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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 October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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