This class has taught us a lot about the traditional and not-so-traditional ways we view leadership. Broadly speaking, leadership is defined as the process of influencing people within a group context in order to achieve some goal (PSU WC, L1., 2016). Important aspects of the leadership process include not only the leader, but his or her followers and the situation. While certain leadership skills are timeless and essential across situations, this global pandemic has put unprecedented expectations on the modern day leader and their followers, and leaves many organizations in a never before seen situation: virtual work. Unfortunately, the skills it takes to become a leader in the real world may not be the same attributes required in a virtual setting. The business world is seeing new types of leaders emerge as organizations increasingly turn to virtual work spaces (Purvanova et al., 2020).
With the new normal routine of working from home, now is the time for leaders to develop their virtual leadership competencies. The main difference that leaders should be aware of is that actions speak very loudly in a virtual setting (Purvanova et al., 2020). Since there is little face-to-face interaction, “soft” skills or human skills some leaders used to rely on, such as being personable and extroverted, are no longer the most effective (Baldoni, 2020). While it remains essential for leaders of virtual teams to remain social, successful leadership outcomes are driven primarily by small actions like monitoring timelines, providing feedback, and coordinating teamwork (Purvanova et al., 2020). Online, employees lack the physical presence of a boss and co-workers, giving them a tendency to forget about wider organizational structures and do their own thing (Baldoni, 2020). Because of this, there is now more than ever a need for leaders to make themselves present. A leader in this virtual world cannot be as hands-off as some approaches, like the path-goal, servant, or LMX theories suggest.
To be present in a virtual world, leaders of today need to ensure that their team is not working in isolation. This can be done by reaching out and connecting with employees daily, keeping them engaged and on track. Online, perhaps because there is fewer human interaction and more opportunities for miscommunication, team members gravitate toward those who take concrete steps to ensure achievement, rather than toward those with charismatic personalities (Purvanova et al., 2020).
In conclusion, as virtual work becomes more common for organizations, leaders would benefit from understanding that certain traits and behaviors impact leadership perceptions differently in a virtual context.
Baldoni, J. (2020, May 12). The Next Big Thing: Virtual Leadership. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2020/05/12/the-next-big-thing-virtual-leadership/#8f488bb3e5e9
PSU WC. (2020). Lesson 1: Introduction to Leadership. Retrieved from Penn State University World Campus: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2015147/modules/items/29089097
Purvanova, R.K., Charlier, S.D., Reeves, C.J. et al. Who Emerges into Virtual Team Leadership Roles? The Role of Achievement and Ascription Antecedents for Leadership Emergence Across the Virtuality Spectrum. J Bus Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-020-09698-0