Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Balancing Authority & Democracy
Rather than asking how to achieve a balance between authoritative leadership and democracy, we might instead consider which style of leadership is appropriate given the situation at hand.
I was once asked this very interesting question about leadership, “How do you deal with the balance between powerful leadership and democracy?” To properly answer this question, I believe that one must first consider the differences that exist between situations and the capabilities of the people involved.
For example, if the building around me is burning, I do not want the fire chief taking a vote from the firefighters about what to do. I want him to quickly assess the situation, make a decision, and move his men into action. This scenario calls for an authoritative style in which the leader is quickly able to gather information, make decisions and move people to do something. There is no time for discussion or “democracy” so to speak in a scene of this nature.
Now, consider a class of young kindergarten students. If the teacher were to walk in the first day of class and tell them that they must complete a project requiring them to read, write, and do arithmetic and then added that she would be back in class only after they had finished their project, what do you think would happen? These youngsters may be very intelligent and full of energy, but they likely do not have the skills and experience to meet such expectations. It is the teacher’s job to coach and develop their skills. She has a responsibility to coach and develop these youngsters, equipping them with the knowledge and experience required to complete the project. She cannot just tell them what to do and then walk away…the results would be disastrous.
Finally, imagine a scenario in which you are on a marketing team for your business. Your leader announces that your team is about to launch your next marketing campaign. You and your colleagues have a wealth of experience and creativity, and you have demonstrated successful marketing campaigns for the last three programs launched from within your business unit. In this case, the leader would be foolish not to tap into the skills and rich experience of the marketing team in deciding how to shape the next campaign. Discussing and debating campaign options will likely deliver an improved campaign and better results. The leader has time and experience to shape things using a more team decision approach and is wise to leverage this style of leadership.
Rather than asking how to achieve a balance between authoritative leadership and democracy, we might instead consider which style of leadership is appropriate given the situation at hand. I personally prefer to leverage a team approach to decision-making, however, I realize that this is not the best approach in every situation. Effective leadership requires understanding the situation, knowing the capability of the people involved, and then employing the most effective leadership style for the circumstances at hand. Only then will you find the right balance of leadership!