The Leader Member Exchange Theory as a Framework for Assessing Leader-Follower Relationships
In Part B, we require you to write an essay on the following topic.
Roe (2014) argues that according to leader member exchange theory, followers who experience high quality relationships with the leader are in receipt of higher tangible rewards, such as pay, bonuses and more challenging assignments.
Critically assess whether leader member exchange theory provides an effective framework for assessing the relationships between leaders and followers.
Marking schedule for Part B:
10% of marks are allocated to the presentation of the essay. The student’s work should be typed with clear use of paragraphs and headings. Typographical and spelling errors should be avoided.
10% of marks are allocated to appropriate referencing of content. Students should familiarise themselves and make use of the Harvard referencing system and should cite and reference material properly. Students should make use of a range of resources (books, journal articles etc) and the literature used should be appropriate to the arguments made.
60% of marks are allocated to the analysis presented in the essay. Students should examine appropriate theoretical concepts and frameworks. Students should demonstrate an awareness of the wider context and present an in-depth discussion of current issues. Better students will demonstrate critical analysis skills and communicate their arguments in a clear and coherent manner.
20% of marks are allocated to the conclusions drawn. The conclusions should identify the key themes or issues under consideration. Conclusions should be well supported from the analysis and highlight the significance of arguments, evidence and insights
Guidance Notes on Part B:
You must refer to relevant literature throughout the essay. This can be in the form of textbooks, journal articles, or relevant web-based material. Student are directed in particular to the following databases which they may find useful in developing their essay:
• ABI Inform Complete (Proquest)
• Science Direct
• Sage Online
In particular, the following journals may be helpful to you in relation to the prescribed topic:
• Leadership Quarterly (Available on Science Direct)
• Leadership and Organisation Development Journal (Available on Emerald)
• Team Performance Management (Available on Emerald)
• Journal of Management Development (Available on Emerald)
• Group and Organisation Management (Available on Sage Online)
You may wish to refer to relevant theory or you may wish to cite relevant research or examples to support your arguments. Remember all material cited must be referenced using the Harvard Referencing system. Also please refer to the University guidance notes on the avoidance of Plagiarism.
Please remember to structure your essay appropriate. You should use headings – and include an introduction, main body and conclusion/recommendations sections.
While we do not specify a particular number of references/citations to be included, you should include at least a minimum of 15 different citations/references from books and journal articles in your essay.
Please answer the topic posed. Your essay should NOT be a summary of leadership theories. You need to specifically address the topic and question posed.
Minimum Essay Length: 2000 words
Maximum Essay Length: 2500 words
Aside from the reference list, your essay (Part B) should not include any appendices.
Submission deadline: Friday 29thAugust 2014, 11.59pm (UK time)
Please note that whilst the submission deadline is Friday 29th August at 11.59pm (UK time), you are free to make your submission at any time before this date. You do not need to wait until this day, or the day before or the week before.
Please ensure that Part A and Part B are submitted as separate documents. The documents should clearly be marked Part A and Part B and your matriculation number and module code should be clearly marked on the submission.
Coursework Assessment Feedback
Matriculation No. Date of Submission:
Module: Leading Strategic Decision-Making
Part B: Essay Cohort:
Presentation of the essay. Clear use of paragraphs and headings and the text is free from typographical and spelling errors.
Referencing of content. Consistent use of Harvard Referencing throughout the essay with adequate citation support for arguments being made.
Comprehensive examination of appropriate theoretical frameworks and models. Strong arguments presented with critical insights and good communication skills in evidence.
Clear identification of key themes and issues. Synthesis of core arguments and formulation of insights and recommendations as appropriate
Overall Grade: Marker:
The Leader Member Exchange Theory as a Framework for Assessing Leader-Follower Relationships
The leader member exchange (LMX) theory does not qualify as an effective framework for assessing the relationship between leaders and followers. Roe (2014) in defining the LMX theory postulates that followers whose relationship with leaders are of high quality tend to receive higher tangible rewards including pay, bonuses and superior assignments. While this theory is praised for being the only leadership theory that brings dyadic relationship as a core of the leadership process and thus explains how people relate with each other and with leaders within organisations, it fails to explain how the leader-member relationships are created and what underlies how respect, trust and obligations are built. The theory is also denigrated because it tends to only support privileged groups within the organisation and therefore appears discriminatory and unfair. In this paper, the LMX theory is critically assessed with an objective of demonstrating that it is not an effective framework to assess leader-follower relationships.
