As I was reading through the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I can definitely see the strengths and weaknesses. As a strength, my favorite and, perhaps most useful is that the LMX theory alerts leaders to what they may be doing unconsciously, which is excluding followers from the in-group (Northouse, 2013). The principles of the LMX theory can be a useful reminder for leaders to be fair and equal in approaching their relationships with subordinates (Northouse, 2013).
As I read on I decided to complete the LMX 7 Questionnaire. I am not currently employed, so I had to use a past experience of my direct interactions with a supervisor at my last job. As I took the questionnaire everything became really clear to me as I thought about my time at my last job. I worked at a daycare for four years. At the beginning of my employment at this daycare, I strongly disliked the supervisor in question. I thought she was rude and disrespectful at times. Her personality was one of those “I don’t care what you think, I’m going to do my thing.” I felt like she always tried to cut corners and she did not follow the rules of the center. I really did not know her, but this is what I thought from afar as I tried as hard as possible to not go anywhere near her because she just bothered me.
At this point, she was not necessarily dubbed a “supervisor,” but she was a prominent figure at our center because she was one of the veteran employees who had been there for 20+ years. To make a long story short, the leadership changed after about a year and a half of my working there and the change brought about a lot of structural changes that put this woman in a supervisory position. One of her duties in this position was to take on the monthly and daily schedules with another room lead that was put into the same position. These two women basically run the center. They became the first in the chain of command to go to if you had a problem.
After the structural change in our center, a lot of the employees, including myself, were moved to new rooms. I was moved to a room that I knew nothing about. I never took the time to get to know all the people that I worked with, so I did not really know the staff in that room either. I was in what Northouse calls, the “out-group.” Because of the room that I was associated with previously, not many people liked me. My past room leader had a reputation of being a “snitch” and talking a lot behind people’s backs. I was stigmatized as being the same way and I did not even know it. No one else in the center knew my potential as a caregiver and a person and because they associated me with my previous room lead, they did not really give me a chance. It actually wasn’t until I went on maternity leave and came back and became what we referred to as a “floater” that the rest of the center really got to know me and my abilities and strengths as a caregiver because I was bouncing around to all the different rooms on a daily basis. This is when I slowly made my way into the “in-group.” At one point, I was the only person available to go into my supervisor’s room. It was at this point that we began to develop a relationship.
Suddenly, the woman that I despised for quite some time was one of my biggest fans in the center. She saw my potential in the classroom and I liked her style of teaching. She may not have followed the rules, but she had good kids in her room and she had good kids in her room because she did not necessarily follow the rules. She provided direct consequences and followed through with everything she said she was going to do. We worked well together and got to know each other on a professional and a personal level and thus, my transition into the in-group was complete. I did not mind taking on extra roles for her and for the good of the room and she could trust that I would do things how she wanted them to be done so she gave me a lot of freedom in her room (Northouse, 2013). I received information, influence and a lot of confidence and concern from her (Northouse, 2013). She learned to trust me so much that she would schedule me for the shifts that I wanted (the ones that everyone wanted) because she knew I would show up and I was dependable (in my daycare we had a lot of people call in sick on a regular basis). Other employees started to think she favored me, and she did, but it was because I did what she asked and she knew she could depend on me.
There are a lot of employees that do not like her because they think she plays favorites. She does. My coworkers would often be upset because I was in her room and they thought her room was overstaffed with me in it. She kept me in there because I was happy there and because she was happy with me in there. I was on the inside track and I knew her reasons for her actions because she would tell me, so I would often end up sticking up for her when other employees would speak badly of her even though I could understand completely where they were coming from. It was kind of hard to be in the in-group because people were constantly criticizing us and what we were doing and I often wished they would just mind their own business and leave it alone. I know that she was not always right, but she often stuck her neck out for me and I really appreciated that. It’s unfortunate that others had it more difficult because I was once in their shoes, but at the same time I also felt like I had “paid my dues” so-to-speak. I did the work to get where I was.
The LMX Theory could potentially be useful here, but I think it really depends on the person. What I mean by this is, yes, it is useful in that it can make leaders aware of their interactions with their subordinates. However, I think the individual leader plays a key role. Some leaders already know what they are doing. My supervisor knew what she was doing and I think if she were trained on the LMX Theory, she would continue to handle things the same way. That’s just who she is. Some leaders just do not get along with some subordinates and vice versa. Unless they are open to change, I am not really sure being aware of their faults are enough to change their leadership style.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications