Democratic Leadership: Effective Strategies, Pros & Cons and Characteristics

Democratic leadership encourages everyone to participate, share ideas and work together. Let's deep dive into the strategies of effective democratic leadership.

A manager needs to have effective leadership skills to practice democratic leadership. It starts with giving everyone a chance to voice their opinions and have a balanced approach towards decision-making.

This article will show you how democratic leadership works in the modern world of business, where any company that aspires to greatness needs to find some way to bring its people together and make them a united force. We will talk about the effective strategies you can adopt and then move on to the pros and cons of democratic leadership. But first let’s start with the basics.

What is democratic leadership?

Democratic leadership is, above all else, an approach of trust, transparency and team effort. When you are practicing democratic leadership in your workplace, you are taking into account the views of your entire team before making any significant decisions. This philosophy of management encourages participation, recognition and sharing of information in an organization that aligns employees with the organization's objectives. 

The benefits derived from working with a democratic leader are numerous, but one vital thing is the sense of belongingness. Everyone finds their voice in the atmosphere created by this style of management. Offices become fun places to work instead of dull working zones where everyone does what is told and does not voice their opinions.

Democratic Leadership helps create a culture of mutual trust and respect which goes beyond individual insecurities. As an organization leader, it’s okay to say “I don’t know” because it shows that you are willing to learn from those around you. Creative Projects that use democratic leadership tend to work better as they are optimized for the most novel solutions to win. Employee engagement, productivity and collaboration increases when everyone has a voice in making decisions as well as planning and executing. 

Democratic leadership is an effective alternative to authoritarian management in any situation, but it’s especially important when the full abilities of employees are needed. For this reason, democratic leadership is best suited to companies with projects that require a lot of employee creativity and innovation. It’s just one of the many options that managers have at their disposal, and there may be others that are a better fit for certain situations.

Effective Democratic Leadership Strategies For Every Manager

Before diving into action, we will understand the objective of the exercise. Ask yourselves if democratic decision-making style suits this project the best.

Is it right for you?
What is the end goal?
Who are the stakeholders?
Is the process important for outcome?

If your answer to the questions is yes, then you should move ahead with a participative style of decision-making.

First, you need to make sure that your employees understand the need to be united and work in unison with the primary goal in mind. This will build trust and a heightened sense of cohesion among your employees. Once you are confident that people are on board and willing to promote the democratic style of leadership, you can then go ahead and carry out the tasks at hand. You might have one or two leaders who will not hesitate to act as a boss or a manager would but rather serve as facilitators. Their role is to prevent conflicts from festering in small groups. 

Note that this style of leadership is not intended for those with power hungry tendencies otherwise it might create confusion and lead to destructive propaganda among other employees. Second, you also have to understand that if employees feel that they have ownership over the things they do, they will be all the more motivated to complete your projects. On the other hand, it’s not a good practice to just tell them what needs to be done and what time deadlines are for. Lastly, your employees want to be involved in the decision-making so make sure to listen.

Here are some other pointers that will help you apply the democratic leadership style at work.


1. Communicate with your employees

The single most important aspect of executing a democratic leadership style at work is communication. From the early stages of leadership, let employees know what your vision for the business is and what your employees' role in accomplishing this goal is. Let them know where they are extremely critical to the process and always keep them in the loop throughout the decision-making process. It is also essential to keep them updated on the company’s goals for the near and long term future. This will allow your business to grow as a team because everyone will be on the same page and working toward a common objective. 

Success of this leadership style comes down to how clearly you communicate goals, deadlines and expectations. A leader shouldn’t push the team to achieve tasks, but inspire them to be ambitious. Also, a leader should encourage all voices during the execution phase. People that participate in decision-making are more committed to their goals and will work harder to accomplish them because they have contributed with their ideas and opinions.

Success of this leadership style comes down to how clearly you communicate goals, deadlines and expectations. A leader shouldn’t push the team to achieve tasks, but inspire them to be ambitious. Also, a leader should encourage all voices during the execution phase. People that participate in decision-making are more committed to their goals and will work harder to accomplish them because they have contributed with their ideas and opinions.

2. Be transparent

Being transparent in a democratic leadership style is vital to assuring your team members that decisions are made based off a meritocracy. Be honest, give your opinion, and respect everyone’s input. The goal of democratic leadership style is for the team to work together as one cohesive unit in order to accomplish the project’s goals.

