In 1939, Kurt Lewin led a group of researchers that studied the responses of school children when lead by leaders characterized as authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire leaders.
A leader using a democratic or participative leadership style, will engage the group within the decision making process, they will consider the groups inputs; however, he or she will retain their right to make the final decision. As it synonymous name of participative leadership style implies, leader allow, seek and even go as far as to reinforce participative behaviours. As a result, the participants will feel engaged; they will be more creative and will offer more efforts toward ensuring an effective and efficient completion of the goals.
According to Lewin's research, the Democratic style is the most effective leadership style. However, that statement is often put out of context by being generalized to all situations and in all circumstances. In his study, Lewin, categorized this statement by indicating that the results were less productive but better in terms of quality, when participants were guided by democratic leaders as opposed to authoritative ones.
While we can certainly all understand the value in using a democratic style of leadership, most don't appreciate the difficulty of such a style. In situation where the objective or the mean by which we need to reach them aren't clear, communications can be hazardous, conflicting opinions lead to a plethora of emotions. It's important to make a note that increasing the number of participants, exponentially increases this complexity. For that reason, we can understand that the democratic leadership style should be supported by knowledgeable employees in order to reduce, as much as possible, these complex interactions.
In relation to the authoritarian leadership style or the laissez-faire leadership style and the other end of the spectrum, the democratic style sits right in the middle. The democratic or Participative leadership style is certainly the style of leadership that requires to most knowledge of human behaviour on the authoritative/democratic/laissez-faire leadership style spectrum. Consequently, it was one of the least used styles of leadership, fortunately the tendency hasn't maintained and consequently its usage continues to trend upwards. This upward trend can be attributed to the knowledge gained in sociology, psychology and philosophy, among others. In addition, to having a more educated, in their field of expertise, workforce.
In today's larger organization, democratic leaders have made and continue to make their appearance. If we fast forward a couple of years from now, one can certainly see that this upward trend isn't going to diminish and that democratic leaders are going to find their way into the smaller organizations.
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