With permanent remote employees increasing from 16.4% to 34.4%, the need for unconventional workforce management has become more significant. It’s no surprise why companies consider adopting a transformational leadership style.
Is there a defined set of qualities that make a successful manager? This is a complicated question — the one with no single answer. The reason for that is that leadership comes in many forms and styles.
While one type of leadership may be the perfect match for a certain environment, it may be completely counterproductive in a different situation. In today’s article, we will look into why transformational leadership may be best for virtual teams.
The need for new leadership styles
Recent events have significantly changed the employment market. The virtual workforce is expanding like never before — and with it, the need for new leadership styles.
Today, managers often have to work with teams that are not only based in different cities — they are often half the world away from each other. This comes with its own set of benefits — and, naturally, with its own set of complications.
Modern team leaders are constantly on the lookout for more effective management styles that can improve team spirit and performance. Yet, in this article, we will try to make the case for an already well-known leadership approach — the one that has been around since the early 70s.
What is transformational leadership?
Transformational leadership aims to nurture a collaborative environment. The goal of this approach is to make sure that every team member feels valued while avoiding over-control and micro management. In many ways, it is the absolute opposite of transactional leadership that values order, structure and a strict hierarchy.
The term “transformational leadership” first appeared back in 1973. Back then, it was used to describe leaders who were looking to change existing thoughts and management methods to achieve better results. Today, this leadership style is primarily associated with building empathetic and mutually trustful relationships between teams and team leaders.
In transformational teams, employees are encouraged to think outside the box and look for unconventional solutions to problems. They are given independence, assigned responsibility and are motivated to work together towards a well-defined goal.
Naturally, employees in non-conventional settings prefer this leadership method. This is evident in a Walden University study on transformational leadership for virtual teams in an information technology organisation. The research, which involved 396 remote employees, concluded that the participants perceived transformational leaders to be more effective.
Here are some other notable characteristics of this leadership style:
Transformational leaders need to be good communicators. They must know how to talk to people to keep them motivated and how to explain assignments clearly and without exerting much pressure. This is definitely a skill that can be developed — and it needs to be constantly improved on both parts: by team members leaders.
In a remote setting, this quality can be useful for managing employees that require minimal supervision. By using succinct directions, they are able to lead a geographically scattered workforce with maximum efficiency.
This type of leadership requires clear direction. Transformational leaders need to know exactly where they want to take their team and how they plan to get there. A well-defined step by step strategy will ensure a loyal following and commitment on the part of the team.
Plus, in a remote working environment where team members often work in isolation, this helps instil a sense of teamwork. Colleagues get to have a clear understanding that they are working towards a common goal, which improves performance and productivity.
Inspiration is an essential part of the transformational leadership technique. Team leaders need to know their colleagues and continuously reinforce their importance in achieving the common goal.
This means offering rewards where they are due as well as providing assistance and guidance when these are needed. This leadership style benefits from a personalised approach and requires the leader to invest a generous amount of time into getting to know their team.
Coaching and mentoring are crucial for transformational management style. Leaders need to constantly educate their team on the best working practices. At the same time, this should serve as a base for allowing the team more freedom in decision-making and delegating important tasks.
Knowledge leads to confidence — and with proper guidance and empowerment, employees will feel more self-assured to make decisions and think creatively.
Based on all of the above, transformational leadership pretty much looks like a dream working setup. However, as one might expect, it also comes with its very own set of complications.
One of the main drawbacks of transformational leadership is that it requires a lot of feedback sessions. As mentioned above, communication is essential for making this management style work. This means frequent meetings, discussions, brainstorming sessions and so on. Compared to a more conventional leadership style, this is significantly more time-consuming.
Losing sight of the bigger picture is also a potential danger. Transformational leadership style is very inward-focused. It requires spending a lot of time getting to know your team, building relationships, fine-tune communication and more. This can affect the bigger picture — with the details taking so much of the manager’s time, reaching project goals in a timely manner may be compromised.
Another problem is that transformational leadership can’t be applied to all working environments. While it may be an effective solution for managing remote teams, it is not a good choice for mechanised organisations or those that generally benefit from a strict hierarchy.
However, despite the possible disadvantages, when executed correctly, transformational leadership has proven to get results when managing remote teams. Below, we will look into what key elements make this leadership strategy successful.
How to leverage the transformational leadership style for remote teams
A study conducted back in 2009 looked into the effects of transformational leadership on virtual teams using computer-mediated communication. It also analysed the effects of the same leadership style in traditional working environments where teams communicated face to face.
The study came to the following conclusion: leaders who exercised transformational leadership style in remote teams managed to achieve higher performance levels.
So, how does one implement this leadership style in virtual working environments? There are several key stages to this process:
Defining goals and milestones
While the transformational leadership style is characterised by a high level of participation of each team member, the initial direction must be set before the project begins. This means that the team leader needs to have a clear understanding of what the goal for the project is and how to approach it.
It also requires the setting of clear milestones along the way that can help evaluate if everything is going according to plan.
Developing a participative mindset
One of the key features of transformational leadership is a participative approach — which is basically the opposite of a directive approach. It involves equalising the positions of all team members and sharing the problem-solving process.
The goal here is to motivate a group of people to move towards a common objective while sharing both authority and responsibility.
Arranging customised check-ins
Transformational leadership presupposes offering team members a high degree of independence. This means eliminating any micromanagement tendencies and giving employees more creative freedom. However, this also makes communication a highly important element of the working process — and team check-ins should be as frequent as needed.
The main goal of these check-ins should be figuring out how close or far the team is from meeting the laid-out milestones. With that, it is important to arrange communication in such a way that it fits with individual employee schedules and doesn’t disrupt the workflow.
Allowing for self-direction
In addition to offering each employee more independence, it is advised to create teams within a company. What’s more, each team would benefit from an assigned leader with certain decision-making power. This ensures a level of motivation and unity that is very important for a remote team, where colleagues are often isolated geographically.
Plus, this way, the leader will be creating independent working units with a developed system of accountability. This will, in turn, open more possibilities for delegation and time-saving practices in the future.
Setting working norms for a remote team is just as important as creating the conditions for self-direction. This is essential not only to offer guidance to the team but also to ensure that larger working goals are met in time. Clearly defined norms can motivate the team to stay on track.
They will also help reward colleagues who deserve recognition, which can often be complicated in a remote working environment.
Preparing for Plan B
Another key aspect of transformational leadership is the contingency approach. This involves being able to adapt to a changing environment and adjust strategy based on how the team is performing.
While trust serves as the base for any management style that relies on self-direction and delegation, a back-up plan is just as important. A leader who is prepared must have several “just-in-case” scenarios that can be activated if a milestone is not reached as planned.
There is probably no leadership style out there that would not benefit from a charismatic leader. Transformational leadership is not an exception. However, this doesn’t mean that a manager has to be a guru of self-presentation.
In this case, charisma has more to do with the power of ideas, soundness of strategy, direction and personal aesthetic. Each of these qualities can work towards building trust and respect among team members.
There are quite a few factors that speak in favour of transformational leadership style when it comes to managing remote teams. Naturally, adopting this management style and making it work may require some effort and an adjustment period. With that, when implemented properly, transformational leadership does have the capacity to truly transform a remote team’s performance.
In the end, it all comes down to identifying what your company needs and having an open discussion with your colleagues about what management strategies they find the most productive.
About the Author
Ikechukwu Nnabeze is a tech expert and content writer at Traqq whose goal is to improve people’s lives with the help of modern technology. His interest in providing practical solutions to real-life tech problems has led him to a successful career in content creation. He believes using 6Q for employee survey is awesome.