Does your management style need a change? How you run your office directly affects its bottom line, and there are many different approaches you can take. Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a management style that’s based on mutual respect and working together. This approach helps you to foster a more proactive, inclusive, and participatory work environment, which naturally encourages multiple perspectives and makes employees feel valued.
What Is Democratic/Participative Management?
As the name implies, participative management is when your whole team participates in running the office by contributing opinions, ideas, and different points of view. While there’s still a head manager who has the final say, decisions are reached using a democratic process in which everyone has a voice. As you might expect, this shifts the power dynamic in a way that makes employees feel more like true members of the team, as opposed to subordinates who are just there to blindly following orders.
Ideal office management styles vary based on many factors, including your industry, your staff, and your personality. With that in mind, there are some clear benefits to democratic/participative management. The biggest one is morale. Including your team in decision making shows them that you value their input and respect them on a professional level. This naturally reduces turnover rates and keeps employees engaged. Participative management also boosts morale because most of the decisions made are going to be favourable to the majority, as they had a direct hand in the decision-making process.
Another huge advantage is that as a manager, you get a much more well-rounded viewpoint, helping you to make informed choices that may have been difficult on your own. Making important decisions solo can be tough, and mistakes and misjudgments are bound to happen. On the other hand, when you get feedback from multiple people, you drastically improve the odds in your favour. Participative management lets you draw from a wide range of resources, giving you new perspectives that were previously unavailable. This helps your company to flourish in ways that would be impossible under one sole leader.
Participative management also takes some of the weight off of your shoulders. As the sole manager, making all of the choices can be stressful. After all, sometimes even the best laid plans fall short. When you take everyone’s opinion into account, you don’t have to bear the brunt of the blame when things don’t pan out as expected. You can use failures to learn together and successes to celebrate together, creating a sense of shared responsibility and even camaraderie. Participative management helps your team to act as one unit, through good times and bad.
The big downside of democratic leadership in a business setting is that you need to be willing to relinquish some of your power. When you give your team a voice, they’re going to use it. If you have a very specific vision for your business, a participative management style may actually hold you back. In some cases, giving your employees an inch may lead to them taking a mile. Blurring the lines between manager and subordinate comes with risk, so it’s crucial that you trust your team to continue recognizing your authority.
Another potential downside is that too many cooks can spoil the soup. If everyone has their own ideas and opinions, things can get complicated fast. When you have to turn down multiple employees’ input, you run the risk of hurting company morale. Giving individual people more responsibility when you know they’re ready is the traditional approach. A participative management style puts everyone on an equal playing field, and some employees simply aren’t going to contribute as effectively as others. This can lead to accidental favouritism and new power dynamics that can cause some employees to feel slighted.
Team Members Who Thrive Under Participative/Democratic Leadership
One of the best ways to improve the odds in your favour is to hire people who thrive in leadership roles. You may want to seek out candidates who have prior experience in management positions. People who have been in your shoes before can relate better, and they’re more likely to understand the intricate dynamics of a participative office. You may also want to bring up your democratic approach during the interview so you can see how candidates respond. You could create hypothetical situations and see what kind of contributions are given. Be up front with the potential hire so there are no surprises or confusion when they join the team.
Participative management requires communication. There are times when you’re going to need to put your foot down and reject input, and that can be difficult for some people to handle. Examine the dynamics of your office, and start small. You don’t need to go all in right off the bat. Instead, ask your team to contribute their ideas and opinions to a smaller project. Pay attention to how everyone communicates. If it goes smoothly, you may be able to continue moving forward with democratic leadership. If you find that it causes a rift, it may be best to take a more traditional approach. Every office is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Start slow, and then you may find that your office naturally, fluidly moves into a more democratic direction over time.