Find Your Certification Leadership Style: Democratic vs. Laissez-faire
So far in this series we have done an in-depth analysis of six popular leadership styles: Transactional, Transformational, Coercive, Visionary, Delegative, and Coaching. In this installment we will take things one step further and do an in-depth examination of two more popular leadership styles.
In case you’re a bit late to the party, here is what you can expect out of each installment: I will examine two of the key leadership styles, explore their strengths and weaknesses for those involved in the certification world, and do a quick compare and contrast of the two styles being examined. Finally, I will put forth an argument in favor of one of the two styles.
In the final installment I will explore all the styles that I have favored in all the earlier installments, side by side, and see what they have in common and what makes each stand out. The last thing I want to share with you the reader, is my top pick of all the leadership styles for Certification Program Leaders and give you my reasons for this selection.
In this installment we will explore in depth the following two leadership styles: Democratic and Laissez-faire. For each, we will consider both strengths or advantages and weaknesses or disadvantages. Secondly, we will examine through a brief comparison some of the points of similarity between the two styles, followed by a second contrast list through which the major differences will be shown.
Finally, I will put forth a brief argument in favor of one of the two styles for managing a successful certification program.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.” — Warren Buffett
No matter what your title is, whether it is Chief Learning Officer (CLO), VP of Education (or of Certification), Director of Certification and Assessments, Manager of Certification, or simply the Project or Program Manager of Certification, if you have somehow been blessed with responsibilities of making certification a priority for your organization, then it is my intent that this series of articles will help you better understand your options for leveraging a leadership style within your organization.
Let’s now look at the next two major leadership styles.
Democratic (or Participatory) Leadership
The Democratic leadership style (sometimes also called “Participatory” leadership) revolves around consensus building and every collaborator having an equal say in the collective decision. The leader fosters team flexibility and ownership of the cause. This method is most useful in trying to find fresh ideas, which may elongate the decision-making timeline as this process tends to be time-consuming. (25) This style works best it when draws on the collective wisdom of the entire organization to build consensus.
The democratic style brings all of the best ideas to the table. While the democratic style is a very effective leadership approach, it does not happen quickly. It takes others’ opinions into account and values them during the decision-making process.
In this leadership style, which is used to some extent by nearly all leaders, the leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member. Even though the leader allows subordinates to make decisions, in the Democratic style the leader is still ultimately responsible for all decisions that are made. And even though the leader has the final decision, each team member has an equal opportunity to give input on the subject matter.
Indeed, the trademark of the Democratic leadership style is that everyone is encouraged to participate. Ideas are offered freely and without judgment. The goal is to take advantage of the diversity of a team and discuss all ideas, rather than rely on a single person to decide what is best for everyone. (43)
It is effective because it allows lower-level peers to exercise that authority that they will need in future positions and it gives everyone experience on how career meetings will go. A practitioner of the Democratic leadership style prefers to offer his/her team the resources and tools needed to get the job done. The subordinates of this type of leader are expected to have excellent problem-solving skills.
In my experience, the Democratic style works best for a diverse team of highly specialized professionals who have a good communications rapport with the leader. For example, this style provided me with the best method to lead a Certification Governance Committee where all members were respected and were given voice in the key decisions.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Democratic Leadership
Next let’s look at some of the advantages or strengths of Democratic Leadership. (43)
1. Democratic leadership works well when addressing a complex problem.
2. Democratic leadership encourages employee creativity.
3. Democratic leaders generally get high grades from their employees on the workplace satisfaction scale. The reason is quite simple for these leaders the contributions of the individual are valued.
4. Democratic leaders help build team relationships.
5. Democratic leaders encourage openness and honesty in the workplace.
6. Democratic leaders encourage stronger commitment levels by their subordinates.
7. Democratic leadership can be practiced by anyone.
8. Democratic leadership improves a team’s knowledgebase of the problem being addressed.
9. Democratic leadership helps to build a stronger vision for the future within a team or organization.
Now let’s look at the disadvantages or weaknesses of Democratic leadership. (43)
1. Democratic leadership can generate negative emotions between team members causing some of their team members to view others as weak causing the weak ones to withdraw and not participate.
2. Democratic leaders take an active role in the decision-making process, but they involve others. They carry the responsibility for seeing that the decisions made achieve the desired outcomes.
3. Democratic leaders are sometime viewed as procrastinators deferring to their teams for ideas instead of making a decision.
4. Democratic leadership can consume a good bit of time while every idea is discussed in the hopes of reaching a consensus.