Understanding the leader member exchange theory
The LMX theory was first introduced by Dansereau, Graen, and Haga (1975) and is based on the idea that leadership is built based on dyadic relationships between a leader and his/her followers (Sparrowe and Liden, 1997). According to Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995), leaders tend to create higher quality relationships with selected followers; who are consequently accorded higher tangible rewards and more superior assignments. This can be explained by the formation of in-groups and out-groups which represent those with higher quality relationships versus those with lower quality relationships respectively (Van Breukelen, Konst and Van Der, 2002).
A closer look at the application of LMX theory
The LMX theory has in the past received an almost equal share of support and criticism as far as its ability to assess leader-follower relationships is concerned. This is mostly pegged to its potential to promote effective relationships and consequently lead to a productive workforce (Jones, 2009).
A number of strengths are associated with the LMX theory. To begin with, it is the sole theory that explains leadership based on dyadic relationships (Chen, Lam and Zhong, 2007). Secondly, it establishes the importance of communication in the organisation and consequently validates our understanding of why people and leaders interact as they do within organisations (Fix and Sias, 2006). Thirdly, the LMX theory can be used to explain how leadership networks are created by individuals within the organisation and how these translate into future working relationships. The LMX theory is applicable in different types of organisations and at all management levels (Becker, Halbesleben and O’Hair, 2005). Lastly, the LMX theory has been found to influence surbodinates’ level of creativity, motivation and positive organizational outcomes. In a study of 26 project teams in high-technology firms however, the frequency of negative LMX was as high as that of positive LMX (Tidd and Bessant, 2011). This denotes that it may either enhance or undermine the sense of competence and self-determination among subordinates.
The LMX theory has been criticised over its ability to create meaningful relationships, with questions being raised as to how members of the in-group are selected and whether personal interests could challenge professionalism where this theory is applied (Murph and Eshner, 1999). Secondly, the theory is seen to be discriminatory as it tends to alienate members of the out-group; given that the most important tasks, assignments and rewards go to the in-group (Becker, Halbesleben and O’Hair, 2005; Chen, Lam and Zhong, 2007). Thirdly, the LMX theory does not address the question of personal characteristics and how they could affect relationships. In this relation, it has been established that such characteristics may affect the nature of relationships due to differences in perception, interaction and communication exchanges (Chen, Lam and Zhong, 2007). LMX theory according to Sherony and Green (2002) could have a significant impact on the level of trust, respect and openness in the organization; leading to hoarding of resources by employees who do not feel appreciated. Lastly, culture plays an imperative role in determining the nature and quality of relationships; yet this is not addressed in the LMX theory (Graen, G. B.; Uhl-Bien, 1995).
Why the LMX theory is not effective in explaining leader-follower relationships
The discussion above establishes that LMX theory has its pros and cons as far as assessing leader-follower relationships is concerned. A majority of the strengths however dwell on the validation of the theory itself as opposed to its application in relationship development. In essence, the LMX theory can be considered ineffective in explaining leader-follower relationships. This section is a discussion of the weaknesses of LMX theory outlined above; with an objective of demonstrating its ineffectiveness in explaining leader-follower relationships.
The question of how the high quality relationships between leaders and members are developed is among the most debated about factor in this theory. The LMX theory fails to illustrate any guidelines that would ensure that the strong relationships are based on a high the level of professionalism (Sparrowe and Liden, 1997). Are the relationships based on performance where the leader tends to build better relationships with high performers? Is it at a personal level where the leader creates good relationships with people they know or who are easy to deal with depending on personality compatibility? Or is it at an intellectual level where individuals get along because they have common interests? These questions point to the fact that there is no effective means of establishing how these relationships are created (Sherony and Green, 2002; Tierney, Farmer and Graen, 1999).
. Furthermore, it is difficult to determine whether such relationships are authentic and professional; given that human beings tend to have better relationships with people who are considered ‘useful’ in their lives (Sagie, 1996). This again leads to the issue of followers who do not have qualities that the leader would ‘admire’ and this implies the possibility of poor relations with this group (Sherony and Green, 2002).
Based on the above argument, the plight of the out group who do not have close links with the leader is not addressed in the LMX theory. This brings out the theory as discriminatory as it only concentrates on members who have a higher quality relationship with leaders (Fix and Sias, 2006). The LMX theory does not address issues associated with unfairness and distributive justice and how these could impact on the overall relationship situation in the organisation (Becker, Halbesleben and O’Hair, 2005). Does this mean that the leader does not strive to establish good relationships with other followers? Is there a possibility that the low quality relationship are likely to deteriorate further because the followers in this group are not well motivated? The LMX theory according to Murphy and Ensher (1999) tends to favour the group with the higher quality relationships; such that they get all the superior privileges and this raises the question on whether the other group receives similar attention. It appears as though followers who do not enjoy good relationships with the leaders are unimportant and is hence highly discriminatory. Consequently, it is only natural that the remaining group will feel left out and demotivated; which may further degrade the leader-follower relationship and create tension within the organisation (Becker, Halbesleben and O’Hair, 2005). Using the LMX theory to assess leader-follower relationships thus creates room for matters of inequality to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the theory.
