Leadership styles Part 2: Democratic

This series of four articles will explore four different leadership styles and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 2 focuses on democratic leadership.

This is the second article in a four part series by Michigan State University Extension that is exploring four common leadership styles: laissez faire, democratic, servant and dictator and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 1 of this series focused on dictator style leadership, Part 3 discusses laissez-faire leadership and Part 4 examines servant leadership.  This article will focus on the democratic leadership style that is considered to be one of the most effective styles; especially when working with youth.

It is important for individuals in leadership roles to know what style works best for a given situation and for the group they are leading in order to accomplish the group’s goals. 

A democratic leader is an individual who makes sure that all group members have an equal opportunity to express their opinions.  Research has shown this leadership style to be one of the most effective which creates higher productivity, better contributions from group members and increases group morale.  This style of leadership offers encouragement with all team members to be involved and have an active role as a working part of the team. The democratic leadership style can lead to high productivity in a group. The group involvement can be time consuming,  therefore decision-making can take longer than it does compared to a dictatorship style. Therfore, if a decision needs to be made quickly due to an issue, this leadership style may not be the best to utilize in a critical situation.

Democratic leadership can lead to creative ideas and solutions to problems because group members are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. The group members will feel involved, motivated, committed to projects and  become more invested in the end results.  It needs to be noted that the democratic leadership style works best in situations where group members are skilled and also excited to share their knowledge.  If the group or team is inexperienced this style is not very effective. Furthermore, in situations where roles are unclear, this leadership style can lead to communication disasters and uncompleted projects or goals.

Some examples of democratic leaders can be found in politics, businesses, and other groups like 4-H clubs and  school teams searching a specific goal.  Have you ever been involed with a 4-H club  or school team where the coach or 4-H leader showed the demorcratic leadership style for a fundraiser?  A business leader utilizing the demorcratic leadership style in planning a special company endenvour?  Have you seen examples in politics?  Political figure Dwight D. Eisenhower is a good example of this leadership style.  As a military leader, Eisenhower was faced with the difficult task of getting the alliance forces to agree on a common strategy.  Eisenhower worked hard and had one of his greatest achievements  by making  sure everyone worked together to come to a common understanding. Can you think of other examples of leaders using the democratic leadership style?

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Michigan 4-H Youth Development recently released a new and exciting global leadership curriculum. The 4-H global leadership curriculum will assist volunteers, parents and guardians, professionals, and other youth educators in developing the knowledge and skills they need to become youth leaders in a global environment.  One of the activities offered in the new Michigan 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World (4H1643) curriculum is called Lead in Style: Duck Tape Sculptures.  This citizenship activity provides hands-on learning with a team-building concept as participants learn about the four common leadership styles.  The entire publication is available in print and electronic versions at the MSU Extension Bookstore (The electronic version is shipped on a USB drive.).

By reflecting on this effective form of leadership style, leaders will find that democratic practices often lead to a more productive and higher quality working  groups.  Indivdulas are more likely to excel in their positions and develop more skills when they feel empowered, and group members are empowered when they are involved in the decision-making process.  Utilizing the democratic leadership style may take some time to achieve full participation from a group, although the end result will be rewarding if you can manage to establish a sharing environment in your groups project goal.

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs contact your local MSU Extension office.

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