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GuidesEmployee experienceDemocratic leadership style: key principles and effective practices

Democratic leadership style: key principles and effective practices

Last updated

8 October 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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When it comes to successful business operations, leadership styles play a major role. These styles vary between companies and management teams. On one end of the scale, they can involve close control, micromanagement, and a strict hierarchy. On the other, they can feature delegation, sharing, and democracy. A leadership style can also have any combination of these characteristics.

The democratic leadership style focuses on empowering the team and encouraging open communication. This approach can be highly beneficial for driving innovation, increasing productivity, and boosting employee engagement.

Let’s take a closer look at democratic leadership, its principles, and benefits.

What is democratic leadership?

Democratic leadership is a leadership style that encourages the whole team to participate in decision-making. The basis of this style is the idea that every team member has something valuable to contribute.

Unlike the autocratic leadership style, where managers make all decisions and employees execute orders, democratic leadership welcomes input from everyone.

Democratic leaders don’t just delegate tasks to their team members. They share responsibility and make them a bigger part of the company’s operations. These leaders are always open to suggestions and feedback from employees because they believe in their value.

The democratic leadership style can be effective in various industries and niches, including educational and healthcare sectors. It’s especially popular in the tech industry. Giants that leverage the principles of democratic leadership include the following:

  • Google

  • Amazon

  • Coca Cola

  • Microsoft

  • Mayo Clinic

Principles of democratic leadership

To take advantage of the democratic leadership style, follow its main principles listed below:

Distribution of leadership

In Greek, the word democracy means “people power.” Accordingly, one of the main principles of democratic leadership is to give people the power they need to improve their work and drive effective decision-making.

A democratic leader shares the power of decision-making with the entire team. Each person has exactly the same amount of power as everyone else. However, it doesn’t always mean that the entire group makes a decision.

Depending on how your team works, the leader may gather everyone’s opinions, analyze feedback, and proceed to make the final decision.


The decision-making process isn’t straightforward or simple. Democratic leaders encourage team members to contribute by actively helping them learn how. Besides focusing on their key responsibilities, team members can practice public speaking, analytics, listening skills, and more.

It’s the democratic leader’s job to make team members feel comfortable in the decision-making process and learn how to provide valuable comments. Psychological skills and abilities become an integral part of the employee’s skill set and help the team work together.

The democratic leader should also provide inspiration and make employees feel valued when sharing their recommendations. This leader becomes a moderator of the discussion process and helps everyone make the most of their ideas.


Democratic leadership involves a significant amount of guidance from the leader. While the leader doesn’t force the decision, they create the right decision-making environment, design the process, and encourage the team to follow it.

Democratic leaders believe that everyone has a voice and guide team members to share theirs. They act as facilitators of the democratic decision-making process. Eventually, the team can benefit from a smooth discussion session that ends with a well-thought-out decision. Alternatively, the session will provide actionable opinions that help the leader make a decision.

Qualities of a democratic leader

The success of the democratic leadership style relies on the leader’s ability to implement it in everyday company operations.

Here are some of the main skills and qualities of a skilled democratic leader:

  • Ability to listen—the leader should listen to each team member carefully and understand when to interrupt, change the direction, or encourage elaboration.

  • Information-sharing—many leaders make the mistake of holding on to important company information. A democratic leader should know when and how to disperse this information and use it for group decision-making purposes.

  • Relationship-building—for the democratic leadership style to work, the leader should establish trusted relationships with all team members and encourage everyone to build common ground.

  • Competence—leaders accustomed to an autocratic approach may encounter challenges in efficiently analyzing and distributing the ideas they receive. Consequently, democratic leaders should take proactive steps to invest in training and develop the skills and qualities they need to successfully harness and leverage collective ideas and recommendations.

  • Open mind—democratic leaders have to keep an open mind about other people’s opinions. Even if they don’t agree with something, they have to know how to process the idea and analyze its value for decision-making.

Democratic leaders need to be influential, charismatic, open-minded, and inspirational. Without a qualified leader, the democratic leadership system is unlikely to yield results. It could achieve just the opposite: slowing down company operations and generating ineffective decisions.

