Is Democratic Leadership the Best Style of Leadership?

democratic leadership

Verywell / Hugo Lin

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Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership or shared leadership, is a leadership style in which members of the group participate in the decision-making process. This type of leadership can apply to any organization, from private businesses to schools to the government.

With a democratic leadership style, everyone is given the opportunity to participate, ideas are exchanged freely, and discussion is encouraged. While this process tends to focus on group equality and the free flow of ideas, the democratic leader is still there to offer guidance and control.

The democratic leader is also charged with deciding who is in the group and who gets to contribute to the decisions being made. Research has found that the democratic leadership style is one of the most effective types and leads to higher productivity, better contributions from group members, and increased group morale.

Characteristics of Democratic Leadership

Some of the primary characteristics of democratic leadership include:

  • Collaboration: Group members are encouraged to share ideas and opinions, even though the leader retains the final say over decisions.
  • Engagement: Members of the group feel more engaged in the process.
  • Creativity: Creativity is encouraged and rewarded.

Researchers suggest that good democratic leaders possess specific traits such as being a team player, possessing a willingness to adapt, having a fair mind, and being engaged in the process. Strong democratic leaders inspire trust and respect among their followers.

These leaders are sincere and make decisions based on their morals and values. They also tend to seek diverse opinions and do not try to silence dissenting voices or those that offer a less popular point of view. As a result, followers feel inspired to take action and contribute to the group.

Examples of Democratic Leadership

More than half of the countries in the world with populations over 500,000 people use a democratic leadership style. The United States is one. Sweden, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, and the Netherlands are a few others.

Some businesses also operate with a democratic management style, offering a participative leadership approach. Google is one, with its founders likening their leadership style to being "proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!" Jack Dorsey, the former Twitter CEO, was also often credited with having the characteristics of a democratic leader.

You can also find examples of democratic leadership within school clubs and 4-H organizations. Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who won two World Series championships, is credited with being a participative leader in the sport of baseball.

Benefits of Democratic Leadership

Because group members are encouraged to share their thoughts, democratic leadership can lead to better ideas and more creative solutions to problems. Group members feel more involved and committed to projects, making them more likely to care about the end results.

Research on leadership styles has shown that democratic leadership contributes to higher productivity among group members. This way of leading has also been connected to increases in group morale.

  • More ideas and creative solutions

  • Group member commitment

  • High productivity

  • Improved group morale

  • Communication failures

  • Poor decision-making by unskilled groups

  • Minority or individual opinions overridden

  • Potential security issues

Potential Pitfalls of Democratic Leadership

While democratic leadership has been described as the most effective leadership style, it does have some potential downsides. In situations where roles are unclear or time is of the essence, democratic leadership can lead to communication failures and uncompleted projects.

In some cases, group members may not have the necessary knowledge or expertise to make quality contributions to the decision-making process. Democratic leadership can also result in team members feeling like their opinions and ideas aren't taken into account.

For a government or organization to be truly democratic requires the sharing of all the information. This can lead to potential security issues in some cases, making it another pitfall of using a democratic leadership style.

How to Use Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership works best in situations where group members are skilled and eager to share their knowledge. It is also important to have plenty of time to allow people to contribute, develop a plan, then vote on the best course of action.

Because so many people are involved, setting deadlines can ensure that you get everyone's input in enough time to act on it. Providing expectations upfront can be helpful as well, making it clear when the group's input will be sought and which decisions management will make on its own.

A Word From Verywell

Like any other leadership style, there are pros and cons to being a democratic leader. Should you decide that this is the best style for you, following a few simple guidelines—such as managing time carefully and setting deadlines—can help make this an effective approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the best time to use democratic leadership?

    If you have enough time to follow a democratic process and your group's members can provide quality information, this is a good opportunity to use democratic leadership. It's also a good time to use a democratic management style if the decision you need to make doesn't involve revealing any private or confidential information.

  • How can you improve a democratic leadership style?

    Make it easy for all group members to share their thoughts and ideas. For a democracy to work, everyone has to feel as if they can give their opinion and know that it will be heard. Other ways to improve a democratic leadership style include being willing to listen, empowering group members to take action, and creating a cohesive decision-making process.

  • Why is a democratic leadership style effective?

    When all group members feel that they can contribute their thoughts and opinions, they may be more encouraged to take an active role in the process. This increased engagement leads to more creative ideas and higher levels of productivity. It also reduces the likelihood that team members will feel as if their contributions don't matter.

  • When is a democratic leadership the least effective?

    If you don't have enough time to collect everyone's input and act on it, this can lead to an ineffective democratic process. A democratic leadership style is also ineffective if the group members cannot contribute in a meaningful way or if the decision being made requires the dissemination of information that shouldn't be shared on a large scale.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Khoshhal KI, Guraya SY. Leaders produce leaders and managers produce followers. A systematic review of the desired competencies and standard settings for physicians' leadership. Saudi Med J. 2016;37(10):1061-7. doi:10.15537/smj.2016.10.15620

  3. St. Thomas University Online. What is democratic/participative leadership? How collaboration can boost morale.

  4. Pew Research Center. Despite global concerns about democracy, more than half of countries are democratic.

  5. Google blog. A letter from Larry and Sergey.

  6. Michigan State University. Leadership styles part 2: democratic.

  7. International Institute for Management Development. The 5 leadership styles you can use.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."