Strengths and Weaknesses of Democratic Leadership
Leadership is both a practical skill and research area encompassing the ability of an organization or individual to guide or lead other teams, individuals, or entire organizations. Effective leadership is integral to the survival of companies and organizations in the modern world (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012). Strong leaders develop an inspiring vision and motivate people to engage with the same. For leaders to achieve their goals, it is imperative that they apply the right leadership styles. Consistent with the situational leadership theory, no one leadership style canbe applied in all situations. As such, a leader must analyze the situation they are in to determine the most appropriate style. Various techniques are available to leaders including democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire among others. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages with some deemed applicable in many situations than others. Democratic leadership has become popular in many organizations with leaders seeking to take advantage of its strengths (Wart 2012).
This paper analyzes the strengths and weaknesses associated with democratic leadership.
In a democratic leadership style, one involves workers or their followers in the decision-making process for a particular process, path, or action while retaining the right to make the final decision. The style is effective in ensuring individuals are involved in the leadership process. However, it also has its drawbacks in particular situations, as do other leadership approaches (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012).
One of the main advantages of techniques associated with democratic leadership is the fact that they play a significant role in ensuring job satisfaction, control and participation, and a sense of autonomy (Wart 2012). Employees in the contemporary world derive satisfaction from being involved. Greater involvement from workers during decision-making processes could result in increased innovation and creative solutions to better serve organizations and address problems. With increased job satisfaction, individuals are more than willing to execute roles and duties allocated to them by their leaders. Moreover, they develop trust towards their leaders, hence the creation of a collaborative work environment. Individual followers also develop problem-solving skills. As such, this increases their performances and productivity (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012).
Typically, democratic leaders are excellent at coming up with solutions for complex issues. They have the capability to work collaboratively, using a consensus of opinions and ideas to get things done the right manner (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012). Often, such leaders think innovatively and encourage their followers to do the same. In the process, they find it easy to solve complex and strategic problems. This is unlike the case with autocratic leadership approach which involves leaders making decisions without consulting with anyone. This reduces the options available to them. On the contrary, democratic leaders check with their people gathering wide knowledge on how to deal with problems when they arise. As a result, this enhances the quality of their decisions (Roe 2014). Additionally, the risk that a complex problem will not be solved as desired is reduced. The leader utilizes the capabilities of their followers in the decision-making process. Employees also get the opportunity to test their ability to come up with solutions to issues. The quality of decisions is increased through participative leadership (Wart 2012).
Establishing a teamwork culture under democratic leadership practices is easy. This approach creates a supportive environment where every individual feels important. As such, they are willing to work collaboratively to achieve organizational goals and objectives (Wart 2012). Honesty flourishes which lead to collective working because the opinions of every individual are taken into consideration. Research has shown that democratic leaders are normally popular within organizations. This makes it easy for them to convince their people to collaborate with one another whenever possible. Achieving the same under the autocratic approach to leadership is hard. In most cases, authoritarian leaders use force to ensure their people embrace teamwork. This, in turn, results in low performances as individuals belong to teams because it is mandatory and not because they have the motivation to engage in similar behavior (Roe 2014). The application of democratic leadership style entails leaders allowing their people to take part in decisions that lead to the formation of the team. In the end, members feel like they are a part of the process, hence their willingness to own. They work hard to achieve teamwork goals as consider this their responsibility. In essence, democratic leaders create a work environment where teamwork can thrive with ease (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012).
Democratic leaders also foster a creative environment as they encourage innovation and input of members. Involving individuals in the decision-making process forces them to think outside their box to come up with creative solutions. For instance, creative designers thrive under democratic leadership because of the nurture and support usually embodied in this approach (Wart 2012). When making decisions, every employee or follower is keen to make an impression regarding the quality of option they provide to their leader. This improves their ability to deal with challenges they are likely to face when handling their roles and duties in an organization. In the same regard, organizational performance is increased. Innovation is critical if a company is to achieve sustainable development. It is through it that they come up with unique solutions and strategies regarding how to survive the market. It is hard to achieve creativity when people are not allowed the opportunity to put their innovative knowledge and skills (Chemers 2013).
