Covid-19 brought about unexpected changes in the business world, some of which have been recently adopted and made policy. One of the most common trends that found a place in today’s workplace is remote working, where employees are allowed to work from home. This report will explore the challenges leaders face following the ongoing remote working setting and evaluate various traditional and contemporary leadership theories that could be applied in the situation.
2 Challenges Facing Leaders
Remote working has proven to be an asset for most companies today as their workforce remained productive during the pandemic, whereas the movement of people was limited. Nonetheless, despite becoming a necessity, it still posed considerable challenges to leaders and business owners in different sectors, including the Meta world. According to Parker et al. (2020), managers have reported struggling with trust issues since they cannot “see” the other staff members directly. The leaders often doubt whether the employees are indeed working, which could lead to unreasonable expectations that employees are available at all times, which would ultimately disrupt the work-home balance achieved and lead to job stress (Lilian, 2014). More or less, the leaders become obsessed with leveraging the performance of all employees, leading them to micromanage their teams. Communication is also a key issue for team leaders, and there is often a need to optimise technologies to improve communication and improve collaboration among employees. Leaders have a more difficult time cultivating stronger relationships than working from the office since employees are isolated and disconnected under remote working conditions (Kniffin et al., 2021). Additionally, the leaders are not in a good position to build or reinforce the company’s culture as they would have done working on-site. Finally, performance evaluation is vital for leaders managing remote teams today. In most cases, the leaders are forced to depend on self-evaluations, which might not be more conclusive as compared to the evaluations they may conduct at the workplace (Kniffin et al., 2021).
3 Evaluation of the Traditional Leadership Traits and Practices
As various scholars have noted over the years, leadership is one of the most studied social sciences, yet it is the least understood. The need to study it crops from the fact that it is applicable to the day-to-day livelihood. This part of the research will explore the usability of traditional leadership theories under remote working conditions.
3.1 Trait Theory of Leadership
The trait theory is one of the most famous traditional theories. It is based on the presumption that a good leader is judged based on his/her innate characteristics and methods. According to Dahlgaard et al. (1997), the most effective leadership styles/traits include team builders, captain, strategies, creative, and impulsive. Therefore, the leadership profile of these leaders is composed of multiple styles, even though a leader may show a preference for one style over the other. This means that the distinguishing factors are the traits that set leaders apart from their followers, including their personality traits, skills, values, and abilities.
The leader traits theory has a number of strengths that would allow it to manage teams working remotely. According to Northhouse (2021), the theory is intuitively appealing and backed by centuries of research in the field. By providing a repertoire of syles, strengths, skills, and so forth allow managers to assess their strengths and weaknesses to the extent that they can improve their leadership effectiveness. For instance, traits like personality, skills, and knowledge are key tele-cooperation capabilities, dependability, and self-management. In fact, the traits are seen to overlap, making teams competent (Northhouse, 2021). In as much as the trait theory is strong and offers promise in virtual teams working remotely, the traits of a leader do not guarantee the overall personality of a leader. This is confirmed by the fact that the theory does not elucidate the relationship between traits, behaviour, and overall performance. Additionally, since remote working is uncharted territory for leaders today, it is important to note that there is no specific style usable in various situations (Northhouse, 2021). This means that the traits theory may not be entirely useful under such circumstances.
3.2 Contingency (Situational) Leadership Theory
The contingency theory came as a result of the recognition that the environment plays an essential role in the leader-follower dynamic. The theory proposes that leadership depends on the situation rather than traits and behaviours. Therefore, the leader assesses the context of their operation before deciding the style that fits such a situation (Northhouse, 2021). Leadership, in this case, involves solving problems based on three key concerns, including quality of the decision, degree of acceptance of the decision by subordinates, and the time frame for the decision made. Therefore, contingency would play an important role for the leaders while working with remote teams since it is developed based on the situation and current issues. Fiedler (1967) proposed that the leadership style may be contextual; however, the decision made is either task-oriented or relationship-oriented, depending on the situating factors.