The theory fails to illustrate how personal characteristics could affect the relationship between leaders and followers. George and Jones (2008) seeks to explain why some employees may appear to have better relationships with supervisors while others have low quality relationships and narrows this down to the role of personality and personal characteristics in influencing communication exchanges. They note that such characteristics may impact on the nature of interaction, perceptions of one another and interpersonal communication.
In an example demonstrating a link between personality traits and communication, Schaubroeck, Lam and Cha (2007) compare extroverts and introverts. They note that extroverts are more outgoing, open to interaction, assertive, accommodative to arguments and have a higher tolerance for disagreement; while the opposite is true for introverts. This could explain why different forms of relationships are likely to emerge based on personal traits. The LMX theory does not bring into consideration such traits and how they are likely to impact on the quality of leader-follower relationships; yet they would serve as the utmost predictor of the quality of LMX between leaders and followers (Tierney, Farmer and Graen, 1999). It would be natural for example for a leader to have better relationships with followers who are outgoing and aggressive as opposed to those who are reserved and quiet. This means that the latter not only fail to enjoy a good relationship with their leaders but their potential may also go unnoticed (Sparrowe and Liden, 1997). The LMX theory therefore appears incomplete and does not form a good basis for analysing relationships between leaders and followers.
The LMX theory fails to address the importance of trust, respect and openness in building relationships and how the leader can effectively maintain the trust of the ‘out-group’. According to Tidd and Bessant (2013), these values exist where there is emotional safety; such that everyone in the organisation is free to air their ideas and opinions. They further note that where trust and openness are too low, the possibility of people hoarding resources including information is high. Given that the LMX theory has been criticized for creating trust, respect and openness issues among employees who feel alienated, how then does a leader ensure that he can bring out the best out of each employee based on the LMX theory? (Zaccaro, Rittman and Marks, 2001). A critical look at the theory would therefore indicate that the theory has a significant level of gaps; especially in how the leader manages relationships to ensure that trust levels are maintained within the organisation and that the potential of all employees is utilised (Taggar, 2001).
Research has shown that some dyads experience difficulty in forming high quality LMX relationships; given their cultural characteristics. Cultural aspect not only determine the kind of relationship a person has with others Jones (2009), use gender dissimilarity as a means to explain this phenomenon; arguing that members of the same gender are more likely to have high quality exchange relationships than when the opposite is true. This denotes a skewed position and further questions the factors underlying the development of relationships within organisations. The LMX theory fails to illustrate how gender similarity may influence the nature of relationships and how this would impact on the organizational outcomes (Jones, 2009). The same is applicable for other cultures where members of one culture are likely to have common interests, understand each other better and even tolerate each other (Sparrowe and Liden, 1997).Van Breukelen, Konst and Van Der (2002) note that individual interactions are driven by common bonds such as cultural characteristics, beliefs, religious and gender orientation among others and that people from the same cultural affiliation are likely to enjoy better relationships because they understand each other better. This has a significant implication on the nature of relationships in the organisation; yet the LMX theory fails to address the influence of culture in its theoretical framework. The theory is thereby ineffective in assessing leader-member relationships.
The LMX theory inadvertently favours the development of privileged groups in the organizational setting and therefore appears discriminatory. This gives rise to a significant number of issues which the LMX theory does not address as far as relationship building is concerned. Issues arise on the underlying procedure of how relationships are created, whether they are out rightly professional and whether personal traits, cultural characteristics and gender similarity among others have an impact on the kind of relationships created within the organisation. These are conspicuously ignored in the theory despite their significance in determining the nature of relationships within groups. There is also the possibility of straining relationships within the workplace as members who have lower quality relationships begin to feel the alienation. Lastly, the LMX theory fails to explain how a leader can maintain healthy relationships with all members and thus eliminate the possibility of trust issues emerging within the organisation. Despite the strengths identified for the LMX theory, these mostly explain application of the theory but do little in providing a framework that effectively assesses relationships in the workplace setting. In conclusion, it is possible to affirm that the leader member exchange (LMX) theory does not qualify as an effective framework for assessing the relationship between leaders and followers
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