Research project: What are the key digital communication skills demonstrated by effective virtual leaders? January 26, 2017 February 1, 2017 Gill Brabner

I’m interested in understanding the skills of effective virtual leaders in relation to digital communication.  In other words what are they doing to communicate effectively to their virtual teams who are geographically dispersed, working from home, and on the move?

I’ve used the first four of Tracy’s (2010) Eight Critiera for Excellent Qualitative Research to help me construct this proposal plus a paragraph on ethics (number 7 in Tracy’s list)

1.  Is this a worthy topic?

Managers and leaders are increasingly managing teams who are geographically dispersed, within different time zones, working from home and on the move.  By studying the skills, tools and behaviours used by leaders considered to be effective, I am hoping to share a number of insights with young and new to role managers and leaders to support this important transition period in their careers.

I believe this topic meets Tracy’s critiera of relevant, timely, significant and interesting.

2.  Rich Rigour

The first consideration is to understand what I mean by ‘effective’.  How can a leader’s efectiveness be measured? There are a number of tools that business use to determine competence, these include attaining individual and team targets (KPIs) and 360 degree feedback.  These tools would support organisations to identify research subjects for this research, which would be voluntary.

I would aim to identify 12 subjects from 3 different organisations

Data collection would come from:

  • interviews with research subjects

  • examining language and structure used in the organisation’s social learning forums

  • identifying the full extent and use of digital communication tools used by effective leaders

Interviews and online communication would be transcribed and analysed for themes.  The interview process and data analysis would be discussed in the research report.  Consideration will also need to be given to the organisation’s own culture and norms and how this may have impacted on the leader’s communication style.

3.  Sincerity

This requires self-reflexive practices throughout the research project, with an emphasis on including commentary about subjective feelings and sense-making in the field notes. This approach is a good fit with the research topic as leaders need to continuely monitor their own feelings and sense-making as part of their role. Transparency would be achieved by documenting the research journey, an audit trail and acknowledging all those involved.

4.  Credibility

For the research to have credibility, descriptions must include the organisation’s culture and norms and how they impact on the approach used by the research subject. Reader’s will require enough detail in order to reach their own conclusions about the creibility of the research.


And…..Ethical Considerations

This research project raises a number of ethical issues. The risks are mitigated slightly by the research question which is presented in positive terms i.e. analysing the behaviours of successful leaders. However there are risks associated with professional and elite interviews which apply to this project such as voluntary participation and confidentiality.  Written consent will be required along with the right to amend interview transcripts.

  1.  The process by which the research sample has been chosen

  2. Participants must be volunteers.  This needs careful consideration within the organisational context – people must be free not to participate

  3. Participants must be fully informed of the purpose, method and possible uses of the research


Tracy, S. J. 2010. “Qualitative Quality: Eight ‘Big-Tent’ Criteria for Excellent Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 16 (10): 837–851.