Virtual Leadership

By Salma Howeedy of Social Impact, with illustrations by Zeyna Anderson

In this second installment of our “Everyday Leadership with GHPOD II” series, Salma Howeedy offers practical advice for leading teams in a virtual workspace. The GHPOD II team works around the globe, offering training and coaching on topics like those featured in this series. 

How is leadership changing for you and your organization in our increasingly virtual world? Tell us all about it in the comments.


The digital age is changing the fundamental human processes that underlie leadership—influencing and motivating others. Does leading a team virtually require the same skills as leading a traditional, in-person team? What are some critical skills for leaders in a virtual work environment?

It’s hard to expect leadership to remain unchanged while technology evolves so rapidly around us and affects the way we work. The prevailing mindset—that work is someplace you go, not something you do—is simply not compatible with this day and age.

How can you be an effective leader when technology can so easily replace direct human connection?

Skills Every Virtual Team Leader Needs
  • Be self-motivated: This will not only boost your personal productivity, but also influence the productivity and motivation of your team members. Otherwise, your team will notice your lack of zeal, and you’ll see the effects in their performance. Productivity is contagious! Find ways to stay motivated, focused, and excited about your work.
  • Be proactive: Staying in touch with your team can take many forms, depending on your leadership style. You might set up weekly check-in calls to discuss the progress of tasks, or have virtual “office hours” where team members can reach out more informally with questions or to talk through challenges they’re facing. No matter how you do it, a virtual leader needs to be proactive about staying in touch and staying engaged with the team. This requires skillful communication and the ability to use technology to your advantage, especially virtual collaboration tools like Zoom and Skype that allow screen sharing and video calling.
  • Recognize achievements: Team members’ contributions, no matter how big or small, can sometimes be overlooked when a supervisor or team lead is not there in person to react right away with an affirming comment. As a virtual leader, find ways to consistently recognize your team’s efforts and achievements.
  • Set and track expectations and goals: Agree on specific, measurable goals with your team and track them frequently. Monitoring progress on a particular task—not just its completion—helps you, as a leader, ensure the success of the project. It also helps keep other team members on track. Doing this empowers you to identify problems or challenges early on, and gives you a chance to offer extra assistance if someone is feeling overwhelmed.
Sometimes Out of Sight, but Never Out of Mind

These skills are essential for fostering a sense of connection in many contexts. As a virtual leader, you might miss out on random hallway chatter and potluck lunches, but there are many ways to stay connected with your team. You won’t have to suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” as long as you remain intentional and engaged in your interactions with your team.