Advantages of democratic leadership

Implementing the democratic leadership style offers many advantages, including the following:

Better engagement

When employees are involved in the decision-making process, they feel like they are part of the bigger picture. Feeling valued is a key factor for staff engagement, so the ability of democratic leaders to demonstrate appreciation through involvement drives productivity.

By implementing democratic leadership, you are showing employees how much you value their opinions and abilities. This increases satisfaction and boosts retention rates.

Improved creativity and innovation

The democratic leadership style promotes creativity in the workplace. When employees have an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas with the goal of impacting decision-making, they are more likely to be creative and drive innovation.

Since employees have more control over their actions and contributions, they often start taking steps to optimize their work to maximize their contribution.

Collaborative environment

When you practice democratic leadership, you encourage employees to collaborate with each other instead of relying on the leader to make decisions. This creates fertile ground for innovation, participation, trust, and many other aspects of high-quality teamwork.

The collaborative environment reduces power struggles and encourages employees to show their best—not just to the leader but to each other.

Robust solutions

When all team members have a voice, it’s easier to come up with several solutions to one problem. This allows the leader to either choose the best one or leverage several elements to create the most effective approach.

The more input an empowered employee can provide, the easier it becomes to find top-notch solutions and make effective decisions.

Disadvantages of democratic leadership

The success of the democratic leadership style doesn’t depend solely on the leader. The ability of team members to support this style plays a major role. So does the industry. Here are some of the downsides of democratic leadership:

  • Slower decision-making—when several people are involved in making a decision, the process slows down. For some groups, finding common ground can be a serious issue.

  • Reduced productivity—in some cases, the democratic approach can reduce productivity instead of boosting it. This can happen when employees don’t have the skills or desire to participate in the decision-making process.

  • Leader fatigue—while the democratic approach may seem to take some pressure off the leader, in reality, making sure that everyone’s voice is heard and a decision made is time-consuming and hard work.

  • Scaling—as a company scales, being able to prevent other styles of leadership from taking over is extremely hard due to time pressure and cultural changes that start taking place.

You can implement the democratic leadership style in virtually any industry—but you need the right approach and an experienced leader. It takes advanced analytics and flexibility to change the style if it doesn’t yield the desired results.

How to implement a democratic leadership system

To implement democratic leadership in the workplace, you need to

  • Create, foster, and support a culture of sharing and open communication.

  • Empower employees by sharing the authority to make decisions and helping them feel comfortable in the new decision-making environment.

  • Explain the new approach to decision-making, share company goals, communicate expectations, and provide the tools necessary to achieve them.

  • Be open to comments and feedback while incorporating employee ideas into the decision-making process.

Transparency is the key to successful implementation. Help your employees understand why and how the democratic leadership style can help the company succeed.

Taking advantage of the democratic leadership style in the workplace

Democratic leadership is an effective approach to creating a productive workplace while improving employee satisfaction and fostering innovation. While it may not work for all companies, the democratic approach has proven highly successful for many businesses across different industries.

The key to the success of the democratic leadership style is a competent democratic leader. Their guidance is crucial to reaping the benefits of this system.


What is an example of a democratic leadership leader?

Examples of democratic leadership leaders are Larry Page (co-founder of Google), Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft), and Nelson Mandela.

Meanwhile, examples of autocratic leaders whose leadership style is opposite to democratic are Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) and Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla).

Who makes the final decision in a democratic leadership situation?

In a democratic leadership environment, the democratic leader carefully assesses input and feedback from team members before making final decisions.

The leader needs to act as a facilitator, ensuring that all team members feel heard and that group consensus is achieved where possible. With the result reflecting the best interests of the wider group, the leader still shoulders the responsibility of making the final decision.

When doesn’t democratic leadership work? 

Democratic leadership may not work

  • When urgent decision-making is required, such as during a crisis or emergency

  • For specialized roles where the leader’s extensive expertise would outweigh other team members’ opinions

  • With a large team—the larger the team, the more complex and less efficient the democratic leadership model becomes

  • When making a decision requires discussing confidential matters, such as legal issues

In these situations, a flexible approach to leadership is required. Leaders may need to combine elements of several styles to achieve the desired results.

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