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Population and Sample

Identification of the right sample size is essential for a study. Samples are used to decrease costs, raise accuracy, and enhance the speed of the data-gathering process (Cooper & Schindler, 2008). A nonprobability convenience sample was used for the purposes of this study. With a nonprobability sample, costs and planning time are moderate (Zikmund, 2003). In this work, the population is represented by leaders and employees of international corporations.

The targeted population for this research consisted of subordinates from international organizations. A particular interest was placed on attracting a fair proportion of followers working physically apart from their leaders. In many virtual teams the leading person is a project leader rather than a formal supervisor. Previous research has shown that even if leaders are not disciplinarily superior to subordinates, leader-follower research may still be undertaken (Cole et al., 2009) as the leader may be someone who “acknowledges the focal leader as a continuing source of guidance and inspiration, regardless of whether there is any formal reporting relationship” (Howell & Shamir, 2005, pp. 98-99). For the present research, followers were asked to describe how they perceive the leadership behavior of their direct disciplinary supervisors as it is a potential bias if respondents would have to indicate leadership behaviors of someone other than their formal supervisor.

For this research, business units of international corporations (operating in at least three different countries) formed the context of investigation. All participating units operate headquarters in Switzerland or Liechtenstein. Access to the corporations was established through personal or fellow researchers’ contacts to organizations. In all cases, the HR departments of the entities were approached personally. The study was explained and the HR gatekeepers agreed to contact the targeted group by e-mail. The e-mails contained a brief description of the survey, a link to the online survey, and a sample feedback description as attachment, as well as a preformulated e-mail which could be sent out to participants directly as part of a multistage procedure (Creswell, 2013, p. 148). HR agents asked each leader to randomly select three or more followers, including (if applicable) those working physically apart from them. The pre-formulated e-mail contained a deadline to fill in the survey within seven days. An e-mail reminder was sent to participants after two weeks. Data collection took place from March until June 2014.

Since research includes gathering data from individuals about individuals, ethical issues were addressed prior to the execution of the study (Creswell, 2013). To ensure ethical behavior at all steps throughout the research process, several precautions were taken. Empirical data collection was conducted solely with prior permission of each participating business unit. Consent to pursue the research attempt was provided by the relevant HR gatekeepers. Normal working hours of the business units were considered when sending out the e-mails and they were exclusively sent to candidates that had agreed to participate in the study. No material incentives were promised or given to respondents. It was assured that empirical data is treated confidentially and revealed to the researcher only. The use of codes instead of names to allocate leaders to followers allowed for a high degree of participant confidentiality. Participation was optional and could be discontinued at any time dur?ing the survey. No anticipated risks were involved and participation was voluntary for leaders and followers. Furthermore, discomforts or any inconveniences related to the research were not expected at any time.

Leaders were offered feedback about their leadership behavior and perceptions by followers as an incentive if they were willing to provide their e-mail address at the end of the survey. Feedback has been applied as an incentive in earlier studies (e.g., Hauschildt & Konradt, 2012a). Leaders received feedback only if at least three followers responded to the questionnaire.

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