It turns out that where in traditional face to face leadership, people prefer leaders who are vocal, charming, friendly (ascription qualities). In virtual leadership, people prefer leaders who facilitate, are organised and actually do stuff (achievement factors).
In two independent samples—a laboratory experiment involving 86 teams (n = 340; sample one) and a semester long project involving 134 teams (n = 430; sample two)—we found that in low virtuality contexts, ascription factors accounted for incremental variance over achievement factors in predicting leadership emergence, and had larger relative importance. Conversely, in high virtuality contexts, achievement factors accounted for incremental variance over ascription factors in predicting leadership emergence, and had larger relative importance.
This seed of professional vexation has borne fruit, with new data showing that the confidence, intelligence and extroversion that have long propelled ambitious workers into the executive suite are not enough online, because they simply don’t translate into virtual leadership. Instead, workers who are organised, dependable and productive take the reins of virtual teams. Finally, doers lead the pack – at least remotely.
The study shows that, instead of those with the most dynamic voices in the room, virtual teams informally anoint leaders who actually do the work of getting projects done. “They are the individuals who help other team members with tasks, and keep the team on schedule and focused on goals,” says lead author Radostina Purvanova, an associate professor of management and leadership at Drake University in the US state of Iowa.