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Transformational Leaders Can Excel in a Virtual Environment

Leadership is one of the most investigated areas of business management and for many years, one leadership style has been explored more than the others—transformational leadership. Tradition tells us that leadership is a recipe best served in a physical environment, so what happens when you have a transformational leader in a virtual environment? Do they have the same level of influence? Are people still engaged and committed to the vision set by someone who is hundreds if not thousands of miles away? These are all things my clients and I face every day, especially as our teams grow and our businesses expand to a global capacity.  


Let us start by describing the behavioral qualities that transformational leaders exhibit. Transformational leaders develop trust and create meaningful relationships that drive positive performance; when interacting with others they do it at a personal level (individualized consideration); they find ways to intrinsically inspire people (inspirational motivation); create situations that challenge others to be a better version of themselves (intellectual stimulation); and finally, behave in ways that make others want to emulate them (idealized influence). When you bundle these up, it leads to things like increased performance, job satisfaction, commitment to the greater good, willingness to go above and beyond. I have found that it also means people are willing to work weekends, odd hours, or during their holiday. At the end of this piece you will have a few tips to help you do this in a virtual environment!


Scholars believe that it is frequency of contact and type of contact that promotes followers to remain actively engaged with leaders. It just happens that transformational leaders do this more and better than other types of leaders. My argument is, yes, a high level of engagement can also be achieved in a virtual environment. Some might say who cares, I just send an email to tell them what to do. If that’s your approach, then you are likely not in the transformational leader category.  Let me remind you that global expansion is forcing the best leaders to rethink how they keep their workforce engaged. For those of you familiar with the saying “when the cat is away the mice will play,” you are also familiar with how it translates to business impact. This becomes a greater problem for leaders trying to manage global teams in multiple time zones across multiple projects and keep their people on the momentum to hit their targets. To say it another way, geographical distance between leaders and employees creates a problem with productivity and job satisfaction. Think about it, if your boss is never around how would you know you are keeping up with your metrics or how would they know you are having problems in the workplace? Sure, an email could be sent, but it hardly solves the problem, often it creates more tension as people extra their own interpretations from text.


So, what can be done to keep the flow going? The following tips will help save you some money on travel and make you more efficient with your time and energy.

Tip 1: Use FaceTime (or a mobile video chat equivalent) to have 1:1’s with your team. Yes, you need to get over your fear of someone seeing your face on a screen. I mean you don’t walk into a physical meeting with a bag on your head to cover your face, so why start now? The immediate benefit you get here is that the person you talk to will feel connected with you, as they know you are giving them your full attention. As a transformational leader you would be exhibiting Individual Consideration and Inspirational Motivation.

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Abraham Gutsioglou, Ph.D.

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