3. Ask for commitment and ownership

Make sure your employees have complete understanding of the problem and make them feel that they own the solution. Most of your employees don’t want to be micromanaged. They want to have a measure of autonomy and freedom. They must take ownership of the goal and then be allowed the freedom to explore different ways to achieve it. At the same time, a leader must ensure that all ideas are heard, valued, and contributed as appropriate throughout the organization. Being inclusive allows your team or audience to feel like they are part of something bigger than just their role at work or in life.

The key to success therefore, is to ask your employees for their full commitment and ownership. This will ensure that they live up to the expectation you have set, and it will help them come through with their promise of performance. More importantly, it will enable them to realize the need for a new way of doing things, and offer them a sense of direction and strength in their respective roles.

4. Learn from your mistakes

Mistakes are vital in order to learn and grow. Decisions made in a democratic style might not prove to be panacea to your problems, but that doesn't mean you should discard the method. You need to huddle with your team, retrospect what worked, what you can do better and iterate the process until you have found the sweet spot of effective decision-making.

What are the qualities of a democratic leader?

1. Communication (Good listeners)

Communication is the most important skill a leader must have. If people cannot understand a vision or goal clearly, they will fail when it comes time to implement it.  In a democratic style of decision-making a subset of communication becomes all the more significant; Listening.

A good democratic leader is an honest one, who listens to the employees and shares their ideas lucidly with them. Democratic leaders also involve everyone in group discussions, drive the team to achieve their objectives, involve everyone in planning their future and motivates them to do better.

If only leaders and managers would take the time to listen, they might find out a lot of things that can help them improve. They also might see problems or situations that are destructive to productivity and morale before they have a chance to spread and nip it in the bud.

2. Unbiased

Unbiased nature is a quality representative of a democratic leader—as it indicates an absence of favoritism, personal bias, and this is a trait that is appealing to all. When a leader is biased or has the tendency to be biased in most of their actions, it makes them ignorant and gives an inclination to act in poor judgment. An unadulterated leader is unbiased and is willing to hear both sides of any opinion before making a decision on something.

3. Creative and innovative

Creativity is a very important quality of a democratic leader. It is the originality of mind that makes the leader creative and it directs them towards finding their own solutions to problems. A democratic leader must also be appreciative of and open to new ideas, provide opportunities for creative thought, listen to all staff and accept new suggestions on how to do things differently.

4. Empathetic

Empathy is an essential part of developing a trusted relationship with your team members. It can be difficult to lead if you don’t have the interest of your employees in mind. Democratic leaders who are empathetic typically work better with their teams and garner mutual respect by being a good listener and creating a trusting environment. If you want to be effective as a democratic leader at your workplace, empathy is one characteristic that you can never do without.

Advantages of Democratic Leadership


1. Innovation

The key to innovation at the workplace is democracy. Innovation is a fundamental aspect of every successful business organization. It can be achieved if the leader is more active and creative in leading the team. By being democratic and sharing power with each employee, innovation gets a great boost. The output of employees changes drastically when they have a say in what's going on around them. Democracy creates a culture where the best ideas win.

2. Productivity

A democratic leader encourages a free exchange of ideas and opinions between all team members so that every individual who is a part of the company works in complete sync. Democratic leaders also bring self-confidence and intrinsic motivation in the workers.

They remove politics from rules and decide everything based on how it will affect others. This adds value to their team through better decision-making. It reduces conflicts, fights and tensions at workplace as everyone gets a chance to air out their views and opinions. The team ends up working as one unit with a common goal for success that can be easily accomplished. This in return boosts productivity.

3. Builds a bonded team

In an efficient democratic leadership system, all individuals are treated equally and are given the opportunity to contribute their ideas to the leader. This will result in creating a bond between the leader and employees and help boost the camaraderie at the workplace. Hence, with democratic leadership embraces equality, democracy, and respect among employees. This will improve employee engagement and help in team building.

4. Keeps mental health of the team in check

Democratic leadership is a form of leadership where employees are encouraged to participate in decision-making and execution. Democratic leaders promote workplace values like equity and public good that treat workers equally, whereas autocratic managers tend to focus on achieving their personal goals. Benefits of democratic leadership include greater job satisfaction, reduced turnover and absence rates, increased creativity and better problem-solving skills among employees. All these factors lead to increased staff morality and improves relationships among coworkers, resulting in decreased burnout and stress.

