Leader-member exchange, hereafter referred to as LMX, is a theory focused on the “…interactions between leaders and followers” (Northouse, 2016, p. 137). Over time, these interactions lead to the development and fostering of relationships between members within the organization. During times of organizational change, these relationships will either ease or strain the transition depending on their quality, as well as the influence behaviors utilized by the leader (Furst & Cable, 2008, p. 454). Having gone through such a transition last year, I can speak to the importance of, or lack thereof, relationships between leaders and followers.
When I left my previous organization earlier this month, I had developed an excellent relationship with my supervisor, but it wasn’t always this way. When he first arrived, we did not see eye to eye. He had a very dominant personality typically associated with leaders, and being the new boss, felt the need to implement change. I was heavily resistant as it was so dramatic, and I felt at times personally threatened by the new policies. As later studies on LMX have shown, when the exchanges and relationship are strong, it can lead to increased job satisfaction (PSU WC, 2019, L. 8, p. 3). Due to the methods he was utilizing, my satisfaction with the position was decreasing at a rapid pace.
The method he, and many other leaders, often utilize to force change are sanctions. These are used by managers to punish employees who refuse to comply by using either “…reprimands or withholding desired rewards” (Furst & Cable, 2008, p. 454). Examples of such sanctions that I was subjected to included him issuing threats and forcing me to stay beyond normal working hours. Additionally, he utilized confrontational and dominant behaviors when he was communicating (p. 454). All this accomplished was me disliking him further and actively resisting the change he sought to implement.
One criticism of LMX theory is that it appears to promote discrimination through the use of in-groups and out-groups (Northouse, 2016, p. 147). I never felt discriminated against per se, but I certainly perceived receiving different treatment compared to others in my group. Furst and Cable (2008) found that for employees who have low LMX, the use of sanctions led to increased resistance (p. 457). These findings suggest that leaders should practice behaviors leading to an increase in the quality of interactions between themselves and followers, ultimately leading to improved relations. If the two parties maintain amicable relations, organizational change will be received in a positive light, ultimately being implemented much easier.
Leader-member exchange theory can provide valuable insight into the importance of quality exchanges between leaders and followers, leading to the development of positive relationships (PSU WC, 2019, L. 8, p. 3). These exchanges become increasingly important during times of organizational change. If LMX is high, negative effects stemming from the use of sanctions can be averted (Furst & Judge, 2008, p. 457). I can personally attest to the importance of quality exchanges within an organization, and job satisfaction certainly improves when you are on good terms with the boss.
Furst, S. A. & Cable, D. M. (2008). Employee resistance to organizational change: Managerial influence tactics and leader-member exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(2), 453-462. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.93.2.453
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 8: Leader-member exchange theory (LMX). Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1985970/modules/items/26589532