Consistent with Chemers (2013) democratic leadership also helps in success planning. A leader, no matter how great they can be, at some point they must be replaced. Leaders are replaced when they retire, are incapacitated, die abruptly, or are deemed incompetent. Finding a person to replace them can be challenging if an organization does not have an individual in mind or has not prepared anyone for the same. Some organizations are forced to recruit externally to select a person with the right skills and knowledge (Wart 2012). There are times when the newly hired leader must undergo training before they start handling their roles. Democratic leadership can help in preparing potential leaders for a future position. Specifically, as employees are allowed to take part in the decision-making process, they also practice their leadership skills. For example, they learn how to make decisions as well as determining the best course of action when given different options. With this being the case, it becomes easy to replace a leader when they leave unexpectedly or whenever the need arises (Chemers 2013).
Democratic leadership also comes in handy when introducing or implementing change in an organization. Change in inevitable in companies considering the dynamic business environment (Wart 2012). The business environment keeps on changing with changes in consumer behavior and preferences, technology, and economic performances others. Organizations are obligated to adapt to the changes failure to which this can have an adverse impact on their ability to maintain their edge and achieve sustainable development. People have the tendency to resist change especially if they are uncertain of the impact this will have on them. Democratic leadership techniques can be used to reduce the level of resistance (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012). Specifically, leaders in an organization can communicate the need for the change and involve their people in devising strategies that will be used to realize the objectives or vision linked with the proposed change. Leaders can also apply the same approach to determine how to best gain the support of people and deal with naysayers. Overall, through democratic leadership, an individual can quickly solve some of the issues that contribute to high resistance to change in an organization and enlist the required support to create a teamwork culture (Winkler 2010).
Decentralization of power is also an advantage associated with democratic leadership. This is a trait with other leadership styles specifically servant and visionary approaches. With the decentralization of power, this prevents small ruling elite from having the power to control everything in an organization an issue common with autocratic leadership (Wart 2012). Giving one or a few individuals the power to make all the decisions without regard for others increases the risk that the leader will not act in a manner that serves the interests of the majority. On the other hand, the risk is mitigated under democratic leadership as an individual consider ideas and opinions raised by others before making the final decision. As such, the chance they will make a decision that reflects the will of people is high. Equally, they try to avoid decisions that can upset others and the level of collaboration. People also accept decisions with the knowledge that they took part in deciding the way forward. Principally, the risk of a leader showing self-centeredness is reduced through the application of democratic leadership practices (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012).
Democratic leadership style, like any other leadership approach, also has its shortcomings. One of the major drawbacks of the approach is the fact that it slows down the decision-making process. It is clear that leaders have to involve others the coming up with solutions to different issues. The process of consulting with others can consume much time (Roe 2014). The amount of time consumed in the process increases with an increasing number of people taking part in it. This explains why leaders avoid this approach when dealing with urgent decisions. In most cases, they chose to apply an autocratic style to achieve the best results or meet the deadline in a timely manner (Chemers 2013). They only consult when it is necessary that they do so and when there is enough time to gather ideas from diverse people. Democratic leadership approach is not ideal for organizations or situations where the time of the essence and quick decisions are an imperative (Roe 2014).
The application of democracy in some situation can also dilute expertise. As mentioned earlier, involving others in the leadership process can help in improving the quality of decisions made by a leader. Conversely, this is not always the case as there are times when a leader is better placed to decide the way forward alone with consulting with anyone. For instance, some leaders have better strategic planning skills and knowledge than their followers (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012). Consulting with supporters when making strategic decisions can lead to bad decisions or dilute expertise. Equally, marketing managers who allow entry-level coordinators or specialists to have a strong say regarding the direction a company should take compromises the quality of marketing strategies. Mostly, it is best for leaders to only consult when other people have strong skills in the area in question. Otherwise, they should embrace the art of making decisions individually. This will help in mitigating the risk of diluting expertise, an issue that can compromise organizational performances as a consequence of ineffective leadership practices (Chemers 2013).
