Building Understanding of How Virtual Environments Impact Leadership

Place and space concepts help to illuminate how the place an organization inhabits and related beliefs have a significant impact on leadership processes. While places often have a physical presence, a sense of place is socially constructed by those who interact in it. Authors Gordon B. Schmidt and Stephanie A. Van Dellen reflect on their article, “Leadership of place in virtual environments,” in Leadership which offers analysis of how virtual environments can be seen as socially constructed places and how that conceptualization impacts leadership, both in the environment acting as a leadership substitute and how people engage in virtual leadership.

We’re happy to share our research on how virtual environments impact leaders. We look at how virtual environments can be seen as socially constructed places that impact how people behave and how leadership can function. With so much of work and life happening online today (even pre-COVID-19) we feel there is an important need to understand how virtual environment are impacting leadership.  We see influence and leadership relationships present in how political leaders communicate on social media, how social media influencers build community online, and how the gig economy is utilizing computer applications as leaders. A lot of leadership behaviors are happening through email, social media and Zoom. We wanted to explore how these different technology offer opportunities and challenges for people engaging in leadership.

Gordon B. Schmidt and Stephanie A. Van Dellen
Gordon B. Schmidt, left, and Stephanie A. Van Dellen

We feel that the paper makes a real contribution to understanding this new domain of leadership done virtually and offers a fruitful area for more research related to space and place to focus on. We plan to do more work in this area and expand on various aspects of our theory. As with most papers, a lot of concepts and ideas were left on the cutting room floor as we needed to focus our argument and contribution. There is a lot more work that could be done related to the shared leadership aspects of virtual places and leadership in the gig economy alone could use coverage across multiple papers.

We enjoyed working with our editor and reviewers at Leadership in helping to form this paper. When working in such a new area one of the biggest difficulties is figuring out what is relevant to our question and bringing together knowledge and scholarship from so many different disciplines. Our reviewers helped to identify important areas we should integrate into the paper.  As a theoretical paper so much of the need is thinking deeply on the topic and we spent a lot of time talking through the concepts and what was essential to our examination. Lots of Zoom time!

We want to thank authors of papers that were influential in our creation of this paper. Suze Wilson has a great paper in this journal on New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 that we built on some of its social media related aspects. Landers and Marin did a recent Annual Review article related to theory and technology that became a big part of our own framing. Elizabeth Wilhoit Larson has a cool paper on where people see their organization existing in Management Communication Quarterly that helped inform our thinking. And of course many others work impacted this paper.

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Gordon Schmidt and Stephanie A Van Dellen

Gordon Schmidt is an associate professor and current chair of the Organizational Leadership department at Purdue University Fort Wayne (formerly IPFW), with his primary research area being the Future of Work, with a focus on how social media is changing the nature of company-employee relations today. Stephanie Van Dellen is an associate professor at Purude University Fort Wayne, specializing in leadership, learning, training & development, mentoring, research & data collection, recruitment, onboarding new staff members, event coordination, and organizational culture.

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