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Want to Be Perceived as a Leader? Improve This Basic Tech Skill.

Researchers have found that people who are proficient at this one workplace ability are more likely to be seen as leaders of virtual teams.


You may have many of the traits of a successful leader -- decisiveness, persistence and a knack for problem-solving -- but can you translate those skills to a virtual setting?


Among the crucial traits for leaders is effective communication, a skill that can be difficult to master via technology. When collaborating over email or instant messaging, you can't read someone's body language, just the words they send. Online communication comes with its own set of etiquette and understanding of how to convey emotion and nuance. But even if you can master those elements, it's important to be able to communicate quickly. That's according to researchers at the University of Iowa, who recently conducted a study and found that fast typers are more likely to be perceived as leaders by their colleagues.

The researchers set out to determine how an individual's ability to communicate might influence his or her likelihood of being seen as a leader by his or her team. Specifically, they sought to see how a person's text-based communication skills would factor into his or her role within a remote-working team.

Related: Why CEO Really Means Being Chief Communication Officer

They divided 344 participants into teams of four. Some teams were dispersed into four rooms, while some were paired up in two rooms and some were in a group of three with the fourth member located in another room. The teams pretended to be Hollywood studio execs and were tasked with reading marketing studies to help them decide which scripts to produce. Team members placed in different rooms could communicate with their assigned colleagues only via text.

Afterwards, the participants answered a series of questions, including one in which they rated the leadership abilities of their colleagues. The researchers observed that those with a stronger typing ability (taking into account both speed and accuracy) were more likely to be perceived as leaders.

"One explanation is that individuals who can type fast are simply able to communicate more information within a given period of time," said study leader Steve Charlier, who is now an associate professor at Georgia Southern University, in a summary of the findings. "In turn, adept users of electronic communication are more likely to set strategy, drive conversations and influence work teams as a whole."

Related: 7 Communication Skills Every Entrepreneur Must Master

To level the playing field, encourage any teams you're a part of or that you oversee to use videoconferencing tools when possible for matters that require more in-depth discussions. The best leaders understand how to choose the most appropriate medium, be it email or instant messaging, based on the context and urgency of the conversation. Also, don't make the mistake of hoarding information out of fear that you'll inundate your team with too many messages or in an attempt to maintain control. Share information freely and transparently to build trust with your team, and use collaboration tools such as Google Drive or Dropbox to help.

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