5. Democratic leadership does not guarantee a good outcome or solution.
6. Democratic leaders often go and define their role without consulting a clearly accepted theory or model of the role.
7. Under a Democratic leader it is common for the teams to be experiencing a sense of uncertainty.
8. Democratic leadership does not guarantee a good fit will be had by all leaders nor for every team.
9. Under a Democratic leader it is common for the workers to lose faith in their leader’s capabilities.
10. Democratic leadership encourages no one including the leader to take the blame for an operational failure.
11. Under a Democratic leader someone must take responsibility when a poor decision is made.
12. A Democratic leader requires a needed set of skills and education in order to effectively interact with his or her team.
Now let’s look at the second leadership style: Laissez-faire Leadership.
The term “laissez-faire” translates from French “let them do.” For leadership, this means the leader trusts in all of his or her subordinates to do as they please and make the right decision. All authority is typically given to the subordinates because of the foundation of trust the leader sets in them. The leader takes an aggressively hands-off approach to leading.
This method is classified as sometimes effective because even though there is high trust, that can sometimes limit what actually gets done because the subordinates do not have a solid strategic vision. They literally just do exactly what they want, and this also can cause the leader to get pushed over and/or pushed out by his or her subordinates.
The major issue with this method of leadership is the subordinate followers tend to forget there is a leader. The reason is because this leadership method is so “chilled down” that the subordinate followers believe they can do whatever they please.
Laissez-faire leaders tend to do well when working in a creative field where people tend to be highly motivated, skilled, creative, and dedicated to their work; a situation that can be conducive to obtaining good results with this style. Laissez-faire leaders typically excel at proving information and background at the start of a project, which can be particularly useful for self-managed teams. (44)
In my experience this is a rarely seen or experienced leadership style, but it could be quite beneficial if you are the leader of a highly trustworthy, experienced, and mature team of subordinates and you have multiple projects to bring to fruition.
Some of the main characteristics of Laissez-faire leadership are:
● Very little guidance from leaders
● Complete freedom for followers to make decisions
● Leaders provide the tools and resources needed
● Group members are expected to solve problems on their own
● Power is handed over to followers, for the group’s decisions and action (44)
Next let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of Laissez-faire leadership. First let’s look at the advantages or the pros.
Advantages of Laissez-faire Leadership (46)
1. Laissez-faire leaders allows team members to develop their own leadership skills.
2. Laissez-faire leaders provides their people with an opportunity to show off their skills.
3. Laissez-faire leaders are effective because of their ability to create an environment of independence in which to work.
4. Laissez-faire leaders are effective because of their ability to encourage their workers to try something new on their own.
5. Laissez-faire leaders enable teams and those people who make up the team to create their own working environment.
6. Laissez-faire leaders are effective because of their ability to generate more overall individual satisfaction because of the work being done.
7. Laissez-faire leadership style provides the leader with the opportunity to be strategic with their skills in most organizations.
Now let’s examine the weaknesses or the disadvantages of Laissez-faire Leadership.
1. Laissez-faire leadership downplays the role of leader because the leader takes an aggressive hands-off approach to leading.
2. Laissez-faire leadership when poorly practiced allows leaders to avoid leadership and its associated responsibilities.
3. Laissez-faire leadership is a style of leadership that employees feel they can abuse easily.
4. Laissez-faire leadership often results in a loss of cohesiveness of a team.
5. Laissez-faire leadership can change how accountability is assigned on a team.
6. Laissez-faire leadership is not the leadership style best suited for an emergency.
7. Laissez-faire leadership can create organizational silos that can be difficult to navigate or take down.
8. Laissez-faire leadership can be the reason for an abundance of employee lawsuits.
9. Laissez-faire leadership can be the reason why teams have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances.
Next, I will briefly summarize the similarities and differences between the Democratic/participatory and Laissez-faire Leadership Styles.
Similarities between Democratic and Laissez-faire Leadership
Comparing the Democratic and Laissez-faire styles yields the following list of similarities:
In Both Styles, it is common for the workers to lose faith in their leader’s capabilities.
Both styles are designed to boost the efficiency and productivity of individuals on the team.
Both styles are dependent upon a skilled and motivated workforce.
The success of both depends on the team’s ability to communicate what they expect to their peers.
Both styles are most effective with an experienced staff, that works well independently.
Both styles require extra time to effectively implement.
Both styles prefer a leader to take a back seat to their team when making decisions.
