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Democratic Leadership Style: 15 Steps to Make Your Team Thrive

Democratic Leadership Style: 15 Steps to Make Your Team Thrive

ALEXIOS GEORGAKOPOULOS
11/22/2023
Democratic Leadership Style: 15 Steps to Make Your Team Thrive

Democracy and leadership aren’t really intertwined, especially in the workplace. You don’t need me to tell you that most leaders take full control of entire departments, and any choice they make goes. But, what you do need me to tell you is that democratic leadership is a thing. And it might just be what your team needs to thrive.

You see, when talking about democratic leadership or participative management, most folks, managers and employees alike, expect a “one voice, one vote” policy. On paper, that might be true, but I like to distinguish that from leadership. This policy is democratic decision-making.

Yet, I digress. Many big names follow a democratic leadership style in the workplace, from Google to Twitter (or X for all you young managers out there) and the like. And it’s worth a try, even if it’s just for a small project. That’s because, as with everything, this isn’t an easy style to implement.

Thus, today, we’ll take a look at this leadership style and how it differs from “one voice, one vote”. I’ll also tell you all you need to know about overcoming some of its limitations and how you can implement it successfully and effortlessly.

Everyone’s Opinion Counts – Understanding the Democratic Leadership Style With Examples

So, democratic leadership. Let’s start with my personal definition of it. As a leadership style, it determines how managers and executives make their choices at work. And, being a democratic style, it means that the people (in this case, the employees) have a say in how things are run.

For example, if you’re running an in-house ad campaign as a democratic leader, you’d hop on meetings with each team member beforehand. You’d ask them for their opinion. Get them to open up about any other ideas they have. And then, you’d sum all of these up, mix and match the good parts, and push the campaign forward.

I know that this seems like an optimal scenario. And, quite frankly, it is. There are tons of caveats that I’ll cover below, so don’t worry.

Besides that, you can probably get a clear idea of the reasoning behind this leadership style. It’s employee-centric. It’s all about getting the team engaged. Getting them to truly embrace teamwork. And, most importantly, getting the whole crew to be just a tidbit more creative!

But, as I mentioned above, this isn’t quite the democracy you’d expect in the workplace. After all, you’re the one still in charge. You’re going to have the final word in any case. Hell, you might even prefer Bob over Bill because Bob’s your uncle. Bad pun, I know.

And that’s where democratic decision-making comes in.

Democratic Decision Making vs. Leadership Style – So Similar, Yet So Different

Democratic decision-making is all about practicality and fairness. It’s not perfect, but it works. It’s all about giving an equal amount of responsibility, praise, blame, and so on to each team member.

While the leadership style is all about considering each opinion and basing the end result on that, the decision-making is about the majority. If the majority says to “go for an old-school branding”, an old-school branding it is.

You can already see some of the pitfalls with that. The minority, who will get equal blame if the project fails, doesn’t even have a say in what goes and what doesn’t. And, there goes all the motivation.

That’s where a democratic leadership style tries to fit in. And while it solves some of the responsibility-related issues, it has some limitations of its own. Of course, you can overcome this, and I’m here to help.

Fight The Threat – Overcoming The 5 Limitations Of The Participative Management Style

Okay, it’s not really a threat, but you get the point. If you decide to implement a participative management style, whether it’s a one-time thing or not, you’ll need to expect pitfalls. And learn how to actually overcome them.

Time Is Of The Essence

Time is a big issue with democratic leadership management. Having individual meetings and crunching down the opinions of every team member takes a lot of time. And, as a leader, most of your time should be spent on the forest, not each individual small tree.

In this case, you can add some systems in place to help you out. Tools like Google Forms will also add a hint of anonymity to the whole process. Also, an asynchronous way to gather all the team inputs will help avoid any second guesses from each member that might have otherwise occurred during a meeting.

No Mistakes Allowed

Look, there are times when every leader knows that even a small mistake will ruin a big chunk of work. And, with democratic leadership, mistakes are plenty. You’re always trying different approaches, not done-and-tested stuff you’re used to.

The only way to really combat that is by mapping out the whole journey. Set out more time in the brainstorming stage. Get the team to work on more lenient deadlines. Such an approach should help avoid mistakes early on and when things are getting serious.

Expertise Is Necessary

Sometimes, your team just might not cut it. You know, they don’t have enough expertise to actually make a decision for the future of a project. And that’s okay. As long as you ensure that they get some adequate training.

While expertise might be necessary, nobody stops you from turning your junior team into experts in no time. Jacks and Jills of all trades. Employees who can zoom out and see where the project is heading as well as you.

Someone’s Left Out

Regardless of how hard you try to get everyone’s opinion, someone’s always going to be left out. It might be that one person on the team who always nods during meetings (despite being one of your greatest assets). Or, it might be someone who had such an outrageous idea that you didn’t even consider it.

This one’s a tough cookie – especially if you lead a big department. The only way to really avoid leaving out anyone on the team is by having one-on-ones with everyone. Or try sending out forms for each member to complete.

