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Scotland and Democratic Leadership

Scotland and Democratic Leadership
19 September 2014 John Moore

Whether you were a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, we now know the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum and Scotland has demonstrated one thing: people’s opinions matter.

Politicians have hailed the ‘incredible’ turnout in the Scottish referendum after a campaign that energised voters across the country. A total of 3.6m people voted Yes or No representing a turnout of nearly 85 per cent in Scotland as a whole and a new record for any election held in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918. In fact, turnout reached an amazing 91% in East Dunbartonshire, 90.4% in East Renfrewshire and 90.1% in Stirling.

But, can the result be hailed as an example of democratic model of success when 45 per cent of people voted ‘YES’? This is a difficult one, but my answer is yes, depending how the decision and the process from here on is taken forward. It depends on the extent to which the Government truly listens to and takes into account the ideas, thoughts and opinions of the 45 per cent of voters who did not get their way.

This is an issue that organisations and managers have to address daily, albeit on a different scale, On the one hand, we want employees to be engaged in discussions and decision-making processes about our organisations, but sometimes we have to take decisions that are not the ones most of our employees want us to take. This made me think about democratic and autocratic leadership.

Autocratic and Democratic Leadership Styles

Autocratic and democratic leadership styles are often talked about in a political context, but of course they manifest themselves in everyday life as well. Autocratic or authoritarian leaders create a strict divide between the one giving the orders and those expected to follow them. As such, autocrats tend to make decisions independently, which can result in abuse of power and make their followers feel excluded. Authority is centralised and the leader’s power-base is derived from being in strict control of situations and employees are not asked for their input.

On the other hand, democratic leaders offer guidance to their team members and seek their input on making decisions. Democratic leaders encourage team members to participate, but retain final say-so over important matters. This style creates balance and helps team members to feel valued. The fact team members might have had their say and expressed their ideas, thoughts and feelings does not mean the leader is bound to go along with their inputs and wishes. Can you see how this might alienate the engaged workforce who feel let down – maybe a little like to millions of ‘YES’ voters?

There is a third way though. It looks remarkably like the Unionist’s ‘devo-max’ model. In a management and organisational context, we refer to this leadership style as ‘delegative’ leadership. This is where managers delegate certain decision-making powers to employees.

Delegative Leadership

The final form of leadership identified by behaviourist scientist, Kurt Lewin[1] is ‘delegative leadership.’ Delegative leaders do very little in the way of traditional ‘leading’. Delegative leadership, often referred to as ‘laissez-faire’ sees the manager or leader as offering little or no guidance to team members, allowing them to make the decisions. With a ‘laissez-faire’, approach comes the need to trust and respect the decisions of others.

The ‘laissez-faire’ leader allows team members to define their own roles and make their own decisions. But beware because the ‘laissez-faire’ approach can often fail to provide direction to team members resulting in a lack of motivation and underlying conflicts. The ‘laissez-faire’ style of leadership is not usually an effective leadership style unless team members are motivated and possess the knowledge, skills and competence to make effective decisions.

Four Key Questions for Scotland and the UK Government:

  1. Does Scotland have the motivation, knowledge and skills to make their own decisions?
  2. Does the Government have the trust and respect the people of Scotland to make their decisions?
  3. Can the two sides agree on a set of long-term goals for the UK and Scotland?
  4. How will disagreements, conflicts and tensions be managed?

How do you address these questions in your own organisation?


[1] Lewin, K., LIippit, R. and White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.


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