Differences Between Democtratic and Laissez-faire Leadership
Leader carries the responsibility for seeing that the decisions made achieve the desired outcomes.
Is most effective with an experienced staff of individuals who work well independently
Is a style of leadership that employees give high grades to on the workplace satisfaction scale
Leader prefers to take a back seat to his/her team when making decisions
Leader understands that s/he is not an expert in every situation
Team members carry the responsibility for seeing that the decisions made achieve the desired outcomes
Is only sometimes effective because the subordinates do not have a solid strategic vision of their goals and objectives.
Is a style of leadership that employees feel they can abuse easily
Leader is outstanding at directing and guiding his/her direct reports
Can develop negative outcomes if leaders have bad or no chemistry with their direct reports.
My Preferred Style for Certification
Based on the in-depth analysis we have just completed on two of the leadership styles I outlined in the introductory installment of this series, I will now summarize my thoughts on the two and then share with you my preference for leading a certification program.
The Democratic leadership style revolves around consensus building and every collaborator having an equal say in the collective decision. The leader fosters team flexibility and ownership of the cause. This method is most useful in trying to find out fresh ideas which may elongate the decision-making timeline as the process tends to be time-consuming. (25)
Democratic leadership works best when it draws on the collective wisdom of the entire organization to build consensus. While the Democratic style is a very effective leadership approach, it does not happen quickly. It takes others opinion and values them during the decision-making process. In this leadership style, the leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member.
Even though the leader allows subordinates to make decisions, in the Democratic style the leader is still ultimately responsible for all decisions that are made. Even though the leader has the final decision each team member has an equal opportunity to give input on the subject matter.
The Laissez-faire Leadership style is an approach in which the leader trusts in all of his or her subordinates to do as they please and make the right decision. All authority is typically given to the subordinates because of the foundation of trust the leader sets in them. The leader takes an aggressive hands-off approach to leading.
Some of the main characteristics of Laissez-faire leadership are: a) very little guidance from leaders; b) complete freedom for followers to make decisions; c) leaders provide the tools and resources needed; d) group members are expected to solve problems on their own; e) power is handed over to followers for the group’s decisions and action. (44)
After much soul searching, I found that I would prefer the Democratic leadership style because of my recent experiences pitching certification programs to past employers and more recently current clients. It is important to have a good relationship with your team for a successful certification program to produce hoped for organization impacts. Team building, motivation, cooperation and collaboration I believe are the most important things in leadership.
With a Democratic leader who has a passion for certification, who also is a disciple of various leadership styles then you will have a team of followers that has bought into the leaders’ vision and truly wants the program to succeed. Not only will you have a happy workforce, but you will also have a program that is meeting organizational goals without the fear associated with other styles that are more restrictive.
Each leadership style can be useful in the workplace and it is important to understand the differences between the two. But you need to do more than just understand the differences between the two.
Sometimes you may be called on to practice a style you are not a fan of. For example, you may be at heart a Democratic leader, but you may on occasion have to step up and be a Laissez-faire leader, for a short-term objective to be met.
If you are like me and have had to sell your idea for a certification program, then when you find a receptive leader who is willing to let your dreams come to fruition, you need to be ready to sell your idea. You need to attract those who will be supporting you and your certification dream while realizing that some of the folks you will be selling to will not be fans of your vision.
Rather these leaders may well be Laissez-faire leaders. How you address them may well be what makes or breaks your program. Welcome to the wonderful world of being a Democratic leader who can motivate and empower employees to achieve goals.
In the next installment we will look at two more of the leadership styles available to those driving certification for an organization.
1. Cherry, Kendra. “Know More. Live Brighter.” Verywell Mind, Dotdash, 8 Feb. 2019, www.verywellmind.com/.
2. Leadership. BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. February 12, 2019 <http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/leadership.html>.
7. BiolaUniversity. “Ken Blanchard : Lead Like Jesus.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 Apr. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGPg7o6JeQo.
8. “Leadership Styles.” Hoonuit Online Learning Framework https://learnit.hoonuit.com/5698/learnit
9. Riggio, Ronald E. “Take this test: Are You a Transformational Leader?” Psychology Today, 24 Mar. 2009, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/200903/areyou-transformational-leader
10. “What Kind of Leader Are You?” TestQ, 2017, http://www.testq.com/careers/quizzes/237- what-kind-of-leader-are-you
14. The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger, 2019,
15. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies 2nd Edition by Allen F. Repko
22. Lawrence, D., 2014, Transforming Leadership-An introduction, ATD.