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Abraham Lincoln’s, the 16th president of the United States of America in 1862 came out with a declaration which abolished slavery in the USA. It officially came to be known as The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America. Ending slavery was a historic move and undebatedly a noble one. Though you would find it interesting to note that Abraham Lincon allowed months of discussion and debate in his cabinet regarding this move. It was after a prolonged debate that he came out with a proclamation. This inclusive decision making, the process of hearing every one out was his way which signified a democratic leadership. Abraham Lincon would surround himself with such persons who were extraordinarily capable, people of intelligence who would disagree with him and would challenge his assumptions.
Such a participative approach and making everyone feel heard are a few common characteristics of democratic leadership style.
The earliest framework of leadership styles was proposed by Kurt Lewin in the 1930s. Kurt in his framework defined three primary forms of leadership: authoritative, participative and delegative. The participative form of leadership is the democratic leadership. In this article we delve deeper into the democratic leadership style, how it works effectively, what are the limitations of this form of leadership and a few key examples.
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Now, before we get into the details of democratic leadership, first we should clearly understand why we need to study the Leadership Models after all. The leadership, types, definitions etc., all emanate from the theory of leadership. Theory of leadership is important as it not only provides a way of understanding and interpreting the actions of leaders but also it provides a key guide to practicing leadership in our regular lives.
Now to begin with democratic leadership, as the name implies its democratic. It revolves around democracy. And when we study the Greek origins of this word i.e., ‘Demos’ ( the people) and ‘Kratia’ ( power or rule), it can be easily determined that democracy means the rule of people. If we look closely we also can state that the origin of the power is from the people itself. Now transition these learnings to Democratic leadership. This form of leadership involves greater involvement of subordinates in the decision making. Their ideas and inputs are heard and thoroughly assessed. The participative role of the group members increases. A democratic leader can be defined as the one who encourages participation in decision making (Anderson Et. al., 1959). Kurt Lewin, who originally gave the leadership framework argued that democratic leadership is the most effective leadership style. Democratic leadership relates with increased follower productivity, satisfaction, involvement and commitment (Hackman and Johnson, 1996).
Now that the definition and certain explanations are in place let’s get to the strengths and weaknesses of this form of leadership.
Google, the tech giant we know today, had very humble beginnings. The founders Sargey Brin and Larry Page started this organization. Their leadership is often sought as an example of democratic leadership. In the beginning Google employees were often motivated to share their thoughts on policy through extensive discussions and brainstorming. Such type of inclusive decision making had made the employees at Google a tight community.
Over time Google progressed and now its overarching reach on every tech aspect of our lives is clearly visible. So the question is has democratic leadership been of significance?
Yes, this form of leadership is definitely one of the reasons that Google is what we know today. When you include your employees into participative practices, there comes a rare kind of respect and loyalty of a subject towards his leader and vice versa. The leadership here not only listens to the workforce but also lends a careful ear to the clients, the other business entities.
Thus a form of quality feedback is assured and timely interventions can be done to course correct. Therefore it can be necessarily and easily concluded that not only the organization has a higher workforce retention levels but also higher client retention rates as well.
Also there is a hidden advantage. By having a well knit employee network, the capability of the team advances to tackle more intricate challenges. Thus, over time these teams are more than capable to take on bigger challenges and operate independently.
It is also noted that a feeling of satisfaction prevails due to the fact that the employees agree that collective decision is better than individual decision (Dr. Jibon Et. al.). The leadership also recognized that people are less competitive and more collaborative while they are working on joint goals (Dr. Keshorjit Et. al.).
The strengths of this form of leadership are well identified now. Furthermore, let’s get into a few drawbacks that this leadership approach carries inherently.
There are various leaders operating at various prestigious positions in various organizations. Be it bureaucracy, multinational organizations, startups who rely on democratic decision making. Now as inclusive and participative it sounds, when a leader relies on the team’s participation to derive the solutions or decisions it might come as a drawback when time is of the essence. In emergent situations where there is a sense of urgency it will come as a challenge for a leader to act on his own and take a decision by himself.
If at all the leadership decides to take a decision democratically, even though time is of vital importance, there is always a risk of missing deadlines.
While taking decisions in such a manner, it is inevitable that a person comes across contradiction, opposite views, ideas and getting to a consensus can be a real challenge. Here a person has to be skillful enough to obtain a consensus out of a very tricky situation.
The most important and at times dangerous drawback of such a leadership style is when the decisions of utmost vitality and importance are left to be decided by an inexperienced or an unskilled team. Not only the decision might be ineffective but at times signal destruction of the organization.
So at times the leadership has to be able to take decisions independently, swiftly, and use experience and expertise as and when available to balance the negatives of such form of leadership.
There are definite competencies that a democratic leader has. A few of them are stated as follows.
Mediation: A democratic leader is a coach. He or she develops high morale among the employees. A leader of this style mediates for others and provides clear feedback. And the leader fosters team spirit and maintains high morale among the employees.
Participative and skill sharing: A democratic leader believes in the capabilities of his employees. He or she involves the employees in such a manner that their skills are used optimally and a culture of learning is inculcated.
Ideas and Inputs: Since the inputs from the workforce are of vital importance in such a form of leadership, such a working environment is perfect for being creative and passing such ideas to the leaders. It is highly possible that an idea, competent enough, will not go unheard or not considered.
After considering all the pros, cons, and competencies it can be easy to determine the best place where such a form of leadership can be appropriate. For democratic leadership to work, the setting should be where the group members are skilled and eager to share their experiences and ideas. It is important to have plenty of time to allow people to come together, think together, formulate a plan and then decide on the best course of action.
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