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Monday, April 15, 2013

Communication Abilities of Leaders in the Virtual World



Today’s electronic world offers advantages to capitalize on leadership communication. With a majority of colleges offering online classes and organizations increasingly using virtual commuting the effectiveness of leadership and communication has not been studied to a sufficient level. Such online mediums have the power to transform environments as messages spread faster and quicker than ever before. Research has highlighted how leadership communication styles and implicit language is perceived by employees and students in virtual communication. 

According to Hoyt and Blascovich (2003) transformational leadership has a significant impact on online groups. The same leadership methodology in real life applies in the virtual world as the same basic mechanics apply. Such leaders are able to encourage new ways of thinking, are able to adjust their leadership style to the situation, and can help people imagine a vision. 

No amount of communication ability can change the fundamentals of leadership. However, there does appear to be a natural connection between the transformational style and the virtual world. Such leaders are charismatic, arouse enthusiasm, loyalty, and trust (Schermerhorn, 2002). People sense their style even in the virtual world as pieces and bits of it make their way across the airwaves. 

Such leadership can be seen as the following (Avolio, Bass, & Jung (1999):


  • 1.)    Idealized Influence-role models
  • 2.)    Inspirational Motivation-Give meaning to others.
  • 3.)    Intellectual Stimulation-Be creative and question old beliefs.
  • 4.)    Individualized Consideration-Concerned with individual needs.


Virtual communication is an enhancement to previous methods of communication. The differences lay in the amount of information a person may receive over the virtual airways versus in person. Such interactive technology is a major boost over the one way communication abilities of the television. People can now respond, vote, tweet, text and use other methods of furthering the network of the messages giving greater influence to the leader.

The nature of communication and the focus of the messaging are very important in creating effective group leadership. A study of teenagers using virtual communication found that those who referred to the group goals above themselves had a greater following (Cassell, Huffaker, Tversky, & Ferriman, 2006). This helps highlight the concept that effective leadership is more about “what” versus “who”. “What” is the message and solution while “who” is the communicative ability of the individual.  

Chanel-Expansion Theory describes how leaders ability to connect with followers in ever expanding new ways that develop new methods of communicating. The messages in virtual communication create implicit coding that is picked up by followers once they have developed appropriate cognitive schemas of the speaker (Carlisle & Phillips, 1984). In other words, once the follower understands the communication style of the leader and begins to follow their messages they can tune into implicit messaging. 

A study conducted by Salter, et. al. (2010) tested the influence of follower personality on the assessment of the leader in a virtual classroom. In the study 306 participants filled out two surveys providing for 612 total responses. The first survey assessed viewer impression of a leader (Leader 1) who used transformational language while the second survey assessed viewer impression of a leader (Leader 2) who used less transformational language. 

Results: 

-Viewers depicted Leader 1 to be more transformational than Leader 2.
-There were slight differences between males and females in the assessment.
-Females found language to be less passive and more charged.
-Those with conscientious personalities may find additional transformational messages than those who were not.

Analysis for Virtual Communication:

The language used within organizations impacts the perceptions of employees. Certain types of employees will be attracted to different types of leadership styles. Once employees have some familiarity with the style of a leader they will begin to pick up on subtle cues and language uses in order to determine additional meaning. Women and sensitive types pick up on language cues much more easily and readily than many males or non-sensitive types. This may be one reason why women are more turned off by certain kinds of messages when compared to males. Virtual organizations and marketing experts should be aware of the type of language they are using so as to either improve organizational efficiency through proper communication or attract the right customers to their organization. Virtual professors should be aware of their language use so as to not thwart engagement and motivation with students.

Avolio, B. J., Bass, B. M., & Jung, D. I. (1999). Re-examining the components of transformational and transactional leadership using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 72(4), 441–462.

Carlisle & Phillips, D. (1984). The effects of enthusiasm training on selected teacher and student behaviors in pre-service physical education teachers. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 4(1), 164–175.

Cassell, J., Huffaker, D., Tversky, D., & Ferriman, K. (2006). The language of online leadership: Gender and youth engagement on the Internet. Developmental Psychology, 42(3), 436–449.

Hoyt, C. (2003). Transformational and transactional leadership in virtual and physical environments. Small Group Research, 34 (6). 

Salter, C., Green, M., Duncan, P. Berre, A. & Torti, C. (2010). Journal of Leadership Studies, 4 (2).
Schermerhorn, J. (2002). Management. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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