The contingency theory has various strengths that make it suitable for use in remote teams. In addition to the vast amount of empirical research supporting it, the theory broadens the understanding of leadership by introducing context to decision-making. The theory also offers important insights as to how leaders ought to respond to their contexts (Northhouse, 2021). The contingency approach is quite valuable for virtual teams working remotely since the virtual environment is more complicated than face-to-face and on-site communications. This demonstrates that it is likely to boost the overall performance of the teams since the decisions are flexible and adjusted depending on the situation (Northhouse, 2021). In as much as the theory offers the strengths identified above, leaders of remote teams need to be aware of issues like the fact that it is reactive as opposed to proactive, which means that the leader will only be responding after an issue has come up. Additionally, the leader is required to know all courses of action available to them before making decisions in the situation; however; this is not always feasible in the real world.
3.3 Laissez-Faire (Delegative) Leadership Theory
Delegative leadership is another interesting traditional leadership approach that is applicable to working with remote teams. According to Phillips (2017), laissez-faire is a French expression that means “leave alone” in English, meaning that the leader or organisation is not free to regulate or meddle with the teams; instead, the decisions are made by the followers or employees. Therefore, this leadership style is prevalent among those who are aware of their team members’ capabilities and the task at hand. As a result, they may not require any direction (Maher, 2014, pp.163-164). This leadership style has a number of benefits, one of which is that the leader can increase efficiency by taking a directive role and encouraging his staff to be more efficient. However, if workers adopt the mindset that their employees are uninterested in their work, their efforts and devotion may diminish, making this strategy unsuccessful (Phillips, 2017). Additionally, because this style of leadership provides little to no chance for staff development, it may demotivate the remote workers (Phillips, 2017). Though Meta executives could adopt this strategy, they should exercise caution in its application and ensure that the team members working remotely are aware of the expectations. Even in traditional office environments, employees often work independently.
4 Comparing and Contrasting Traditional Leadership Theories with Contemporary Leadership Styles and Traits
As businesses evolve over time, more sophisticated leadership theories have been developed to contend with modern-day changes and situations. As a result, comparing traditional and contemporary leadership styles and traits will provide an understanding of changes that need to be instituted to make them applicable to remote teams. Some of the key contemporary theories of interest include transformational, transactional, and servant leadership.
4.1 Transformational Leadership
The transformational leadership model is one of the most effective theories in the workplace today. It is defined as an approach to leadership that aims at bringing about changes in individuals and social systems. The transformational leader possesses four key traits: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass and Riggio, 2006). Ideally, a transformational leader tries to create valuable and positive changes in the followers with the aim of grooming the followers to become future leaders. Therefore, it combines motivation, morale, and performance of the followers by appealing to their sense of identity and self to the mission and the company’s collective identity (Bass and Riggio, 2006). As a result, the transformational leader fosters strong relationships in the workplace, serves as an ideal influence to staff members, motivates employees, encourages them to learn and stimulates creativity, and reduces employee turnover. The team’s overall performance is optimised since the employees are aligned with tasks, and their morale is boosted as well (Dionne et al., 2004). Despite these benefits, transformational leadership is limited by several factors. One of the core limitations is that it has restricted applicability in specific cases since it is not a one-size-fits-all leadership style. According to Gupta and Krishnan (2004), its applicability and effectiveness depend on the cultural context of the leadership situation. In other cases, the style leads to unnecessarily high pressure on followers, especially if the leader employs an authoritarian approach.
