What Is Democratic (Participative) Leadership? – 5 Main Principles

Democratic Leadership, also known as Participative Leadership, is where individuals who would typically be considered unequal by hierarchal standards have shared power in making decisions.

  • Democratic leaders emphasize collaboration and the free-flow of ideas.
  • While these leaders do allow shared participation in decision-making, they often decide who is a part of the group or committee tasked with making decisions.
  • Responsibility is shared among all members of staff with the leader present to offer guidance and keep discussions balanced and controlled.
  • Participative leadership instill mutual respect among those involved that create candid and open conversations.
  • Democratic leaders can often be seen in positions in nonprofit organizations, school boards, and forward-thinking companies.



Part 1

What is the Importance of Democratic Leadership?

One of the most critical aspects of any leadership style is understanding the situations in which it helps the company excel.

In a way, participative leadership is similar to affiliative leadership in that it promotes teamwork and collaboration.

However, one of the fundamental differences is that a democratic leadership style does not necessarily have a connection to a stressful or challenging event, it is a style that is established to include as many voices as possible to make sound decisions.

One of the main benefits touted by those who favor democratic leadership is its impact on employee engagement.

If leaders invite employees to participate in the decision-making process and because of the nature of democratic leadership, the hope is that it will increase overall participation.

Below are some statistics related to this engagement as well as productivity:

  • When employees are connected to where they work, productivity improves by 20 to 25 percent.
  • Teams with high employee engagement are 21 percent more productive and have 28 percent less internal theft than those with low engagement.
  • Employees who are engaged are 27 percent more likely to report “excellent” performance.

At its core, democratic leaders allow employees to have autonomy and provide input past their regular duties. These qualities are ones that often lead to higher engagement and productivity. If companies are having a difficult time keeping employees engaged, motivated, and productive then incorporating a democratic leadership style could be a viable option that leaders should consider.


Part 2

5 Main Principles of Democratic Leaders

Instead of being primarily concerned about performance and productivity, democratic leaders also put high expectations on quality.

  3 Pros & 3 Cons: Democratic Leadership Style in the Workplace

They want informed opinions from as many people as they can involve. However, unlike affiliative leaders that can sometimes fail to provide clear direction and decision-making for teams, democratic leaders typically have the final say.

Below are the most common traits and principles that are important to a democratic leader:

  1. Promotion of a Free-Flow of Ideas

    While the democratic leader does care that employees feel involved, they genuinely seek out opinions from these individuals to help them make informed decisions. Input is seen as a resource that should be allowed to flow freely.

  2. The Inspiration of Trust and Respect

    For employees to feel comfortable sharing ideas with the knowledge that they will be taken seriously, democratic leaders have to build sustainable relationships with employees. Unlike a transactional or autocratic leader, democratic leaders move beyond performance and productivity in their dealings with workers.

  3. An Emphasis on Morality and Values

    Democratic leaders have a belief system based on ethics and morality. They believe that everyone has a right to be heard and that they should facilitate these interactions for the greater good of the group. It would make sense that many presidents have utilized this leadership style during their terms.

  4. Competence

    It is not easy being a leader who has tons of ideas thrown their way. It can be challenging to keep everything straight. That is why an active democratic leader has to be competent and intelligent in how they approach and utilize ideas from employees. They also have to show balance and control in facilitating free-flowing conversations.

  5. An Honest and Open Mind

    Democratic leaders also make a practice of having an open mind when dealing with dissenting opinions. They may not always agree with what others have to say, but they will listen and take them into account in case there is something they can take from it.

For these individuals to gain the trust and admiration from employees, they do have to encompass some level of charisma and influence. They make others feel empowered, and that they matter. While they do share this trait with charismatic and affiliative leaders, democratic leaders set themselves apart by being effective delegators. They have gotten to know their employees enough to determine their strengths and expertise and therefore they can assign tasks efficiently.

Part 3

Advantages of Democratic Leaders

  • Increased Staff ProductivityParticipative leadership style encourages involved engagement and input, two things that improve employee morale and performance. Employees are more likely to be happier when they feel that their work and voice matters, and it increases their quality of work.
  • A Diversity of IdeasLeaders are not only made to seek views from those in similar positions as them. They can receive valuable input from frontline employees or those who have a better grasp on a decision then senior leaders. This increases the likelihood that democratic leaders can make decisions that benefit as many people as possible.
  • Creative EnvironmentThis free flow of ideas creates an environment where workers feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and plans for the company. Democratic leaders would increase the prevalence of this, and facilitate a workplace where workers are always seeking ways to collaborate.
  • Strong TeamsSince groups will likely spend a lot of time together discussing decisions and working with leaders, then it is likely that strong team units will form. Workers will understand the importance of working with others, respecting the thoughts and ideas of co-workers, and helping them reach their goals. This can increase trust and admiration among team members.

Part 4

Disadvantages of Democratic Leaders

  • Slow Decision-Making ProcessBecause a large number of people are involved in the decision-making process, the choices will likely take a longer time to be made. This development can hinder workflow or frustrate employees.
  • Not Effective in a CrisisSince these leaders are used to hearing opinions from others, it will be difficult for them to make a decision that does not involve the input of employees or fellow leaders. They might not feel confident in making an emergency decision that does not have time to go through a process.
  • A Lack of ExpertiseWhile the democratic leader might be equipped to make a final decision, workers might not have the experience to make lasting decisions. The emphasis is on hearing as many voices as possible, regardless if they are the right people to make the decisions. This can lead to misguided choices that do not solve the problem.
  • Dealing with RejectionBecause workers have taken the time out to provide their input and ideas, there is an expectation that their concept will be undertaken. This means that democratic leaders will have to make some tough decisions about which approaches they use, and how they will inform others that their ideas have been rejected. This can cause some intense feelings by those who plans are not implemented.

Part 5

Best Practices of Democratic Leadership

  1. Keep a Record of All Ideas Suggested

    Since democratic leaders cannot utilize every approach, they would benefit from keeping track of ideas throughout the decision-making process. While something may not work today, it could be beneficial in the future.
    Hint: is a modern tool that helps democratic leaders gather ideas, status updates, suggestions and feedback.

  2. Create a Streamlined Decision-Making Process

    Everyone is not excited about the prospect of a long and drawn-out process for making decisions. Workers might need feedback sooner rather than later, and there should be specific issues that are not required to go through a decision-making team. If there is a simple problem or common issue, these should be categorized differently so decisions can be made a lot faster.

  3. Involve the Right People

    If there is an IT problem, then those with an expertise in technology issues should be involved in the choice. While those impacted should be included, some problems require those who have training and knowledge in the situation to have the most input.

  4. Turn Rejection into Another Opportunity

    The democratic leader is going to have to reject a lot of ideas. They should become adept at communicating this respectfully and carefully. They should inform employees why their approach was not utilized, and how it could be used in the future if applicable.

Democratic leaders spur productivity, teamwork, collaboration, and the creative flow of ideas. Companies can be sure they are finding out about the most pressing problems, and solutions since employees from various departments are invited to participate in decision-making. Democratic leaders have to be sure to take control when necessary and carefully reject ideas that do not make sense for the organization, but the benefits of increased engagement and quality input are worth taking a look at this method.


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