Why LMX Works: Some Reasons Why High-Quality Relationships Are So Important

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Leadership
Publication: Personnel Psychology (Autumn 2011)
Article: How Leader–Member Exchange Influences Effective Work Behaviors: Social Exchange and Internal–External Efficacy Perspectives
Authors: Walumbwa, F. O., Cropanzano, R., & Goldman, B. M.
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory has been an influential leadership theory for many years. The central tenet of LMX theory is that managers and other individuals in leadership positions are likely to form relationships with their subordinates that differ in quality. A leader’s relationship with some subordinates may be close, personal, and open, while their relationship with other subordinates may be more formal, with less communication about non-work issues. LMX theory posits that these relational differences will lead to a variety of outcomes, including differences in performance and satisfaction among employees.

Although LMX theory has been influential for some time, there are still unanswered questions about the theory, such as what moderators or mediators might play a role in the LMX-performance relationship. Addressing this knowledge gap, a recent study by Fred Walumbwa and colleagues examined the potential impact of three mediators on the link between LMX and effective employee performance: commitment to the supervisor, self-efficacy, and means efficacy. Among their hypotheses, the authors believed that self- and means efficacy would be positively related to job performance, and that LMX would be directly related to both types of efficacy. The authors tested their hypotheses with a large sample of nurses. Results were supportive of the authors’ hypotheses, including the full mediation of the LMX-job performance relationship by supervisor commitment, self-efficacy, and means efficacy.

From a practical perspective, this study suggests that high LMX is associated with three important conditions – supervisor commitment, self-efficacy, and means efficacy — that contribute to high job performance by subordinates. It is also worth noting that the authors of the current article found that higher supervisor commitment was associated with higher levels of organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), directed towards both the individual and the organization. As such, it appears that organizations have much to gain by encouraging (and facilitating) managers, supervisors, and other leaders to have positive relationships with their subordinates.

Walumbwa, F. O., Cropanzano, R., & Goldman, B. M. (2011). How leader-member exchange influences effective work behaviors: Social exchange and internal-external efficacy perspectives. Personnel Psychology, 64, 739-770.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management