Difficulty In Changing

The hardest difficulty to overcome in this big change is… well, that. Change. Change will be difficult. And I’m not just talking about going from the current situation to a democratic leadership style. I’m changing in general when in a democratic leadership.

Everyone on the team will want to have a small change in how things are run. But, if you try to do so, then all hell will break loose. So, to truly overcome this limitation, you have to be a leader. A true leader. You must act in a way that benefits as many members of the team as possible without neglecting anyone. And that’s why this is the hardest part!

Embrace The Participation – 5 Ways To Effectively Implement The Democratic Leadership Style

Thankfully, implementing a participative leadership style is much easier once you’ve overcome its limitations. There are still some things you’ll need to know first, though.

Is It Right For You?

Let’s start with a question you should’ve asked from the get-go. Can you handle such a leadership style? Are you more autocratic by nature? Is the democratic style the right one for you?

To find that out, you really have to look deep inside. Reflect, be mindful, do all that. But make sure that you’re ready for what lies ahead. It’s alright if this isn’t for you.

Feedback Is King

Feedback can really help you out in just about any situation. Are you dealing with leadership insecurities? Feedback is king. And the same goes once you begin implementing the new leadership style at work.

Look, as a manager or an executive, you know that most new things fall flat on their face. This new change might also fail. But, the chances will be much lower once you get everyone on the feedback train. Get your team to tell you if they like the new style. If they find that it’s more productive for them.

You’re The Neutral Territory

Remaining neutral during all this will be hard. You’re a person, after all. You have your biases for certain folks (and, no, I’m not talking about a self-serving bias). That’s alright. Yet, in a democratic environment, you must be the leader who listens to every opinion and considers each one fairly and equally.

Doing that is pretty simple if you’re already neutral. Just put your biases aside and see what your team wants to do. Or, you could go for an anonymous approach. Yes, it might not be great when it’s time to give praise to individual members. But it’ll help you remain neutral.

Turn Theory Into Action

Alright, let's get our hands dirty and dive into the practical stuff. You've got the theory down, but how do you turn all that jargon into something tangible? Simple: start small, think big.

Begin with a project or a decision that's not too risky. Get a feel for how your team responds to this new style. It’s like testing the waters before diving in. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a democratic workplace.

Implement Coaching

Now, you're probably thinking, "How do I even begin, Alex?". How can I start doing all this, from theory into action, be neutral, and the like? The answer is simple: coaching. Start by coaching your team members individually. This doesn't mean you're spoon-feeding them. Guide them to unlock their potential.

Remember, a good coach doesn't play the game. They help the players see the game through different lenses. And, if you need help to learn how to coach (coaching for coaching), Wave’s here for you.

Accept The Opinions – Use Democratic Decision Making In 5 Steps

Alright, so you’ve got everything in place. But you also want to try out some democratic decision-making. Risky, but go for it. Here are my tips to get on with it as soon as possible.

Actively Listen

This isn’t your average nod-and-smile listening. I’m talking about really tuning in. Understand the 'why' behind what they're saying. This will need some action from you, as you’ll need to improve your communication skills. But it’s definitely worth it.

Maybe Jane from accounting has a killer idea for the marketing campaign. Who knows? The point is, listen like your next big breakthrough depends on it because it just might.

Be Open

Okay, let’s face it. Some ideas will be out there. Like, way out there. But, sometimes, it's the wacky ideas that hit the jackpot. So, don't shut down the next 'out-of-the-box' suggestion. Embrace it. Mull over it. It might just be the golden ticket you’ve been looking for. Regardless of how crazy it is.

Reflect

After every brainstorming session or team meeting, take a beat. Reflect on what went down. What was said? What wasn't? Sometimes, the gold is in what’s not being said. This is your chance to connect the dots and see if the puzzle pieces fit.

Be Punctual

Time is money. Start on time, end on time. Respect everyone's time. Time, time, time. That’s the unwritten rule of democratic leadership. Plus, punctuality sets the tone for efficiency and respect. It shows you mean business.

Accept Everyone’s Opinion

You might not agree with every opinion, and that’s fine. But in the realm of democratic leadership and decision-making, every voice counts. Even if it’s a voice suggesting something you’d never even dream of. Remember, it's about the team, not just the leader.

The True Leadership Style With Wave AI

So, without a doubt, the democratic leadership style can and should be considered the true leadership style. It’s not perfect, but it keeps the morale up. And it brings in results. There’s nothing better than that, really.

Yet, you might not fully understand how to effectively implement it within your team. That’s alright. Wave’s here to help you out. And our team is at the forefront of this, as this exact leadership style flows within the Wave team.

At Wave AI, we use 2 tablespoons of world-class coaches and 1 tablespoon of AI mixed in a pot of seawater to create huge waves. Like the ones in your life. In our lives. And we help you R.I.D.E. these as best as you can!

Interested in starting working on your goals? Book your first session now.

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