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Democratic Leadership

Democratic Leadership: The Power Of Collective Decision-Making

Democratic leadership, also known as participatory leadership, is a leadership style in which leaders involve their followers in the decision-making process and create a sense of shared power and ownership among team members.

This style of leadership is focused on creating a more participatory and collaborative work environment and emphasizes the importance of collective decision-making.

In this blog post, we will explore the advantages of collective decision-making and how democratic leadership can benefit your organization.


5 benefits of democratic leadership

  1. Increased ownership and commitment: When team members are allowed to participate in decision-making, they feel a sense of ownership over the project and are more likely to be committed to its success.
  2. Improved decision-making: By allowing a diverse group of team members to contribute to the decision-making process, you can gather a range of perspectives and come to a well-informed decision.
  3. Enhanced creativity and innovation: Democratic leadership encourages team members to share their ideas and suggestions, leading to a more creative and innovative work environment.
  4. Higher team morale: Allowing team members to have a say in the decision-making process can lead to increased job satisfaction and higher morale.
  5. Better problem-solving: Democratic leadership promotes open communication and collaboration, which can lead to more effective problem-solving.


What is Democratic leadership?

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a leadership style in which team members are actively involved in the decision-making process. The leader acts more as a facilitator, encouraging input and contributions from team members, rather than dictating decisions.

The goal of democratic leadership is to create an inclusive and empowered work environment where team members feel valued and are motivated to contribute their best work.

Characteristics are:

  • Collaborative: Democratic leaders work with their team members and encourage open communication and collaboration.
  • Facilitative: They act as facilitators, guiding the team towards a common goal and providing support and resources as needed.
  • Inclusive: Democratic leaders seek input and contributions from team members and make an effort to include everyone in the decision-making process.
  • Empowering: They empower team members by giving them autonomy and trust, and allowing them to take ownership of their work.
  • Transparent: They are open and transparent in their communication, keeping team members informed and up to date on developments and decisions.
  • Flexible: Democratic leaders are flexible and open to new ideas and approaches, and are willing to adapt their plans as needed.
  • Respectful: They show respect for team members and value their contributions and ideas.



What are downsides?

  • It can be time-consuming, as decisions are made through discussion and consensus-building.
  • It may lead to groupthink, where members conform to the opinions of the majority rather than critically evaluating the situation.
  • Not all members may have equal opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process.
  • It can lead to conflicts and disagreements between group members.
  • The leader may not have the necessary expertise or qualifications to make certain decisions.


Overcoming the downsides of Democratic leadership

There are several ways to overcome the downsides of democratic leadership:

  • Establish clear guidelines and procedures for decision-making to minimize delays and ensure that all voices are heard.
  • Encourage critical thinking and diversity of opinions by assigning roles such as devil’s advocate or encouraging dissenting opinions.
  • Provide training and development opportunities for group members to improve their communication and decision-making skills.
  • Assign specific tasks and responsibilities to individual group members to ensure that all members have a chance to contribute.
  • Consider rotating leadership roles to give different members an opportunity to lead and to avoid conflicts.
  • Seek out the expertise and knowledge of outside consultants or subject matter experts when necessary.
  • Regularly evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the group and make adjustments as needed.


Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is often considered a visionary leader. A visionary leader is someone who has a clear, inspiring vision of the future, and is able to motivate and guide others to work towards that vision. Mandela had a clear vision of a democratic, non-racial, and non-sexist South Africa, and he worked tirelessly to bring that vision to fruition. He was able to inspire and mobilize millions of people, both inside and outside of South Africa, to work towards that goal.

Mandela’s leadership was a combination of both visionary and democratic leadership. He had a clear vision and goal for the future of South Africa, but he also believed in the power of collaboration and collective decision-making. He worked to empower and involve the people of South Africa in the decision-making process and creating a sense of shared power and ownership.

This is why it is said that his leadership style was a democratic leadership, as it was inclusive and participatory.


What can we learn from Mandela's leadership?

This is what we can learn from his leadership style:

  • Having a vision: Mandela had a clear and inspiring vision for the future of South Africa and was able to mobilize and inspire millions of people to work towards that goal.
  • Emphasize reconciliation and inclusivity: Mandela recognized the importance of reconciliation and inclusivity in creating a united and democratic South Africa.
  • Empowerment of the people: Mandela believed in empowering the people and involving them in the decision-making process, which helped to create a sense of shared power and ownership among the citizens.
  • Ability to handle crisis and maintain his principles: Mandela was able to handle the crisis of the apartheid era and maintain his principles of nonviolence and reconciliation even when faced with extreme adversity.

On the other hand, one should realize:

  • It may take a long time to achieve the goal: Mandela’s leadership took many years and a lot of hard work to achieve the goal of a democratic and inclusive South Africa, and it may not be achievable in short term for other leaders or organizations.
  • It may lead to resistance from some quarters: Mandela’s leadership style and goals were met with resistance from some quarters, particularly from those who were invested in the status quo of apartheid.
  • Maintain unity and inclusivity: Maintaining unity and inclusivity can be difficult, particularly in a society as deeply divided as South Africa was under apartheid.


Overall, Mandela’s leadership style is a powerful example of how visionary and democratic leadership can be used to create positive change. His leadership teaches us the importance of having a clear vision, empowering the people, and emphasizing reconciliation and inclusivity in order to achieve a more just and equal society.

If you would like to read more about his leadership style and what we can learn from it, you can read this excellent article by IMD.


Recommended books

More about Nelson Mandela:

Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage” by Richard Stengel: This book is a collection of lessons on leadership, wisdom, and character from the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela: From Prisoner to President, Biography of Nelson Mandela Paperback – March 19, 2019 by Tim D. Washington (Author)

Another great book:

“The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the trap of Collective Folly” by Harrison Owen: This book explores how leadership can be used to tap into the collective wisdom of groups in order to make better decisions. It also provides insights into how to avoid the trap of collective folly.

Leadership styles

The concept of democratic leadership can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where the idea of democracy was first introduced. However, the term “democratic leadership” as we understand it today was coined by James MacGregor Burns in his 1978 book “Leadership.”

In this book, Burns distinguished between “transactional” and “transformational” leadership, and identified democratic leadership as a form of transformational leadership.

Burns described democratic leadership as a style in which leaders involve their followers in the decision-making process, and create a sense of shared power and ownership among team members. 

If you’d like to compare transformational leadership with other styles of leadership, you can read the following post: Leadership Styles, Why and When They Matter.


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