Space in correlation with Leadership: How space shapes the work of leaders in times of Covid-19 and beyond

Fall 2020, Leadership the ”Flying Carpet”:
Health, Time, Space and Vision

Special Issue December  2020
Basic Leadership Skills course – The Apple and The Candle

  • 1 leadership journey:  semester Fall 2020
  • 4 communities: Health – Time – Space – Vision
  • 1 title: Fall 2020, Leadership the ” Flying Carpet”: Health, Time, Space and Vision
  • 4 articles:
    #Health and Leadership: how our wellbeing influences our leadership styles
    #Time and cultivating Leadership
    #Space in correlation with Leadership: How space shapes the work of leaders in times of Covid-19 and beyond
    #Vision and its connection to Leadership


Space in correlation with Leadership:
How space shapes the work of leaders in times of Covid-19 and beyond

Student-Authors of the course Basic Leadership Skills – Fall 2020

SPACE:  Community Space Travelers

Xiao Jiyao (China), Sabrina Kuehn (Germany) Anu Maharjan (Nepal), Clara Marmier (France), Juliette Perrot (France), Charlotte Rekers (Netherlands), Bora Sen (Germany), Marcella Zoccoli (JAMK University of Applied Sciences)

Student Editor-in-chief Fall 2020: Juliette Perrot



Space in terms of leadership refers to the growth of a leader and its followers as well as how well a leader understands or can lead its members towards goals or through progress. Working with a good leader motivates a team to produce desired outcomes. Whereas when a team is led by a bad leader, members get demotivated and that results in bad performance.

However, “space” in general can be understood in many ways depending on the person, his background, and knowledge. Some people link more likely spatial distance to it whereas others immediately think about the universe, for example. A similar applies to leadership. Every leader approaches leadership in a different way and uses various methods, theories, and thought-provoking impulses to create his individual leadership style. On the opposite, every employee who is led by his superior has different expectations of a good leader. Those expectations are often formed by personal experiences and individual needs for a comfortable and effective working atmosphere. The biggest challenge of a leader is to combine his approach to lead with the numerous expectations of his team.

This report aims to explain the context between space and leadership and examines the relationship between these two dimensions. For that purpose, several questions on different aspects of leadership and space arise. In the following, it is tried to answer them by applying both academic examined theories as well as personal experiences among leadership and by combining them with possible new approaches in leadership.


How do people see space in terms of language and distance?


Space can be interpreted in different ways in terms of language and distance whereas different cultures and different languages go hand in hand. It is not just the different language that is significant, it is also the paralanguage, which is the contrast between verbal and non-verbal communication. It involves sounds but not words, e.g.: ups, ahas, and uhm (Jessen, 2020) as well as how long people are waiting before the other person speaks to give time to answer. When looking to distance in terms of space and leadership, it has two sorts. A distance in ‘space’ is how far are people standing from each other, what is respectful, what is seen as professional. But also, the space in terms of private, office, and public spaces. Since we communicate through our use of private, office, and public spaces, our private space is defined and influenced by social status, age, and level of authority. While public space is considered as behaviors in public spaces and they are carried over into offices and business practices. Lastly, office space refers to cultures that value a big personal space and value large and private offices (Jessen, 2020).


Are there differences in space between different companies, people, or different cultures? 

In leadership, space has a lot of different meanings, which will be explained in the following.  According to the US anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the professional distance between two people is between 1.20 m and 3.60 m. But depending on the country, the personal distance can vary from 0.45m and 1.35m. Therefore, for some people, the personal distance is bigger than the professional distance of another country. That is why the culture of employees can have an impact on the space between team members in a company. To add, the behavior as well. Handshakes can differ from country to country. Whether it is closer or further or the fact that having eye contact with the manager is respectful in Europe while it is disrespectful in Asia (Hadjikhani, 2015).

Space can also be between the leader and the employees if he/she is close to the employees or not. In countries like France, Belgium, Arab countries, and sub-Saharan Africa, this distance is big. There is a real hierarchy, and the leader is not close to employees. Some of these countries are using the ‘Vous’ form, it is a polite form of address. But in Anglo-Saxon countries, Scandinavian countries and even in Germany this hierarchy is smaller. So, the leader is more equal to the employees than in the other type of hierarchy. That is why the leader can influence the space between people. For example, Steve Jobs did the ‘walking around’ in the open space, where everybody shares the same place. He could see all his employees, to show himself and not be far from them.

But even if people are closer in space, talking about your private life or being close with your colleagues is not always possible, in the USA it is, but for some other countries, you cannot mix professional and private life.


How is space important for being a leader? And how to deal with it?


“Space is the breath of art” – Frank Llyod Wright


To create something, you need space. Whether it is in life or in business (Anderson, 2020). Vijay Raju (2016) claims that “Leadership is not about the individual”. He continues that followership is not the opposite of leadership but in fact an integral component of leadership. Having this point of view one can see that this idea holds both, the leader and the follower, in the same space. That is the reason why the distance between them is eliminated.

Holding space is important because leadership itself is space. It is the place where people come together to express themselves and realize their individual and group potential (Raju, 2016).

