Good Leadership in a Zoom Office Looks Different

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At the beginning of 2020, working remotely was still a semi-misunderstood way of life. Now, for those who can swing it, it's indispensable. Doing our jobs from home and organizing meetings over Zoom has changed a lot about how we work. It's also changed who gets seen as a leader on the team.

Researchers at Brigham Young University have just published a study looking into "emergent leaders," which they define as "those who lack formal authority but are recognized as leaders by team members." That could be the person who organizes meeting minutes or the coworker who keeps the conversation on track. The BYU team spotted an interesting trend among these emergent leaders in the era of COVID-19: Being outgoing and authoritative were not necessarily the most useful traits in online workplaces.

"On a virtual team, it's more important than in a face-to-face meeting to stand out as the one who helps others," said study coauthor Cody Reeves. "Those who take the time to pause and assist others with tasks are more likely to be viewed as leaders."

This won't surprise many women, for one. Previous research has found that leadership qualities that are coded as "feminine," such cooperation and community-mindedness, are generally not rewarded with higher pay and status in the same way that "masculine-coded" traits like assertiveness and competence are. It's one huge reason why diversity initiatives to promote women aren't enough on their own.

The pandemic means one thing, at least: "These are the skills of the future," said lead author Radostina Purvanova. "Those companies that have already embraced virtuality are now reaping the benefits — and the rest of us must catch up quickly, or else we will simply be left behind."