Four Essential Strategies for Successful Virtual Leadership
Workspan Daily
April 21, 2022
Key Takeaways

  • Purpose-driven leadership. Connecting purpose to performance through human-centered leadership is an effective recruitment and retention tool. Embedding a sense of purpose motivates the workforce and increases productivity, ultimately elevating customer perceptions and financial performance.
  • Leadership development coaching. Human-centered leadership development and coaching empowers employees and enhances engagement, fostering innovation and driving individual, team and organizational performance.
  • Emotional intelligence. Effective virtual leaders are attuned to their employees’ work-related and emotional needs. They build a positive environment through trust and psychological safety that supports open collaboration and trial and error.

Businesses across the globe are continuing to face the serious issues of employee retention, engagement and burnout. 

Organizations are working tirelessly to adapt, finding the right balance of flexibility and autonomy to recruit and retain top talent. Many leaders, however, are finding the hybrid workplace complicated to navigate, unsure of how to manage employee expectations, rapid growth and constant change. Only 20% of leaders say they are effective at leading virtual teams, according to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021. And less than 30% of leaders indicate they have received training in leading virtual teams and driving digital transformation, the DDI Forecast indicates. 

Becoming an effective virtual leader in many ways is dependent upon organizational culture. Hierarchical leadership models often fail to translate in the virtual realm, and are counter to the needs and demands of today’s workforce that seeks purpose and meaning in their work. Purpose-driven companies have the upper-hand in today’s competitive recruitment environment and foster management and leadership skills that support the growth and development of virtual teams. 

Successful virtual leaders excel at employee engagement by prioritizing and building relationships and finding creative ways to keep employees connected. There are four key strategies leaders can implement to successfully manage in today’s hybrid work environment. 

Cultivate a Sense of Purpose

Purpose helps motivate employees to do their best. Leading with purpose builds understanding and support for the organization’s mission, vision and values, shaping the direction of the team and building a sense of belonging. Team members will recognize their role in achieving team and organizational objectives and feel value in their work. 

Lack of purpose, according to research by McKinsey & Company, results in not only lower employee engagement, satisfaction and excitement for work, it attributes to overall reduced energy and life satisfaction. 

Cultivating a sense of purpose is not mutually exclusive, as the McKinsey study suggests, “By doing your part to help employees live their purpose at work, you will enable them to feel more fulfilled. And when the work is aligned with the company’s own purpose, that sense of fulfillment will ultimately benefit the company, too.”

Provide Ongoing, Human-Centered Leadership Development and Coaching

Human-centered leadership development is essential in the hybrid work environment, helping engage and empower employees by identifying individual needs and objectives and developing the skills and competencies they need to succeed. Much of this occurred organically during in-person interactions between employees, managers and organizational leadership. Managers could readily assess cues from their team members during meetings and chats and offer guidance and support. 

Many managers, however, have struggled with providing meaningful feedback and guidance in the virtual setting. Building a coaching culture that supports human-centered leadership development in the hybrid work environment can help bridge that gap. 

Virtual coaching platforms and apps can help employees set goals and track their progress, building engagement and satisfaction. For businesses, these platforms are convenient and scalable, helping align growth and development opportunities for all individuals with the organization’s goals and objectives.  

Build Trust

Trust is the foundation for building highly effective virtual teams. Decision making becomes less transparent in the virtual setting and context is often lost in virtual communications, attributing to low morale and engagement. According to Harvard Business Review, “Establishing trust is foundational to any developmental relationship and may require even greater intentionality in virtual mediums.” 

To that end, virtual leaders must be visible and approachable and follow through on commitments. Successful virtual organizations build trust by focusing on outcomes and performance, and not activities. Rather than micromanage employees, leaders have confidence their employees will do their best work, meeting deadlines and objectives.

Embrace the Concept of Psychological Safety

The new world of work is driving organizations to find new ways to care for their employees. Embracing psychological safety fosters not only individual growth and performance, it is also the foundation for a well-being culture. Psychological safety is a belief that individuals can freely speak and share ideas or concerns without fear of punishment or humiliation. It promotes transparency, mutual respect and support among teams. While the concept of psychological safety has been around for some time, it’s gaining traction in the hybrid work environment. 

Karl Moore, associate professor, strategy and organization at McGill University, notes “Psychological safety requires that we deliberately tend to relationships — even more so now in a virtual world of work in which it is easy to not feel seen.” 

Leaders need to be more purposeful in their virtual interactions with employees and thoughtfully plan out meetings and communications. It’s important to not put individuals on the spot or force people to take sides. Rather, leaders should foster discussions to build engagement and collaboration and encourage the sharing of diverse ideas. 

Leadership development and coaching can enhance the skills and behaviors to promote psychological safety within organizations, including emotional intelligence, mindfulness and group dynamics.

The Great Resignation has shown that employees are no longer willing to work for bosses; they’re looking for leaders who will empower, encourage and mentor them. Instead of trying to return to the way things were, organizations need to adapt and continue to reinvent themselves in ways that support their employees to become the best, most creative and valued versions of themselves. If anything is certain these days, it’s that more disruption is coming and no one can fully predict what the future may look like. 

Success in the future will be dependent upon effective virtual leaders who can cultivate a sense of purpose and create meaningful work for their employees.

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