Just with his presence, a leader influences those he is surrounded with. Therefore, leaders should leave certain space for others to “talk, decide and lead “(Webb, 2017). Other than that, holding space is not about coaching others. One is accepting the strengths and the weaknesses of others and shares the journey with them (Anderson, 2020). When it turns out well, holding space will create growth and self-exploration within the team (Anderson, 2020) and in the best scenario, there is the potential to create something from nothing (McCallum, 2017)

Beyond that, holding space is not just about giving time to others. Additionally, one should also try to hold back the rest of the world. Surely, this is more difficult to accomplish when the team members are working from home. It would be easier when the team would work in an office space. This plays an enormous role especially these days with the ongoing Covid19 situation. At home, people have so many other things that will demand time and energy from them, whether it is their children, partners, or some food preparation. These are the reasons why space and dealing with space is so important to a leader (Anderson, 2020).


How can space add value to a leader?

They can create their own value, make good teachers and friends, and improve their motivation in life, desalinate their own class blockade, and can find a new breakthrough point. They give themselves room to make decisions, prepare for the future, and adjust their course of action. Leaders can reserve certain right space, give a subordinate to exert ability adequately to get a space, promote them to grow rapidly. There is a certain amount of management space, they have a strong principle, but also strong flexibility. They have the courage to employ people and can coordinate the enthusiasm of their subordinates (Kong, n.d). Helping participants change their mindset, provide additional perspectives, and open up new possibilities for the group (Lipscomb, 2016).


Which differences appear between offline and online work in relation to leadership?

These times space is a very central topic as Corona forces us to keep our distances. Teamwork happens primarily digitally and with video conferences which make working from every place at every time possible. But this also leads to less personal contact among colleagues. Until now the challenge for a leader was to motivate and coordinate his team and to establish a relationship level so that work is effective. Now, the leader mainly must deal with the space between individual group members as well as space between himself and the group. There is just small previous knowledge about how to lead people online. It is difficult to create a sense of togetherness when everybody is sitting alone in front of the screen. Maybe some already developed approaches about leadership and globalization can help. When working together globally, it is about overcoming obstacles regarding different cultures, languages, and origins within a working group. Therefore, in times of globalization, a leader needs to implement a “value-based leadership” style (Wadhw,  Parimoo, et al., 2013). Intercultural intelligence is getting increasingly important. That means the deep understanding that various cultural backgrounds create different values and ways of thinking. These different perspectives can hinder common work, but also enrich it. So, maybe the current situation is not only a challenge but rather an opportunity for development.


How does the Coronavirus shape new spaces? 


The Coronavirus pandemic suddenly changed the ways of working inside the companies and leaders had to adapt very quickly to this new environment that has never been dealt with before. The communication and relationships are different from what they used to be, and leadership is presumably tested. It is obvious that the Coronavirus, which touches the whole planet, shaped new spaces between the leaders, the managers, and the employees. First in terms of communication and relationships among communities of the same firm. Indeed, working from home definitely changes people’s interaction with each other, and more responsibilities are created which can lower the space between leaders and employees as they will communicate more with each other. Also, comes the example of presidents who have to take hard decisions to face this pandemic that affects everyone. Due to the different allocations, presidents try to be as close as possible to their people and communicate with them very often: “I count on each and every one of you, I will be there, we will be there, and we will make it together” (Macron, 2020).

During these difficult times, leadership brings forward the idea of solidarity and a sense of community among people coming from different spaces. Whether they are employees of the same company or citizens of the same country, the pandemic touches everyone and challenges the leaders with a lot of responsibilities and choices to make. Mistakes have or will be made but it is important to recognize everyone’s skills and abilities to overcome those mistakes. Finding the right solution is very difficult, especially when things change fast and a lot of people with different opinions interfere.


Experience of space in terms of leadership

The meanings of space differ from generation to generation. A few decades ago, people used to think space was following what the leader said to do to their followers but this concept has immersed itself in a new way wherein today’s modern society it is experiencing the freedom to share and a balanced equation between a leader and its team. People experience both good as well as bad leadership though its concept has changed or modified. Working in a good space has resulted in a positive working environment where the team is really energetic, and they feel responsible to work on better outcomes. Whereas in negative circumstances, a team follows the order of the leader and there is no freedom of sharing their opinion, ideas, and creativity which demotivates a team and they take their work as pressure or burden. One never feels tired and takes work as fun rather than pressure if one is under good leaders and vice versa. A good leader knows how to motivate the team and how to address their comfort zone to bring the best out of their performance. Analyzing almost all working environments it can be said that leadership is a journey of self-development or growth and the ability to lead a team in the right track to achieve its goal. Where space indicates freedom of speech and growth of employees where they can showcase their talent without restriction and their effort is appreciated by concerned people or leaders. A responsible or good leader always considers the positive side and works on the strength of the person. In the journey of leadership, a team should have space to share their opinion so that they feel they are an important part of the project. (Maharjan, 2020)



Summing up, space in terms of leadership is of utmost importance. Space can be seen from various perspectives, from the distance between people, the distance between leader and employee, or even the physical distance between different countries. In addition, it can both appear in an individual’s behavior, in the language, and the relationship between team members, and like this influences the working process. However, space in terms of leadership always concerns more than one person. Hence, it is essential to manage space as a leader whenever meetings take place online or offline. That is how a leader can create value and get the possibility to improve the work within the team. Even due to spontaneous changes, like COVID19, leaders can take possibilities out of it and should learn from this challenge. For that, new leadership approaches might be used to adapt an already existing leadership style to the new circumstances after the pandemic. Flexibility and willingness for change are important in this context and in these remarkable times. But even if a leader pays attention to all the different aspects mentioned, leadership is still evaluated on the basis of personal perceptions, experiences, and expectations so that it will be always very difficult to meet the needs of everybody to the same extent.


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