What’s it: Democratic leadership is an approach to leadership by promoting the participation of subordinates in the decision-making process. Leaders encourage subordinates to participate in making decisions about their work and work-related issues. For this reason, we also refer to this leadership style as participative leadership.
Leaders prefer to promote consensus decision-making as a management policy. Leaders like to discuss and explore ideas and develop positive feedback for the organization. In addition, they also involve subordinates to contribute to the decision-making process.
Democratic leadership is one of the effective leadership styles. This is because the work environment tends to be flexible, innovative, and highly motivated. As a result, it increases morale and high productivity.
However, decisions can be slow to make because they rely on consensus. Discussing and seeking feedback from subordinates can take time, resulting in decisions not being reached immediately.
There are other problems too. For example, subordinates may be concerned with personal ego rather than common interests. Finally, subordinates may be incompetent and not effective decision-makers. Thus, asking them for their opinion on decisions may not be wise and could negatively impact the organization.
What are the characteristics of democratic leadership?
Several aspects characterize democratic leadership. First, subordinates can participate and collaborate actively. Democratic leaders encourage subordinates to take more roles in decision-making than autocratic leaders. They discuss openly before making a decision. Finally, they can exchange ideas more freely.
This environment encourages individual honesty and courage in expressing ideas. Discussions are often a way to exchange ideas.
Second, ideas and opinions are valued. Leaders encourage members to share ideas and opinions. As a result, members can say it more freely. Thus, the organization is more likely to reach the best decision. However, the leader retains control over the final decision.
Third, a democratic environment supports more creativity. Leaders value subordinates and encourage them to be self-actualized and creative by discussing their work areas. Such an environment is important in the problem-solving process and for finding the best alternatives in decision-making. Subordinates can explore and find new ways to various problems and then offer better solutions to management.
Fourth, the leader empowers subordinates. Leaders do not depend on themselves, but they trust subordinates to express ideas during the decision-making process. In addition, they expect feedback or opinions. Finally, subordinates feel valued because the leader listens to their ideas, fostering satisfaction.
Fifth, communication is two-way. It can be top to bottom or vice versa, bottom to top. So, leaders easily discuss with subordinates. But conversely, subordinates can also do so when they deem it necessary. This situation contrasts with an autocratic environment, where communication is only top-down.
Where is the democratic leadership style effective?
How effective democratic leadership depends on the ability and willingness of subordinates. Another factor is the task the leader must complete.
This leadership style is likely suitable in an environment where subordinates are skilled, experienced, and creative. On the one hand, leaders can leverage the talents and strengths of their subordinates for the company’s success. On the other hand, subordinates can actualize and develop themselves by actively participating in the decision-making process.
When subordinates have become familiar with the decision-making process, they are trained to become good decision-makers. Finally, democratic leaders can focus on more vital aspects. They delegate fewer essential decisions to subordinates. And subordinates are independent in their work and are responsible with minimal supervision.
Then, by being actively involved, subordinates are not only happy and motivated. But, they also contribute to innovation and problem solving within the company.
Then, democratic leaders may also be effective in organizations where high creativity is demanded. This environment requires organizations to adapt to new solutions and change existing processes. Thus, the active participation of subordinates allows for more ideas and solutions than just relying on the leader.
Google is one example of where democratic leadership works. Amazon and Genentech are other examples.
However, when a company needs quick decisions because it operates in a dynamic business environment, a democratic environment may not be suitable. A slow decision-making process can make a company lag behind its competitors. Eventually, it threatens the company’s advantage and leads to failure.
In addition, a democratic environment also requires a skilled and experienced team. Subordinates have adequate knowledge. Without them, leaders find it difficult to get quality feedback or ideas. In this environment, leaders may be more appropriate to take an autocratic approach where they make decisions with little input from subordinates. Then, they instruct the subordinates to carry out what they have decided.
What are the advantages of democratic leadership?
Democratic leadership greatly impacts a harmonious work environment between leaders and subordinates. Leaders respect subordinates and vice versa; subordinates respect the leader.
Other advantages of democratic leadership are:
First, democratic leaders are more respected. Members’ regard for them is based on trust, respect, and inspiration rather than on threats or fear, as in an autocratic leadership environment.
Second, subordinates have an active role and contribute to problem solving and decisions in their work area. They are motivated because they feel their opinions and input are valued. Finally, it fosters a sense of belonging to the organization, increasing their morale and productivity.
Third, democratic leadership encourages more creative ideas and solutions. Such an environment is important for fostering innovation and developing better problem-solving. Unlike when relying on the leader to make decisions and solve problems, involving subordinates means more ideas emerge.
Fourth, employees are motivated because they feel more empowered. They are eager to improve their professional skills. They feel they can influence their promotion potential by contributing more to the company. Due to this, they work harder to take on a bigger role by increasing competence.
Fifth, the work environment becomes more collaborative. Two-way communication strengthens the working relationship between subordinates and leaders. They can give each other feedback and reduce conflict.
Sixth, employees are more adaptive to changes in the organization. Because they are involved in the decision-making process, they are more informed about what is happening in the organization. Thus, they are better prepared when changes occur.
What are the disadvantages of democratic leadership?
Like other types of leadership, democratic leadership also has several weaknesses. Thus, it may be effective in one situation but not in another. In other words, not all conditions are right for this leadership style.
First, not all feedback and ideas from subordinates are of high quality. It depends on their knowledge, expertise, or their experience. Unqualified ideas or feedback ultimately lead to poor decisions.
Second, subordinates may provide ideas or insights for the motive of personal gain. They are more concerned with themselves when it comes to ideas rather than group or company benefits.
Third, dissatisfaction arises when the leader is favoritism. Some subordinates are disappointed if the leader prefers ideas from the subordinates closest to him or her. Finally, they are disappointed and dissatisfied with the decisions taken. This dissatisfaction can spread to other subordinates, causing disharmony in the working relationship.
Fourth, decision-making is slower. Greater involvement in the decision-making process does generate more ideas. However, decision-making is time-consuming as it is necessary to reach a consensus. The leader must filter the subordinates’ ideas or input and choose the best.
For this reason, this leadership is not suitable when the company needs an urgent decision, for example, during difficult times such as an economic crisis or during a restructuring.
Fifth, conflicts often arise. For example, because subordinates may be pursuing personal gain, they will disagree more during the discussion. In the end, such conditions lead to conflict and have a negative impact on working relationships.
Sixth, a democratic environment requires strong leaders. They are needed to lead discussions and supervise subordinates. Without strong leadership, the decision-making process can lose its way or take too long.
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