it work in a crisis.
Overall impact on climate
|Introduction to the six leadership styles
|Coercive leadership style
|Democratic leadership style
|Guiding leadership style
|Affiliative leadership style
|Formative leadership style
|Exemplary leadership style
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To continue learning about leadership
Success and leadership belong to you by right. No matter where you are on the organizational chart or what your personal circumstances are, these books teach you how to take hold of your extraordinary strength. Be‧Líder recommends the 10 best books on leadership:
- How to be a leader – Daniel Goleman
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- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – John C. Maxwell
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- Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman
- The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene
- Leadership: the power of emotional intelligence
- The Leader Who Had No Title – Robin Sharma
- The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader – John C. Maxwell