Ways to make virtual leadership more effective

By James R. Bailey and Isabel Villamor and Sharon Hill 5 minute Learn

Virtual work—with its advantages and downsides—shouldn’t be new. However its tempo accelerated at a dizzying price in 2020. Now, individuals don’t need to return to the workplace. That doesn’t imply they’ll’t be dedicated and productive by means of astute virtual leadership. Making certain such leadership ought to turn out to be a key precedence for organizations. 

What can we learn about virtual leadership? Not almost sufficient. However latest analysis sheds some helpful gentle. 


Working nearly makes staff more task-focused as a result of the casual interactions that foster interpersonal relationships are eradicated. No chitchat earlier than and after conferences, hallway and water-cooler conversations, or after-hours social actions.

To get the work finished, virtual leaders could turn out to be more directive as a result of they really feel a lack of management. It’s tough to monitor staff’ work remotely. To compensate, they over-rely on offering construction and route to monitor and management. 

Paradoxically, this more directive strategy is the other of what’s wanted for effective virtual leadership. As an alternative, research suggests it’s more essential for virtual leaders to empower staff and promote self-leadership. Though leaders actually want to present construction and route, in addition they want to learn the way to let go.

This was the takeaway from a recent study that examined 3,909 groups in a variety of jobs. Outcomes confirmed that relationship-focused leadership (participative, empowering) is a stronger predictor of virtual group efficiency than task-focused leadership (directive, controlling), significantly in bigger groups the place it’s more tough to “see” what group members are doing. Why? As a result of relationship-focused leadership overcomes a few of the challenges, and takes benefit of the advantages, of working nearly. 

Navigating the advantages and challenges of virtual work

Lack of visibility into group members’ work scenario. Within the workplace, leaders can clearly view progress and supply fast suggestions by means of direct communication. That is more difficult by means of a display screen. So, relatively than being overly directive, leaders ought to create circumstances the place staff really feel empowered to full their work, act within the group’s finest curiosity, and make selections about their work. 

Threats to group dedication and belief. Constructing group dedication, belief, and mutual assist nearly is difficult. By specializing in relationship-focused actions, leaders promote a collective sense of goal and a optimistic surroundings. 

Emotions of isolation. Virtual work will increase emotions of isolation. This makes it more essential to be supportive and deal with group members’ issues. 


Advantages of autonomy. Virtual work bestows autonomy, and staff admire selecting when, the place, and the way to full their work. This will increase motivation and well-being. Being overly controlling undermines this empowering sense of autonomy.

Based mostly on our expertise speaking to leaders with virtual staff throughout completely different work contexts and analysis on this space, we recommend 5 leadership finest practices for changing into more relationship-focused.

 Training higher virtual leadership

  1. Delegate—empower your group. Settle for that micromanagement isn’t potential as a virtual chief. Delegate to group members and empower them to handle their very own efficiency. Studies show that group leaders concern changing into dispensable and underestimate group members’ potential to lead when mandatory. This hinders virtual group effectiveness. Delegation alerts that you simply belief group members’ competence, which promotes stronger relationships and evokes confidence. 
  2. Verify in, however don’t micromanage. Group members want to know that you simply care about their well-being and are there to assist them. So, verify in commonly and encourage group members to preserve everybody knowledgeable of their actions and any challenges. This fosters an surroundings of belief, dedication, and powerful group identification. The objective is to ship a message that you really want to assist however aren’t micromanaging. 
  3. Concentrate on outcomes, not a lot on how issues get finished. Ethics and collaboration apart, consider staff on the outcomes of their work relatively than how, when, and from the place they produce these outcomes. Do not forget that staff worth the autonomy working nearly offers as a result of it offers them monumental flexibility to steadiness their private {and professional} lives. Belief your group to work of their most well-liked approach—as long as they obtain desired outcomes. Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and writer of Man’s Seek for Which means, as soon as recommended that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Duty. Workers ought to reply to the freedom you present with the accountability you anticipate. 
  4. Give individuals permission to converse up and name you out (if mandatory). Jordi Cruz, the world’s second youngest chef to earn a Michelin star, is now one of the world’s best cooks. As a choose on the Spanish model of MasterChef, he shared that an apprentice, Alberto, noticed: “Chef, can I inform you one thing? You’ve been performing type of silly currently.” Cruz was not thrilled, however the remark made him assume, “If this man, who admires me, has dared to say this, it’s for one thing.” Cruz claims that creating house for group members to converse up and, if mandatory, name him out has saved him trustworthy and helped him earn these Michelin stars. This conduct is even more crucial in virtual environments the place individuals provide suggestions much less readily. However, it could not occur until leaders make a particular effort to solicit suggestions, encompass themselves with “Albertos” who preserve them trustworthy, and reward this conduct (e.g., Alberto is now the pinnacle chef at Angle, Cruz’s 2-star Michelin restaurant).
  5. Recover from your want for management. After all, none of those finest practices is feasible until leaders relinquish their want for management. If letting go is tough, take time to self-reflect. Why micromanage and smother staff? Why preserve checking if group members are related? (Sure, we’re speaking about that inexperienced gentle within the chat that turns into crimson throughout conferences and yellow when the subordinate leaves the pc.) Workers know when leaders are checking in out of real concern and when they’re utilizing that check-in as a method of management. 

Main nearly requires a velvet hand, not an iron fist. It’s completely comprehensible that leaders who take pleasure in each day face-to-face contact, with all of the monitoring and route it permits, yearn for the management they’ve misplaced. But, these issues will not be well-grounded, since research reveals that staff may be equally (if not more) productive working remotely than working within the workplace. There’s been a sea change. And people new seas won’t ever change. Adjusting to new work attitudes and dynamics is not going to be straightforward. Will probably be sluggish however hopefully measured and finished with empathy and respect. However it may be finished. 

James R. Bailey is the Hochberg Professor of Leadership and a frequent contributor to Harvard Enterprise Overview, Quick Firm, and different publications.

Isabel Villamor is a analysis affiliate who has printed on worker reactions to Covid-19 and worldwide administration. 

Sharon Hill is a professor who has printed extensively on distant leadership. 

All three are on the College of Enterprise, George Washington College.