• August 13th, 2020

Required leadership style in turbulent and uncertain times

Organisational structures

On 17 March 2020, President Hage Geingob declared a state of emergency followed by a lockdown that officially started on 28 March at 14h00 and ends on 17 April 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has infiltrated all spheres of our society and work life. It can therefore reasonably be concluded that globally and for Namibia, it has been business unusual especially for many government and private companies. This article is inspired by one of John Maxwell’s quotes: “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. 
During these turbulent times, citizens and employees are looking for leadership to navigate through these uncertain times. The purpose of this article is to provide some basic tools on how leaders can navigate through these turbulent times and emerge stronger during and after the Covid-19, which is working with virtual teams and providing virtual leadership. Therefore, this article is not about unpacking the term working from home and its labour implications. 
Current time pressures, complexities, rapid change, global competition and the merging of computer and communication technology are facilitating a trend toward the virtual workplace. As the growth in the virtual workplace accelerates, organisations face new challenges to cope with new organisational structures and managerial leadership roles. Of particular relevance to this article, is that the new organisational forms necessitate new management structures, which might be different from mechanistic and organic structures. It also implies that the prevalence of managerial leadership in different organisational structures might be different. 
Organisational structures and designs have been in existence since the 17th century. The purpose of this section is to provide an overview on how organisational structures and the world of work evolved over time. 
This section will focus on the virtual organisation. This business model emanates from a response to unprecedented customer expectations and alternatives, global competition, time compression, complexities, rapid change, and increased use of technology. The virtual organisation is also known as the boundaryless organisation, which is composed of people who are linked by zoom conference facilities, computer team view, video teleconferencing, Skype and many other forms. The virtual organisation is defined as one that is interspersed with external ties, managed with an internal structure of virtual teams that are assembled and disabled according to needs (Lipnack et.al 2001).  

Organisational structures and leadership styles

During this Covid-19 period and beyond, how can virtual leaders manage their teams effectively when they are geographically dispersed? Below are the recommendations, which I found helpful by (Mehtab et.al, 2018).   
The virtual leaders must have the ability to inspire people from long distances and develop self-managing qualities in employees. 
The virtual leaders must know how to cross barriers of culture, time and distances about new changes in places where direct supervision and control is impossible.
 To maintain the high-performance of group across the boundaries, new abilities are required. It is concluded that virtual leaders must be dependent on coaching and not supervision.
Trust and cohesion must be created among team members so that they must identify the common goals and objectives.  
 Leaders should provide such virtual settings in which tasks and relational roles can be assigned and monitored by the authorised/concerned members. 
 Leaders must establish some (sort of) communication standards for internal communication between members so that misinterpretation should be avoided.  
Leaders should have realistic expectations in terms of working hours and availability. One of the many reasons employees appreciate the ability to work on a virtual team is that it could represent greater flexibility. Virtual leaders should be aware of this and be wary to not set unrealistic expectations. For example, it does not mean that a remote employee is slacking off just because he or she does not respond to a message within a few minutes. It could be that the individual has muted message notifications in order to be most productive. Having realistic expectations—and communicating those expectations—will help everyone stay happier in performing their roles.
Leaders should be self-motivated. If a virtual team leader needs a lot of direction, it will be much more difficult to motivate the dispersed team. This person needs to be proactive and needs to plan and act in ways that are deliberate and intentional
 Leaders should select and approve appropriate tools to work to communicate with each other. There must, however, be some flexibility that the user can select and adapt according to his or her needs. 
 A virtual leader must arrange different ceremonies to reward the members such as gifts, cash prizes or certificates of appreciation. Virtual leaders should also practice to give members a gold star for best performance. In this way members recognize the importance of their work and will perform their best in future.  
 The virtual leader should develop an expert’s directory from the onset of a project. This directory should consist of member’s photo, his or her previous experience, training, assignments and professional affiliations.  
 In virtual settings, team members’ skills matrix should be placed at a visible location, and accessible to everyone in order to see what expertise each member is bringing to the team. This type of expertise directory or skills matrix is the best tool to understand the team diversity and to build competency-based trust.   
Be proactive about staying in contact with the dispersed team. This could take any number of forms, such as setting up weekly catch-up calls or having frequent team meetings. No matter how it is done, the virtual leader needs to be proactive about staying in contact with the entire team and staying abreast with what they are working on, how projects are going, what obstacles they are facing, and what they need to perform optimally.
Set and track goals. When teams are not physically in the same location, the main way that employee performance is judged is by outcome. Specific, measurable goals are crucial, and tracking them frequently (i.e., monitoring progress, not just completion) can help to ensure the team members stay on track and that the team leader is able to identify problems before they become catastrophic.
Have great communication skills. There is a lot more room for misunderstandings when you do not have the benefit of tone, facial expressions, and body language to help you decipher what someone means when there is any ambiguity. That means there is a higher chance of having miscommunications if the managers and team members in a virtual team are not excellent communicators. Communication must be clear and precise.
Be proactive about staying in contact with the dispersed team. This could take any number of forms, such as setting up weekly catch-up calls or having frequent team meetings. No matter how it is done, the virtual leader needs to be proactive about staying in contact with the entire team and staying abreast of what they are working on, how projects are going, what obstacles they are facing, and what they need.
Be able to show trust and motivate employees. Virtual leaders must show their team members that they are trusted to get the job done. They must be able to motivate employees to perform at their best.
 Finally, the effective leadership should enhance the team’s experience of each member by confirming that every member has an equal opportunity to learn, to contribute and to grow, so that he/she should feel as an important part of the team.    


The article has attempted to provide an overview of the different organisational structures and leadership styles required in each organisation structure, namely mechanistic, organic and virtual organisation. Based on empirical research, the article concluded that transformational leadership is required but it needs to evolve in virtual leadership to manage virtual teams and virtual organisations. A different skills set is required and the article has highlighted practical steps that the leaders can take to cushion or navigate their employees and organisations during this lockdown period and beyond. Shortcomings of the study are that challenges of virtual organisations are not well outlined due to space but this is an area that needs research and more scholars are invited to make their contributions. 


Staff Reporter
2020-04-07 09:02:21 | 4 months ago

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