A democratic approach to leadership also has the potential for conflicts. Allowing people to take part in decisions can enhance their willingness to work collaboratively when handling different tasks. Nevertheless, this can also form a basis for conflicts. Whenever people engage in multiple discussions on how to solve an issue, the risk of conflict arising is always high. For example, they can fail to agree on the way forward (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012). This is common when people favor conflicting options or solutions. Eventually, this can cause a rift between employees and make it hard for them to work together to achieve a common objective. Undoubtedly, in democratic leadership, the leader retains the right to make the final decision. Leaders that consult but choose to ignore everything shared by their people also experience conflicts. Employees can develop the feeling that their leader is intentionally combating or disregarding their opinions. They are likely to take it personally and hence avoid future interactions. The same problem can be experienced if a leader seems to favor ideas shared by certain people. Democratic leadership demands effective leadership skills to avoid conflicts (Winkler 2010).
Applying democratic leadership in some situations can lead to a leader coming across as being indecisive. For example, in a crisis, is crucial for a leader to be directive. Democratic leaders do not function well in similar cases as compared to the authoritarian approach. In the midst of crises, no time is normally available to address concerns raised by everyone. Leaders that insist on the same as considered indecisive (Wart 2012). As a result, they may encounter challenges trying to convince other people regarding their ability to lead as expected. Followers can easily lose their confidence in their leader. It is important for leaders to understand when to show their decisiveness and when to consult with others. This helps in ensuring their followers do not challenge their decisions or develop the feeling they do not have what it takes to provide effective leadership. Leaders must make sure they provide direction to people when everything does not seem to be going as planned. In general, such a situation creates confusion and at this point, followers rely on their leader to determine how to proceed. Leaders accustomed to democratic leadership may struggle to navigate through complex situations that only they can solve (Schedlitzki and Edwards 2012).
The issue of the tyranny of the majority can also arise when leaders apply democracy to realize their goals. The fact that leaders have to consult with others means that they have to make a decision that favors the views of the majority. A leader makes the final decision. Nevertheless, it is problematic to ignore the ideas shared by the majority as this defeats the logic behind consulting. A leader can coin the final decision to include own ideas and the ideas of the majority. This helps in creating an environment where democracy thrives (Roe 2014). This increases the chance that good ideas provided by the minority will be ignored. This is a common challenge when a leader does not understand how to determine the best option from the many that are available. Leaders are advised to keenly analyze every option available to them before picking the best. Whenever possible, they should fear to favor an option provided by a minority provided it is the best. They should then explain to the majority their selection to avoid conflicts. The goal should be to pick the best option (Wart 2012).
Different leadership styles are applied by leaders in various companies and organizations. There are those that favor democracy while choose to use autocratic practices. Democratic leadership has become popular in organization considering its strengths over other approaches. This style has strengths and weaknesses. One major advantage is the fact that it enables leaders to access wide knowledge and ideas when making decisions. It also helps in the creation of a collaborative working environment which increases job satisfaction and employee motivation. The approach also gives leaders the opportunity to fully utilize creativity and innovativeness among their followers. On the contrary, this approach to leadership is not appropriate when dealing with decisions that must be made in a speedy manner. Additionally, it has the potential for conflicts especially when people fail to agree on the best course of action.
Chemers, Martin. 2013. An Integrative Theory of Leadership. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Roe, Kevin. 2014. Leadership: practice and perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schedlitzki, Doris, and Gareth Edwards. 2012. Studying Leadership: Traditional and Critical Approaches. Bennington: SAGE.
Wart, Montgomery Van. 2012. Leadership in Public Organizations: An Introduction. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Winkler, Ingo. 2010. Contemporary leadership theories: enhancing the understanding of the complexity, subjectivity, and dynamic of leadership. Berlin: Springer.