The five capabilities of virtual leadership

Written by Alistair Gordon 11 Mar 2021

2020 has proved one thing – leading virtually isn’t the same as leading a co-located team. New stuff is needed. New thinking, new techniques, new levels of awareness, and new communication styles. Reading a couple of articles on Google doesn’t cut it. To be the best virtual leaders they can be, your leaders need to understand the five competencies that will maximise their effectiveness, and assess themselves against them.


In October 2020, we researched what was working for those being led virtually, and what wasn’t. We also surveyed leaders to find out what they thought was working. The results were explicit – leading virtually is both harder and different.

Our data suggests five areas of focus for virtual leaders (which we have turned into an online program ):

1. Focus and Performance. The requirement to get the team focused on connection to organisational strategy and the ability to make this a constant and clear inspiration is simultaneously more important and additionally difficult to achieve in a virtual environment. Being able to inspire from afar requires specific techniques and processes.

2. Ensuring Connection. The ability to ensure teams remain connected with each other, and the organisation is now a mainstream responsibility of the leader. But our research suggests the leader taking full responsibility for this is a mistake. Getting the balance right takes common sense and technique.

3. Developing Virtual Teams. It is critical to hang on to our best people more than ever as we pivot to manage the impact of the pandemic. Which means development mustn’t stop. The ability to develop team members virtually is now a critical skill. New methods and thinking need to be applied.

4. Virtual Team Care. Not worrying about what is going on “at home” for our team members is no longer an acceptable behaviour. Whether leaders like it or not, their duty of care for team members has not extended to how things are with them generally. This is a new skill for many leaders – how to balance duty of care while respecting boundaries and privacy of their staff.

5. High Performance Virtual Communication. Communiqué is out (one way communication, from leader to team), as is one communication channel (e.g., only verbal, or only email). Team huddles are one method, but if they are the only method used then leaders are in trouble. Our research tells us that more team meetings aren’t the answer. High performance virtual communication means leaders need to master multiple communication channels for multiple reasons.

These five capabilities, and the various leadership tactics associated with executing them brilliantly, are explored in detail in our Virtual Leadership Playbook, available as a key component of our Virtual Leader program.


Leaders can read as many articles about virtual leadership as they like, but the real first step in changing behaviours is valid self-assessment.

Our Virtual Leader program enables leaders to self-assess with a unique virtual leadership assessment based on these five research-based competencies. Leaders can then use our Virtual Playbook to work out what proven new leadership techniques they need to apply to be the best virtual leader they can be.

Need a quick briefing on how to deploy Virtual Leader in your organisation? Or want a free license to check it out? Contact us to arrange a personal briefing.

In the meantime, check out our free research report here.

Download our Virtual Playbook, the ultimate guide to leading online teams