Leadership in a virtual working environment : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Industrial/Organisational Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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How is effective leadership perceived and understood by followers and how can we understand this to ensure that leaders remain effective in a virtual environment? The results of this study indicate a need for leaders to have both competence with virtual working technologies, both to keep track of current projects using relevant tools, and to collaborate effectively and support their teams. Leaders also needed to be responsive to subordinates needs and proactive in reaching out. Communication tools can enable this and support leaders in maintaining the “human” element of leadership, which can be particularly difficult in a virtual environment. Participants valued leaders being able to demonstrate a level of authenticity rather than having to “put up a front”. Participants also valued empathy, care and understanding of their personal situations, and flexibility around work tasks, especially as virtual working was essentially forced on them overnight. Leaders therefore needed both skills in using communication technology, and interpersonal skills to use it effectively to lead in the virtual working environment.