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—will not be new. However its tempo accelerated at a dizzying charge in 2020. Now, individuals don’t need to return to the workplace. That doesn’t imply they’ll’t be dedicated and productive by astute virtual leadership. Guaranteeing such leadership ought to change into a key precedence for organizations. 

What will we find out about virtual leadership? Not practically sufficient. However latest analysis sheds some helpful gentle. 

Working just about 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 change into more directive as a result of they really feel a lack of management. It’s troublesome to monitor staff’ work remotely. To compensate, they over-rely on offering construction and path 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 definitely want to present construction and path, in addition they want to find out how 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 staff efficiency than task-focused leadership (directive, controlling), significantly in bigger groups the place it’s more troublesome to “see” what staff members are doing. Why? As a result of relationship-focused leadership overcomes among the challenges, and takes benefit of the advantages, of working just about. 

Navigating the advantages and challenges of virtual work

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

Threats to staff dedication and belief. Constructing staff dedication, belief, and mutual assist just about is difficult. By specializing in relationship-focused actions, leaders promote a collective sense of function 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 staff members’ issues. 


Advantages of autonomy. Virtual work bestows autonomy, and staff recognize 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 advise 5 leadership finest practices for changing into more relationship-focused.

 Working towards higher virtual leadership

  • Delegate—empower your staff. Settle for that micromanagement isn’t doable as a virtual chief. Delegate to staff members and empower them to handle their very own efficiency. Studies show that staff leaders worry changing into dispensable and underestimate staff members’ capability to lead when essential. This hinders virtual staff effectiveness. Delegation alerts that you simply belief staff members’ competence, which promotes stronger relationships and evokes confidence. 
  • Examine 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, examine in repeatedly and encourage staff members to hold everybody knowledgeable of their actions and any challenges. This fosters an surroundings of belief, dedication, and powerful staff identification. The purpose is to ship a message that you really want to assist however aren’t micromanaging. 
  • Deal with outcomes, not a lot on how issues get finished. Ethics and collaboration apart, consider staff on the outcomes of their work fairly than how, when, and from the place they produce these outcomes. Do not forget that staff worth the autonomy working just about supplies as a result of it offers them monumental flexibility to stability their private {and professional} lives. Belief your staff to work of their most well-liked approach—as long as they obtain desired outcomes. Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and creator of Man’s Seek for That means, as soon as recommended that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Duty. Staff ought to reply to the freedom you present with the duty you count on. 
  • Give individuals permission to converse up and name you out (if essential). 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 appearing type of silly recently.” Cruz was not thrilled, however the remark made him suppose, “If this man, who admires me, has dared to say this, it’s for one thing.” Cruz claims that creating house for staff members to converse up and, if essential, name him out has stored him trustworthy and helped him earn these Michelin stars. This habits is even more crucial in virtual environments the place individuals provide suggestions much less readily. However, it might not occur until leaders make a particular effort to solicit suggestions, encompass themselves with “Albertos” who hold them trustworthy, and reward this habits (e.g., Alberto is now the top chef at Angle, Cruz’s 2-star Michelin restaurant).
  • Recover from your want for management. In fact, none of those finest practices is feasible until leaders relinquish their want for management. If letting go is troublesome, take time to self-reflect. Why micromanage and smother staff? Why hold checking if staff members are linked? (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.) Staff know when leaders are checking in out of real concern and when they’re utilizing that check-in as a way of management. 
  • Main just about requires a velvet hand, not an iron fist. It’s completely comprehensible that leaders who get pleasure from each day face-to-face contact, with all of the monitoring and path it permits, yearn for the management they’ve misplaced. But, these issues are usually not well-grounded, since research exhibits 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 Evaluation, 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.


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