The Pros and Cons of Democratic Leadership

Business owner taking a vote with her employees

As a business owner, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of recognised ways that you can choose to lead. As workplace trends evolve and startup structures become ever more alternative, one of the more increasingly prominent methods is the adoption of workplace democracy. 

Implementing a democratic leadership style means that decisions and actions are subject to votes, professional debates, and systems of appeal, rather than abiding by the ultimate final decision of you: the leader. Like any leadership style, however, democratic leadership has both its advantages and disadvantages; the key is in identifying if it is the best fit for your corporate identity, your key personnel, and your fundamental business goals.

To help you decide on the potential benefits (or downfalls) of adopting such an approach, here are the key pros and cons of democratic leadership.

Advantages

There are undoubtedly numerous advantages to adopting this style, as detailed below:

Arguably, it is the 'right' leadership style to choose

In much the same way that it is the preferred means of political governance, democracy is also an attractive option in the workplace. Indeed, for employees who are used to having their say - and their 'say' having an impact - it may even be expected of a company.

Of course, as the business owner, you may be inclined to disagree with this sentiment, but when considering the trends, needs and behaviours of an increasingly millennial workforce, this point should undoubtedly be among your considerations. It will be easier for you to recruit high-quality personnel if they feel like they will have a say in the direction of the company.

Employees feel like their opinions matter

By adopting a democratic leadership style, a company is offering its employees a chance to be fully engaged with the corporate structure and the decision-making processes within it. Team members will feel that they are directly impacting both the present and future of the business, which consequently allows them to feel invested in helping make the company the best that it can be. In turn, this results in a stronger sense of belonging, confidence in the business as a whole, and a significant boost in employee morale.

Also, by encouraging workers to vote, debate, and appeal changes that they do not approve of, there is a higher chance of solving the more complex issues that may arise. Because these people have proficient knowledge of the company and its goings-on, their expertise can become a crucial component of the company's future successes.

It creates a connected and creative work environment

Employees who work under a democratic leadership style tend to feel the benefits of this corporate structure, cultivating connectivity amongst themselves and their superiors. It may also manifest in the form of fostering a creative environment, in which workers feel more confident in sharing their innovative ideas with those around them.

These concepts and philosophies can serve as a catalyst for positive change within the company, either in terms of new products and services being offered down the line, or novel ways to interact with and attract potential customers and clients. Not only will you, as a business owner, exhibit the qualities of a good leader by enabling such freedom, but your company will grow, too.

Disadvantages

It’s not all plain sailing, though. Some of the key disadvantages of democratic leadership are:

There is a greater sense of equality

At first glance, this may seem to be a rather large pro - not a con. However, when an employee is made to feel that they are on the same hierarchical level as their superiors, it can result in underperforming employees, a lack of respect, and a general inconsistency in internal structure. Employees may begin to demand more power, feel the need to take on a more prominent role in the company's decision-making when they are not qualified to do so and create a shift in company culture (which can, in turn, affect the functioning of the business as a whole). It can also muddy the waters and create conflict in terms of how individual employees view their own position in the overall hierarchy.

Adopting a democratic leadership style can ultimately result in an overall deficiency within the company, which can lead to lower quality services or products, decreased customer and client satisfaction, and a substantial drop in company earnings.

It requires a substantial investment of time

To effectively listen to the opinions, concerns, and ideas of your employees — particularly in larger corporations with multiple locations and departments — you must set aside the time to collect ballots, analyse attitudes, and finally, implement the policies or ideas that are in question. Setting up the entire process can be extremely time consuming, with a democratic leadership style often requiring the establishment of a set procedure for presenting potential future changes within a company to its constituents.

The act of voting on a potential adjustment is also tricky, as it involves causing a delay in urgent situations that could have been addressed and resolved with otherwise quick responses. In some cases, it is more beneficial to the company for you to act swiftly and urgently, rather than involving everybody in the decision-making process and making it more difficult to reach an acceptable conclusion. Naturally, aspects of running a democratic company include an investment in organising votes, and even in mentoring employees on how they can become more involved.

Decision making is often delayed

As touched upon above, the time investment required to not only implement but also make decisions means that the process can often be delayed. Furthermore, disputes may arise when votes are tied (or nearly on par), and individuals within a company will become frustrated if the results of a ballot do not sway in the direction of their preference. Just like in politics, a vote will not make everyone happy and there will always be at least a handful of disgruntled people.

Another thing to consider is that a democratic leadership style can often lead to procrastination. This is yet another reason why critical assessments may be delayed, or even negated entirely; consequently, when reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of a democratic leadership style, you need to consider the wider repercussions of adaptation. Though it may feel as if you have become a better leader for making the switch, adopting a democratic leadership style may nonetheless be an unfavourable choice for the future of your business.

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Ultimately, the decision as to whether or not your company decides to adopt a democratic leadership style is up to you. By considering both the advantages and disadvantages of this method and weighing the pros and cons, you will be able to come to a verdict more soundly. Perhaps you will even opt to take on a leadership style that does not lean wholly in either direction, instead finding a middle ground that can act as the better option for you and your company.

Meanwhile, if you want to see how democratic leadership works in context, then be sure to take a look at our list of the best examples of democratic leadership in action.

What are your thoughts on democratic leadership? Does it work for your company? Let us know your experiences below.