A Definition and Illustration of Democratic Leadership

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Renewed calls for democracy make it imperative that we understand the nature of democratic leadership. Existing definitions of democratic leadership are inconsistent and inadequate, so this essay provides a clear definition that applies to social groups both large and small. As defined herein, democratic leadership is conceptually distinct from positions of authority; rather, it is defined as the performance of three functions: distributing responsibility among the membership, empowering group members, and aiding the group's decision-making process. Many, most, or all members of a group serve these functions, regularly exchanging the roles of leader and follower. A limited number of practical and moral considerations are identified for assessing the appropriateness of the democratic leadership model for different groups. In addition, the National Issues Forums program is used to illustrate the model, and suggestions are made for future research on democratic leadership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)953-975
Number of pages23
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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