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Published on March 30, 2020

Mastering the Democratic Leadership Style (How-to Guide)

Mastering the Democratic Leadership Style (How-to Guide)

A common myth of leadership is that the company executive is the most important person in an organization. Perhaps you can understand why this myth exists. The CEO is paid the most, has superb benefits, and receives the lion share of praise (at least when things are going well). The CEO is also the most visible person in many organizations.

While the leader may be the most visible, the most important people are often behind the scenes. We benefit from their work even if we cannot see their hands working. We enjoy the fruits of their labor, even if we never know their names. Good leaders know that their secret sauce is not only in their unique skillset, but in the people they have around them.

Leaders who appreciate the contributions of others and believe that those contributions greatly benefit the company are more likely to embrace a democratic leadership style.

What is Democratic Leadership?

The democratic leadership style is one that values participation and inclusion of all team members. Rather than allowing a select group of people, or the CEO, to make all decisions, the democratic leader creates systems and processes to solicit and implement input from others. While the leader retains final decision-making authority, the individual prioritizes inviting and receiving team members’ perspectives.

In a 2016 article, Tamara Lytle notes why it is so crucial to solicit input from one’s team:

“Effective leaders pay close attention to what workers have to say and then act on the feedback, according to the 2016 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report from Aon. That’s one of the reasons annual employee surveys are being increasingly replaced or augmented by quarterly or monthly pulse surveys and performance conversations are occurring more frequently. Not only does a comprehensive approach to listening help an organization pinpoint and quickly address problems, it makes people feel valued.”[1]

Leaders committed to the democratic leadership style understand that their organizations rise and fall with the people they have around them. And the best way to encourage employees to give their all is to listen to them and make space for their contributions. Leaders who embrace the democratic leadership style understand that they need not be the smartest person in the organization, the smartest person at all times, or the person with all the answers.

A part of their job is having the discernment to hire great people and the wisdom to create the conditions for those people to thrive. Part of creating the conditions for success includes creating checkpoints to gather team members’ perspectives. This is best done via the democratic leadership style.

The Benefits of Democratic Leadership

In organizations where the democratic leadership style is used, employees are more productive, have higher morale and report higher levels of engagement. This is to be expected because all of us react positively when our opinions are welcome and when we have an opportunity to make our voices heard. If we feel our input is unwanted, we shut down.

Employees will eventually stop sharing feedback if they believe their feedback isn’t wanted or won’t be acted upon. In fact, one key to employee ownership in decisions and outcomes is first making space to consult employees.[2]

Common Challenges of Using Democratic Leadership

Given the benefits of this style, one may rightly question what keeps leaders and teams from using it. What holds companies back from adopting the democratic leadership style? I believe three factors get in the way of the democratic leadership style.

Ego

The democratic leadership style is about shared power and individual agency. Everyone, regardless of title or tenure, has an opportunity to contribute to organizational decisions in workplaces where leaders use the democratic leadership style.

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For leaders who believe that they must be at the center, controlling the outcomes of decisions big and small, the democratic leadership style conflicts with their ego. Their ego conveys an overinflated sense of importance, and that sense of importance causes them to undervalue the contributions of others.

If leaders do not identify and check their ego when it shows up, the democratic leadership style can never thrive. If leaders feel that they are diminished when others shine, they will not invest in this crucial leadership style.

Crisis Management Mode

I won’t say all bets are off during a crisis, but it is not always possible to operate one’s usual playbook during times of crisis. A crisis is anything that takes one off purpose and off message. The leadership styles appropriate during a crisis may be the autocratic style, where teams benefit from receiving clear direction and directives.

The autocratic leadership style is effective when leaders do not have the luxury of polling everyone in every department before acting. In a crisis, when time is of the essence and team members expect guidance from their supervisor, the democratic leadership style may not work. Also, when organizations move from one crisis to another, either from a lack of strategic planning or out of sheer necessity, leaders may skip gathering feedback from their colleagues and team members.

Failure to Plan

If leaders want to use the democratic leadership style, they must plan for it by building in time to include the perspective of others. That means that the timeline for innovating, launching new products, and evaluating product performance must include time for input.

Regardless of how pressed for time an entity may be, leaders cannot forsake the step of gathering input on the campaign’s direction, impact, and post-launch. When projects are fast-tracked, employee input is sacrificed. But the democratic style cannot happen without time and planning.

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How to Implement Democratic Leadership

There are two main factors that go into a democratic leadership style. These will help you begin to implement it in your own workplace.

Place Value on Participation

Considered one of the most effective leadership styles, the democratic leadership style is an approach that shuns top-down directions in favor of information that flows vertically and horizontally. Far from an executive who doles out orders for others to follow, democratic leadership values participation and involvement from all persons on the team. One’s title doesn’t need to be a deterrent, because people at all levels of the organizational hierarchy have an opportunity to share input.

Allow Input from Everyone

The democratic leadership style could look like consulting team members before making a crucial hire and allowing staff to give input on areas within their scope of work and outside of it. Input isn’t reserved for people with the fanciest titles. It’s wanted from everyone.

4 Essential Qualities of Democratic Leaders

While we now understand what inhibits the democratic leadership style, it is worth exploring the qualities of democratic leaders.

1. Confidence

Democratic leaders are individuals with the capacity to share power. They are confident in their abilities, and that confidence keeps them from feeling diminished when other people excel.

2. Curiosity

Democratic leaders are curious by nature. When things don’t go as expected, their knee-jerk reaction is curiosity not judgment. They are genuinely interested in the why behind failure, rather than the who. Their curiosity inspires them to solicit input from others.

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3. Ability to Delegate

In addition to being curious, democratic leaders delegate. If there are 10 things on their to-do list, they find a way to outsource seven of those things. They understand that delegating is a way to provide leadership opportunities for others while enabling themselves to focus on other matters.

4. Being Intentional

Finally, democratic leaders are intentional. They make an intentional practice of listening to everyone, regardless of title. They are as intentional about acquiring the perspective of others as they are about any other leadership priority. The people around them see and feel this intentionality.

Final Thoughts

Democratic leadership is a strong tool that can be weilded in order to improve team motivation, employee job satisfaction, and company production. When input is given from everyone on a team, trust and productivity both grow.

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Featured photo credit: Dylan Gillis via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Society for Human Resources Management: 7 Tips to Increase Employee Engagement without Spending a Dime
[2] International Journal of Development Strategies in Humanities, Management and Social Sciences: Democratic Leadership Style and Organizational Performance: An Appraisal

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Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

  • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

  • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

  • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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Different Folks, Different Strokes

Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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Productivity and Trust Killer

Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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A Flexible Remote Working Policy

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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