Shepherd Style Leadership in the Online Space. Is it Possible?
The emergence of the internet creating an online world was an innovation that ushered in many changes. Layered on meeting online is the virtual reality experience where movement in the physical world is transposed to action in the virtual world. The sensation is so realistic that falling into the virtual world creates a psychological sense of falling into the physical world (Ghaffary, 2021). Consequently, leadership theory must be revisited in the context of the online/virtual environment, especially since COVID-19 forced many organizations to adopt an online and remote work environment (Alvarez-Risco et al., 2022). Top brass and leaders of organizations realized that working in an online space with remote people presented new interaction dynamics (Lee et al., 2018), which influenced and changed relationships compared to the related experience in the real world.
Shepherd leadership is one of many leadership theories and is identifiable from the other styles because of its distinct features. Unlike leadership styles, this leader invests much more emotional capital into relationships with followers (Anselmus Dami, 2021). With virtual/online meetings, there is geographical distance, making the everyday interactions associated with shepherd leadership anecdotally seem unlikely to happen in the online/virtual space.
The Problem Statement
The general problem to be addressed is the transferability of leadership skills from in-person settings resulting in the ability to observe those same skills influencing followers in the online/virtual environment. Singh (2022) shares the challenge of conducting Leadership as usual in the online experience during COVID-19. In their research, Alvarez-Risco et al. (2022) shared that Leadership in the business-as-usual style had to change when those being led were not within geographic proximity. Anselmus (2021) says shepherd leaders focus on nurturing human relationships, and this leader invests much more emotional capital into relationships with followers. The specific problem to be addressed is the likelihood that shepherd leaders will switch from their usual shepherd leadership style to other leadership styles to compensate for the lack of direct human interaction in the online/virtual space because of geographical distance and interaction with a person's representation via a profile or avatar, rather than with the human.
The importance of the study
Unlike transactional Leadership, in which the completion of tasks or results can be successfully measured, shepherd leadership is an emotional investment to nurture followers. The theory of shepherd leadership and its practice will be fundamental to identifying ways this leadership style could be implemented in online/virtual experiences (Boloje, 2020). Coaches primarily build relationship connections with their clients/followers in the physical world through in-person interaction at the office or vacation setting retreats with online meetings as a supplement to real-life relationships. Building deep, emotionally invested relationships online did not seem possible through an online connection until recently. The potential to build relationships with clients online in a significant way and still influence followers to identify, reveal, and polish their God-given talent and passion would allow PSI to expand its brand and its service reach. Shepherd leadership influence over online personas does not seem anecdotally possible.
I saw a virtual reality baptism of a convert to Christianity by Pastor via his Avatar persona ("A Real," 2019). These experiences, plus my interest in online Leadership and leading followers in the online arena, triggered many resources on those topics into my newsfeed as social media's social listening techniques read my searches and hear my conversations (Pomputius, 2019). While the social listening resources would not qualify as academic references for research purposes, they did help to influence and expand my awareness and perspectives on the matter of shepherd leadership and online Leadership. Consequently, my view influences the research approach, even though I must use academic resources and strategies to justify the study.
This study is underway and will not be completed much before December 2024. Stay tuned for research updates.
A real pastor in virtual reality baptizes an anime girl. YouTube. (2019, May 19). Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://youtu.be/N_88DBmdnNA
Alvarez-Risco, A., Del-Aguila-Arcentales, S., Rosen, M. A., & Yáñez, J. A. (2022). Social cognitive theory to assess the intention to participate in the Facebook metaverse by citizens in Peru during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Open Innovation, 8(3), 142.
Anselmus Dami, Z. (2021). Informal teacher leadership: Lessons from shepherd leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1-30.
Boloje, B. O. (2020). Micah's shepherd-king (mi 2:12–13): An ethical model for reversing oppression in leadership praxis. Verbum Et Ecclesia, 41(1), 1-7.
Lee, Y., Hsieh, Y., Hsiao, C., & Lin, C. (2018). From virtual worlds to reality: Moderating and mediating mechanisms between online and offline Leadership. Information Technology & People (West Linn, Or.), 31(2), 557-577.
Pomputius, A. (2019). Can you hear me now? Social listening as a strategy for understanding user needs. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 38(2), 181-186.