Shortcomings of Democratic Leadership

1. Slower decision-making process

It is observed that the democratic decision-making leads to the delay in the decision-making process, compared to authoritarian structure of management. A democratic structure of organization involves a lot more task-related activity within an organization. It gives opportunity to people to have their own opinion. Everyone's views and suggestions are considered by the leader which leads to decision-making on a consensus building basis. However, many HR consultants say that slow decision-making and some consensus seeking behavior of democratic leaders is a good thing since it reduces the error variance and provides more time for learning from experience.

2. Relies too much on employees taking ownership

One of the major shortcomings of democratic decision-making compared to centralized decision-making is lack of ownership. It is difficult to get people to take complete ownership when several others are involved in the process. It becomes tempting to offload some accountability to fellow team-mates. This is a corollary of "bystander effect" in the workplace.  This is not necessarily a fatal flaw as long as the structure you choose for your organization gives you some form of accountability outside the democratic process this is an inherent limitation to democratic process.

3. Dissent

The long-term consequence of having too much dissent may result in a failure to reach a decision on the issue that the group was originally trying to decide. Group members spend so much time on negotiations that they don't have enough time left to decide what to do about the problem at hand. They agree on everything except on the one thing (the decision) that should be agreed upon. The frustrated group then ends up doing nothing and thus accomplishes nothing.

4. Not suited for crisis management

The history of democratic decision-making or the quest for better management in public organizations has taught us that the notion of crisis is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of democracy. In crisis management, executives don’t have time to discuss and negotiate the best solution with their team. Within minutes the executive must make a decision that will impact their organization for the next several months or years. As much as we would like to believe that democracy and transparency are suitable for every situation, most of us know better.


At its core, democratic leadership is about equality and equity. Using a democratic structure to run an organization means that everyone has the chance to speak their minds, share their ideas, and work together to make decisions.  A leader must possess certain skills to carry out effective democratic leadership in the workplace. It’s easy enough to see how this could be beneficial in an organization and why it might be necessary to create a consistently safe and healthy environment where people can be open with their thoughts.

Read more:

16 Qualities That Make You A Good Manager

10 Tips on How to Improve Employee Onboarding Experience

8 Ways Managers Can Support Multicultural Teams


Why is democratic the best leadership style?

Surprising as it may be to hear, the highest performing companies are the ones that have implemented a democratic leadership style. Democratic leadership allows everyone to have a say in their company’s mission and their day-to-day work. When your employees feel like they have control over their own work environment and feel like they can make an impact on the company, they will be more motivated to do well. Democratic leadership is not only successful when it comes to management and employee relations; studies also show that these companies tend to attract more customers, which greatly increases the profit potential of any business.

How does democratic style of leadership help motivate employees?

If you want to inspire people and get the best possible results from your workforce, democratic leadership is the great way to go. By encouraging everyone to take an active role in decision-making and management, you are more likely to get more engaged employees. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you favor the democratic style of leadership or the traditional one—the real key is that the more people feel valued, the better they will perform. The key to success here is not just to give people the right to speak their minds – it is also to reward those who share their views. There are also a few things you can do to help increase the number of people who contribute ideas, such as rewarding their contributions for everyone to see. Companies that score the highest on these democratic leadership scales have higher productivity, lower turnover, and higher rates of innovation.

What is democratic leadership pros and cons?

Not only does democratic leadership encourage a participatory culture within an organization, but it also develops the personal qualities of everyone on the team. When everyone can participate, there is room to grow and everyone can help solve complex problems. But it does come with its cons. Decision-making can be time-consuming and there might not be a common consensus leading to uncertainty among groups.

Where is democratic leadership effective?

Democratic leadership seems to work best in situations where everyone plays an important role, such as small businesses. Moreover, democratic leadership can be successful for larger corporations as well since a focus on innovation and collaboration can make for an effective company culture. If a company does not treat their employees like valuable assets and discourage hierarchy, then it might be hard to foster meaningful dialogue or get people to collaborate with each other. Unfortunately, most large companies choose to encourage the hierarchical mentality that doesn’t work well in this kind of environment.

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