Change Mag

Transformational leadership in the virtual setting

By Michael Timmermann, published on 30 November 2022

In times of the Corona crisis, working in a home office became more and more popular. Many companies want to work more remotely in the long term. This poses challenges for many companies around the world. And the switch to home office can also cause uncertainty among managers, since leadership then takes place at least partly virtually. This is especially new for organizations that have previously relied solely on on-site work. We show you how you can use agile leadership principles to lead your employees in a meaningful and goal-oriented way, even virtually.

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Implement agile leadership virtually

Agility is a promising management approach that allows a project, a department or the entire organization to react faster to market changes. Managers in particular play a key role in determining how agile their company is and how agile their employees work. Certain values such as transparency, mindfulness and appreciation are particularly important. Living these values every day is a challenge that should not be underestimated. Times of crisis, as triggered by the corona virus, put companies and their teams to the test - and those who lead agilely here have a clear advantage.

Agile leadership does not simply mean the introduction of methods, but rather requires the integration of an agile mindset into one's own day-to-day work. The basic idea here is to familiarize employees with agile principles and values such as transparency, personal responsibility and self-efficacy in the long term and to manifest these in all their work areas. At the same time, the idea of continuous development applies, because agile transformations are not completely finished at any point.

Agile working makes it easier for organizations to achieve goals and complete projects faster and more efficiently, in part by having managers hand over responsibility and thus control to team members working on a task. Initially unfamiliar, this transfer of decision-making power offers a great deal of potential for the entire organization. Employees are more motivated and satisfied, which in turn promotes a good reputation for the organization and attracts promising new employees.

But how managers transfer this agile mindset and the associated way of working to the digital exchange with their employees is an unfamiliar challenge. Transformational leadership is the key term, because its "4 Is" offer solutions not only in the office in direct exchange, but also virtually in the home office, how companies can work agilely in times of crisis.

Classic transactional leadership sees the world as a zero-sum game and operates on the principle of short-term performance and return. Although many organizations have followed this model to date and may have been successful with it, this will no longer be sufficient in the future. Rewarding good performance and "punishing" inadequate performance is not necessarily goal-oriented. Instead, there should now be an orientation in the direction of transformational leadership. This is about developing the ability as a leader) to transform goals into results, to take leadership seriously in the relationship between people, and to create trust and cohesion. Appearing charismatic or visionary further enhances the role model effect.

The "4 Is" of transformational leadership provide clear pointers that make it easier to develop behaviors. These individual principles are important both in the office, when you are face-to-face with your colleagues, and in virtual teams, which benefit particularly from regular exchanges and agreements when there is physical distance.

1. individual attention

A very large part of your organization is made up of your employees. This is where different competencies come together to work on the big picture. For this, it is essential to know the skills of the people in the team, to value them and ultimately to use them efficiently. On the one hand, team members with experience in certain areas can take on specific tasks that require expertise. On the other hand, an employee can also dare to take on tasks that are new to him or her in order to grow and develop. The goal? Instead of working through assigned tasks one after the other, employees strengthen their personal bond with the company by further developing their skills, which they can use in their daily work. As a supervisor, it is often in your hands to pay attention to the needs and interests as well as to promote the personal development of those you lead. 

Virtual leadership in the home office: By introducing regular virtual exchanges, for example in the form of digital "mini-check-ins" using various communication media, you can get an idea of what support is needed to remove obstacles (impediments). This creates a more lively exchange, while at the same time enabling employees to maintain contact with each other. Virtual teamwork is improved through lively communication when team members see the added value behind it.

2. idealized role model effect

Start implementing changes in yourself. This creates a much greater positive role model effect on others than if you think you already know how to do things and others just have to copy them from you. Be a role model in learning. Here are some pointers:

  • Authenticity and credibility are important factors that help inspire others to do the same.
  • Put your money where your mouth is - put your money where your mouth is, and show them how serious you are.
  • At the same time, you should always keep working on yourself and communicate to your employees that it's much more about personal development than about competition between team members.
  • Be tangible. Through sharing and direct contact, you create closer personal relationships and a sense of togetherness and connection.

Virtual leadership in the home office: Especially when you don't see each other in person, it's crucial to be tangible for your employees. Digital communication media help with this. By means of an authentic video message, you can be present as a manager and report on your everyday work. In addition to positive aspects, you can also address challenges, setbacks, obstacles and mistakes. In this way, you convey to employees that you, too, are human, make mistakes and - especially important - grow from them. For employees, this is an opportunity to advance their personal development. This attitude strengthens the virtual team's trust in you as a leader. Thanks to you, others also feel inspired to share their own experiences and exchange ideas with colleagues in order to work together on solutions.

3. inspiring motivation

If you are on fire for a cause, your employees will be too, and your enthusiasm and excitement can also trigger a positive attitude toward your organization for clients. Motivating others works best when your own conviction is lived visibly and tangibly. To do this, it is essential to communicate clearly what your vision or the vision of the organization is. In which direction should it develop, what is the purpose of the organization's existence? Then it is important to formulate clear goals by answering these questions and to work on achieving them. Furthermore, as a leader it is of great importance to stand fully behind the vision and values and to stick to promises. Just as you expect your employees to think and act in the spirit of the organization, you should make no exception for yourself, because you in particular motivate your team.

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4. intellectual stimulation

The organization lives from its employees - managers in particular should be aware of this and act accordingly. The basic idea of intellectual stimulation is to give employees interesting "nuts to crack". So instead of prescribing what should be solved and how, and keeping employees only in their comfort zone, bring challenging tasks into play in the learning zone.

On the one hand, each individual should be encouraged to meet challenges creatively and independently, to trust in his or her personal abilities and to overcome these hurdles. On the other hand, no one should be left to their own devices, but should always have the opportunity to ask for advice and receive new approaches to solutions from others in case of doubt. In this way, employees of the organization see a personal added value in the individual tasks over and above simply working through them. It is much easier for employees to become enthusiastic about projects for which they are responsible and in which they have a say. Finding their own solutions instead of simply processing orders and fulfilling predefined tasks increases motivation and the sense of belonging in the company. Managers must strike a balance between handing over responsibility and providing appropriate support. And the assumption of responsibility by employees is a long-term learning process that they should approach with a certain amount of humility instead of falling into the trap of saying, "At last we can do things the way we think is right, now everything will be fine on its own because we can do it better than the manager.

Virtual leadership in the home office: In the new working reality, it is almost inevitable to give employees more responsibility and, as a result, to give them freedom in their creativity and to expand their problem-solving skills. When processes are running well, take a step back and act more in the background. But keep an open ear in case something goes wrong and the team needs your advice. This is exactly how you create a responsible team spirit that encourages the team to organize itself in the best case, but to come back to you in case of difficulties.

For the future

Particularly in difficult times, a manager's competence in keeping his or her employees together and, despite the physical distance, leading teams in such a way that everyone works together in a motivated, self-reliant and purposeful way to achieve a common big picture becomes apparent. Don't be put off, because these new processes take time. Take this time, and soon you will benefit from transformational leadership in a virtual setting.

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