ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (6): 886-907.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00886

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The effect of virtual communication styles on leadership emergence

TANG Yipeng1, FAN Wei1, ZHANG Xiao1, WANG Shuhong1, XIONG Shankuo2, PU Xiaoping3   

  1. 1School of Business Administration, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan 430073, China;
    2School of Management, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China;
    3School of Management, Wuhan University of Technology, Wuhan 430070, China
  • Received:2023-09-02 Online:2024-06-15 Published:2024-04-07

Abstract: With the digitalization and flattening of management in organizations, leadership emergence has gradually become a critical force supporting organizational operations. Exploring the mechanisms of leadership emergence within online work teams has become an urgent necessity in current management practices. Existing research extensively investigates leadership emergence mechanisms in traditional contexts, exploring which personality traits contribute to leadership emergence from trait perspective. However, the spatial and temporal dispersion and technology-dependent of online work situations make it difficult for individual trait factors to exert their influence, virtual communication style becomes the most likely feature to influence leadership emergence in online working situations. This study therefore analyzes the mechanism of leadership emergence in online work teams from the perspective of virtual communication styles. This study first explores the characteristics of virtual communication with leadership connotation through implicit leadership theory, describes the key features of virtual communication style in identity system, channel system and interaction system according to the three systematic constructs of communication style, and attempts to build a more systematic and complete theoretical framework through four closely related studies with progressive content.
First, based on the framework of implicit leadership theory, this study proposes that the virtual communication style with leadership connotation refers to the characteristics of the leader prototype in online interaction. The three-system theoretical framework of communication style points out that communication style presents different characteristics in identity system, channel system and interaction system. Therefore, this study proposes that virtual communication style with leadership connotations is a multidimensional conceptualization that presents key features in the identity system, channel system, and interaction system of communication. In order to further verify the leadership connotation contained in these virtual communication styles, this study further proposes that team members can use these virtual communication styles to enhance their social status facilitate relationship building. In addition, this study suggests that the effects of virtual communication are largely influenced by offline interactions, and suggests that the level of underlying trust in a work team and the matching of a team member's virtual and face-to-face communication styles affect the status and leadership emergence of that member by influencing the expectations of other team members towards that member.
Second, based on the theory of leader identity construction, this study explores how employees establish their leader identity in virtual communication. The establishment of a leader's identity occurs through the interpersonal process of a potential leader's assertion of his or her leader identity and the recognition of his or her leader identity by potential followers. This study suggests that employees may allow other team members to identify more with their leadership identity through a virtual communication style with leadership connotations and gain more recognition when making leader identity declarations.
Third, this study adopts a pattern-oriented approach to explore the impact of employees' virtual communication channel choice patterns on leadership emergence. In the online work context, employees can use a variety of channels and ways to communicate virtually, such as adding friends, building group chats, voice messages, and video conferencing. This study concludes that there are qualitative and quantitative differences in an employee's virtual communication channel choice patterns. The virtual communication channel choice patterns presented by this member when communicating with different objects have quantitative differences and qualitative similarities, and the virtual communication channel choice pattern will affect the member's task leadership behavior and social leadership behavior, shaping other members' perceptions of that member and influencing the process of his or her leadership emergence.
Fourth, this study uses a social network perspective to analyze the impact of virtual communication styles on leadership emergence. There are two analytical perspectives of social network modeling, static and dynamic; the static theoretical perspective focuses on analyzing the structural characteristics of the social network and the position of the individual within the network, while the dynamic perspective attempts to explore the changes that occur in the social network. On the static side, virtual communication styles may influence the structural characteristics of team members' social networks and thus affect leadership emergence, which is moderated by the activeness of virtual communication. On the dynamic side, the social network perspective suggests that the process of leadership emergence is viewed as a process of leadership ties building and disappearing, and that virtual communication styles (including: virtual communication initiation, activation, and silence, etc.) are likely to influence changes in leadership ties, and then affect the dynamic process of leadership emergence between initiators and participants.
This study contributes to the literature on leadership emergence by constructing a new and systematic theoretical framework to understand the impact of virtual communication styles on leadership emergence. It also provides a scientific basis for enterprises to make good use of digital media to effectively manage communication.

Key words: leadership emergence, virtual communication style, identity characteristics, channel characteristics, interaction characteristics

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