One leader and two executives working together on a project which is demonstrating the democratic leadership skills of the leader.

What is Democratic Leadership?

Andrew Lipovsky
October 14, 2021

Leadership comes in different flavors. There are five main leadership styles applied today, i.e., Authoritarian, Democratic(participative), Delegative, transactional and transformational. A leader may opt for a technique based on prevailing company culture, nature of work, mentoring, or after attending executive coaching programs. 

Whether in a multinational or a small business, the leadership style selected should inspire and foster a harmonious working environment. One leadership style that is popular and often works well is Democratic leadership. 

What is Democratic Leadership Style?

In Democratic leadership style, members of a group are actively involved in the decision-making process. After a review of a team members’ input, the leader makes the final decision. 

This form of leadership style empowers team members as they feel that their decisions impact an organization. 

When is democratic leadership appropriate?

Democratic leadership was first expounded by Kurt Lewin together with R.K white and R. Lippit when they identified three distinct leadership styles after a series of experiments.

A group of executives working on their laptops in the office.

Examples of Democratic Leadership

Here are the examples of democratic leadership:

Case one: Twitter

if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure.
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square, is known for his democratic leadership style. According to Jack, “if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure.” 

Jack has fostered a working environment where all team members are free to speak up, collaborate and participate in the decision-making process. 

Case two: Apple

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, leadership style can broadly be defined as democratic, unlike his previous predecessor Steve Jobs’s autocratic style. He encourages consensus among senior managers and favors delegation and more autonomy. 

Case three: Virgin Group

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, is known for his participative approach. His inspiration for this approach is that he never learned any rules in his business journey and gladly breaks the rules. This has given leverage to employees to apply their best judgment. Through the use of a flat organization structure, employees work in clusters towards the accomplishment of set objectives. 

Democratic leadership

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Pros and Con of Democratic Leadership

Pros of Democratic Leadership

1. The Best Ideas are Often Implemented

Democratic leadership style allows for robust debates on ideas and proposals and an understanding that the best ideas deliver the best outcome for an organization. When team members offer their opinions on a subject, members are likely to endorse the best-suggested views. It cultivates a culture of “Best Ideas wins.” 

2. Enhances Cohesion Among Team Members

When team members understand that each member's opinion matters, it creates a better collaborative environment that facilitates the free flow of information, making it easy to achieve goals.


3. Boosts Jobs satisfaction and motivation 

Creating an environment that makes team members feel that their ideas can potentially be taken onboard by leadership fosters job satisfaction and an impetus to deliver the best. 

4. Offers a Leader a Diverse Set of Opinions

When a leader invites a diverse set of opinions among employees, it enriches the ultimate decision-making process. A leader can opt to select a set of ideas or blend ideas together.

5. Helps Team Members Improve on Their Knowledge.

When team members know that their input will be needed, they will likely improve their knowledge by spending additional time preparing to share their feedback. 

6. Democratic Leadership Allows Efficiency in Problem Solving

Two heads are better than one. This fact lends itself well in companies or organizations with democratic leadership. Decision making  can take longer, but the solutions will be more robust and suited to the problem at hand.

Autocratic leaders could make decisions more quickly; however, these solutions may fail due to a lack of additional feedback from team members and honest examination by other parties.

Democratic leadership style allows team members to share ideas and hold up decisions to scrutiny to identify weaknesses and disadvantages. 

7. Democratic Leadership Results in Higher Levels of Commitment

Securing team members’ commitment is a difficult task for most leaders, but the ability to allow new ideas, actions, and strategies boosts loyalty.

This is only possible with democratic leadership as it is the only leadership style that allows team members to speak and act freely.

Democratic leadership breeds a positive culture where ideas flow freely, and thus, team members tend to feel more involved.  

8. Honesty is Prioritised in Democratic Leadership

Good leaders always keep team members appraised of good and bad events within the organizations. Team members are more likely to appreciate honest leadership; concealing information will lead to disengagement and disillusionment.

Democratic leadership style, by its very nature, prioritizes honesty, so using this style of leadership brings in all the advantages of openness between a leader and team members.

This style of leadership builds up goodwill and the long-term contribution of team members.

Cons of Democratic Leadership

1. Slow Decision Making

Slow decision-making is an intrinsic part of democratic leadership. A leader needs to consult several team members, listen to their views, and collect feedback.

While this has some advantages, it can slow down the decision-making process. A company’s workflow will be interrupted and output delayed with a democratic style of leadership.  

2. It can Lead to Procrastination

Democratic leadership style can create a working environment where team members procrastinate due to a lack of motivation and situational awareness. This happens since democratic leadership relies on consensus. Work projects cannot be done within specific timelines due to multiple team members needing to work together.

3. Democratic Leadership can Create Negative Emotions

As democratic leadership relies on the input of team members; It can result in a tendency to always listen to specific team members either because of their experience, skills, or educational level. This inadvertently can result in other team members feeling less appreciated. If unchecked, this can lower morale and breed resentment.

4. It Can Lead to Team Members Doubting the Capabilities of the Leader

A leader has to be respected by team members to be effective. However, soliciting opinions, strategies, or other types of input could make a leader appear indecisive. A leader should skillfully thread the thin line between tapping into the large pool of opinions from team members and giving in to every recommendation to maintain effectiveness.  

5. Democratic Leadership can Lead to a Culture of not Taking Responsibility

Given that democratic leadership revolves around taking in recommendations and relying on the skills of other team members, a culture of finger-pointing could spring up within the company or organization.

In such a case, no one wants to take responsibility for missteps and mistakes. Such a culture is detrimental to the long-term success of an organization or company.

A democratic leader looking at her employees work while smiling.
Democratic leadership
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How to start implementing democratic leadership at work

As outlined above, democratic leadership comes with its pros and cons. As a leader, your onus is to analyze your team and see if this leadership style will deliver your objective and add value to the decision-making process. 

As this style entails getting feedback from your team, you should first inform them of your decision to use this approach. It is also vital to explain that whereas every voice matters, not all suggested ideas get implemented. To forestall pitfalls associated with this approach, ask questions such as:

  • Do they favor brainstorming before making decisions?
  • Do they prefer working in groups?
  • Do they favor voting on ideas?
  • What is the best course of action when consensus is not realized?

How you organize the approach is as important as the outcome. Depending on your team members' skill levels, personality, or education level, you can opt to use different phases so that each member feels included. For example:

Phase one: Set the rules of engagements and obtain feedback from all members if they are comfortable 

Phase two: Brainstorming session where each member is allowed to explain their viewpoint without any interruption

Phase three: Members narrow down on the best ideas

Phase four: Deciding on the best idea. As the team leader, you can now step in, either for endorsement, seek further clarification, or ask for more brainstorming. 

At the end of the process, take time and review all the steps taken. See areas of improvement for correction for a better outcome in subsequent meetings. 

How we can Help as Highrise

At Highrise, we understand that selecting a suitable leadership style is crucial to realizing set objectives. If you want to refine or learn more about democratic leadership, our experienced coaches will guide you on how best to implement a style that allows for participation for everyone.