Summary of implications for effective distance leadership
Figure 15 summarizes the managerial implications described in the previous paragraphs. The key to effective distance leadership lies in the combination of the application of active leadership behavior, the potential to develop high quality relationships, and the maintenance of frequent interaction with followers. In order to get to this stage, three phases can be denoted.
- (1) Initiation. The initial phase describes the first contact between leader and follower as a work team. The individuals get to know each other and exchange their first informal information. To establish a functioning work setting, high input is required by the leader with moderate coordination efforts, as meetings are more likely to be unstructured at the very beginning of their working relationship. Probably the most effective leadership style is of transactional nature, as the leader needs to give direction in terms of what needs to be done and achieved. Yet, elements of transformational leadership should not be missing as the distant individual needs to know the larger vision underlying his or her work and requires guidance in the form of mentorship. The relationship is most likely just about to grow which can be supported by frequent interaction, ideally with rich media, such as face-to-face interaction or videoconferences.
- (2) Regulation. The second phase is characterized by the definition of roles and tasks and, if required, adjustments. Leader and follower have clarified expectations and the follower knows what needs to be done. Proactive development can take place in this phase as leaders and followers will define how to deal with conflicts and emphasize the maintenance of their established structures. The input for leaders at this stage increases for coordination efforts. The follower already knows his duties and the leader functions as a feedback channel and a guide. The most effective leadership style at this stage is suggested to be transformational with transactional elements. As the relationship between leader and follower evolves, facets such as inspirational motivation or intellectual stimulation can foster intrinsic motivation. In terms of communication, leader and follower have established routines, also taking opportunities for informal exchange into account. Examples of those routines can be virtual coffee breaks (informal) and virtual shop-floor meetings (formal) where leader and follower (or team) meet at a defined time regularly to discuss current issues and provide status updates. At best, this is done using a mix of AIT channels.
Figure 15. Implications for Effective Distance Leadership
(3) Optimization. The third phase describes the stage, when leader and follower have established processes of collaboration that have become standardized. Yet, those underlie a process of continuous improvement as, for instance, virtual shop- floor meetings are an established tool to improve and further develop procedures. At this point in time, leaders should be concerned with the development of the employee and provide coaching and mentoring. The task-related input is now rather low, and coordination efforts decrease as follower and leader have established a relationship of mutual trust and support. The leadership behavior with the highest impact can now be described as entailing elements of transformational leadership, superleadership, and self-leadership. Followers at this stage require an environment of autonomy and self-responsibility. The duty of the leader now shifts from leading to encouraging self-leadership of the employee. Both individuals have managed to build a mature relationship that needs to be maintained. Maintenance of relationships is often underestimated. Therefore, it is suggested that at this stage leader and follower maintain a stable level of interaction, using a combination of rich and lean media.
The last chapter of this work presents a summary of the study. This research is subject to several limitations that are addressed subsequently and are outlined according to the different parameters used in this work. Implications for research and practice follow as one major purpose of this work was to assist future researchers and organizational leaders concerned with distance leadership in either a theoretical or practical way.