Leaders Have to be Both Democratic and Authoritative: How to Know Which Style is Best

Leaders Have to be Both Democratic and Authoritative: How to Know Which Style is Best


Have you ever been in a situation when there are differing opinions amongst the team on a decision that must be made? Whether it’s about who takes what responsibility, how to handle a client, or an operational decision, there are times when all of you will be unanimous and times when you differ. How do you know when to let democracy prevail or when to make an authoritative decision that goes against the majority? When should you stand alone?

Good leaders try to balance their knowledge with not imposing their will because they know in order to create ownership, decision making must be shared. Most times, especially with a team that you trust, a spirited debate leads to a shared decision, a highly acceptable and desirable way to make decisions. 

But what about the instances when you know better? The times when you feel strongly about a decision. How do you know when to digress to the objections in order to avoid confrontation and just go with the flow or when to follow your gut? What about the times when you agree to do it their way; yet you remain unconvinced? It doesn’t feel right, but we justify this by telling ourselves, “At least I wasn’t a jerk and listened to their opinion, I wasn’t heavy handed.

Making the Harder Decision

Making the harder decision to exercise our authority ensuring the right call is made is the leader’s responsibility. There is no worse feeling than the moment you realize, I knew better. It’s tricky, because as a leader you need both behaviors: you must be democratic and listen to others, value their opinions, and show that it doesn’t have to be your way all the time. You also must trust your own judgement and remember that you are in your position for a reason: you have the capabilities to see what others may not see. Therefore, sometimes your opinion will be in the minority. It’s important to get comfortable with this and know that it is ok.

How do you maintain balance between being democratic yet still feel like you are doing your job without regret? 

I think this is one of those times where you may be able to have it both ways. Here are some factors to consider:

Recognition: when you know it in your heart or gut (whichever is speaking to you), you must recognize that signal. If you ignore this sign and concede your opinion, you are doing everyone a disservice, especially yourself. There is something about that gut feeling, that instinct, a strong leader knows when to trust that, it’s one of your best assets.  

The ability to discern when you must the call: When you believe strongly that something must be a certain way in order to serve the company, client, yourselves, whomever, best…then you must stand tall and make that call. Sometimes that means being uncomfortable or unpopular, or it goes against what’s always been done, but have the confidence to know that’s why you are in this role. Remember, the people who hired you trust your judgement above everyone else’s. This reminder was one of my biggest sources of confidence.

Do damage control: if you feel you must explain yourself, having a conversation with your team or the individuals who put up the biggest resistance is often an excellent way to educate them on your thinking: why it was important that it was handled how you did. You can share any learnings that come up and they will appreciate the fact that you initiated this conversation. It shows you care.

Don’t do the victory dance: Results speak for themselves. Those who gave resistance will ultimately see why you made the choice you did. You will not have to justify a thing because the success of the decision is very apparent, and sometimes it’s best to let your validation be. It will be noted that you aren’t gloating and your humbleness around the victory will also be admired.


When you stand tall with your decision and deliver it with authority, it may make people bristle at first, but when it falls together as you hoped, that bristle turns to understanding.