4.2 Servant Leadership
The second theory that will be examined in this section is referred to as servant leadership. It is a leadership style and philosophy where the leader interacts with others to achieve authority instead of power and ensure optimal performance. The primary concern of the leader is ensuring the growth and well-being of people and employees (Dennis et al., 2010). As opposed to simply compelling employees to perform in a certain manner, the leader serves as the servant. This revolutionary leadership approach puts employees at the top of the hierarchy while the leaders are at the bottom serving the employees. The serve-first mentality adopted by these leaders acts as a means of empowering and uplifting employees. Therefore, rather than commanding, they serve; instead of asserting their authority, they show humility and oversee the development of their employees (Van Dierendonck, 2011). Such an approach is beneficial since it encourages employees to be their best, and therefore, the overall performance of teams is high. Additionally, it encourages employees to show empathy and grooms other employees into leaders since they are motivated to serve others as well (Dennis et al., 2010). The team’s morale is also optimally high, which allows them to perform well. Nonetheless, this approach to leadership is limited by factors like the fact that it takes more time to build servant leadership since the team members must be engaged, and the leader needs to take time to learn how to engage them. Apart from that, teams can easily lose sight of the goal under such circumstances, a factor that may be aggravated when teams are working remotely. The role of the leaders is also less as the leader may not want to conflict or appear overbearing over the team members.
4.3 Comparison of Temporary to Contemporary Leadership Theories
The first contemporary leadership theory explored in this report is the transformational leadership style, and considerable contrast can be drawn from traditional leadership theory. One of the key contrasts that can be drawn from transformational leadership is that it does not prescribe any specific traits of a leader as compared to theories like the trait theory. To some extent, transformational leaders apply contingency/situational leadership skills to the extent that they act depending on their context. This means that before the transformational leader makes the decision, especially regarding the management or motivation of employees, they assess their context to ensure that the final decision is optimal (Dionne et al., 2004). In fact, transformational leadership skills and attributes, including fostering strong relationships in the workplace, serves as an ideal influence on staff members, motivating employees, encouraging them to learn, and stimulating creativity can be applied depending on the specific context (Watson, 2007). The context, in this case, is that the employees are working from home, and the typical rules that define the on-site workplace do not apply, meaning transformative actions that promote the performance of employees can be ensured.
Additional contrast can be made between servant leadership and Laissez-Faire. The two theories are quite similar, especially considering that team members are empowered and supported to perform at their capacity level. As opposed to simply giving directives and commanding people to act in certain ways, servant leaders and Laissez-Faire give the team members a higher level of autonomy and an opportunity to explore their creativity in a conducive environment (Yang, 2015). Such attributes are likely to motivate and increase the morale of team members and give them an opportunity to showcase their abilities. Additionally, such autonomy empowers employees to showcase their talents and perform optimally in the different roles. To some extent, the servant leadership style and approach seem to be an improvement of the trait theory that was proposed initially. The key skills and abilities, including being team builders, captain, strategies, creative, and impulsive, are all attributes of servant leaders, making it essential when building virtual teams working remotely (Washington et al., 2014).
As expressed in this discussion, no specific leadership theory can fully resolve all the problems that managers face. This explains why the different leadership theories are evolving over time as a better understanding of essential leadership skills is identified. However, given that these leadership theories have inherent weaknesses, applying a hybrid leadership style and approach has the best chance of succeeding. More or less, this means combining both traditional and contemporary leadership approaches, including traits theory, laissez-faire, situational theory, transformational leadership, and servant leadership. The benefits of each leadership approach could allow leaders to understand how to overcome the challenges they have encountered in the context of each style. More specifically, I would advocate for the combination of situational leadership with transformational leaders and traits theory to resolve challenges such as poor communication, trust issues, and assess performance effectively. For leaders working with remote teams, some of the core skills and abilities that could be borrowed from the three theories include (but are not limited to) overall personality, empathy, positive influence, contingent to online workplaces, becoming an ideal influence on staff, leading by example, being open to suggestions from workers, and so forth. Therefore, as opposed to rigidly applying one leadership approach, the leaders could follow several to ensure that they boost the overall performance of remote teams.
Working remotely is a trend that has recently become the norm; therefore, leaders and companies need to find better ways to work with the complications that come with it. That is, contemporary leaders need to know the skills and capabilities they need to showcase in the workplace. Combining the skills and abilities of contemporary and traditional leadership theories would help to overcome the challenges that the leaders face.
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