How to Build Good Leader-Employee Workplace Relationships

leader work relationship employee

The relationships that form between leaders and their employees have been associated with a number of workplace outcomes, including employee satisfaction, performance, and organizational citizenship behaviors. However, little research has examined how these leader-member relationships develop over time. The authors of this study (Nahrgang, Morgeson, & Ilies, 2009) followed 330 leader-member dyads over an eight-week period of time to see how personality and performance impacts the quality of these relationships.


The authors found that within each two-person team, there were different levels of leader-member relationship quality. In other words, some relationships between a leader and members were stronger than others. However, in general, all relationship quality increased over time and then stabilized. The authors also found that leaders based their first impressions of each leader-member relationship on how extraverted each team member appeared to be. However, the members based their first impressions of the relationship quality on how agreeable their leader seemed.

These perceptions changed after the leaders and members became more familiar with one another. Actual behavior, rather than personality, became more important for relationship quality as the leaders and members interacted over time. For leaders and members, the performance of their dyadic partner was a key predictor of relationship quality.


This article demonstrates that first impressions are important in determining higher and lower-quality leader-member relationships. Leaders and members should take this into account when they first interact, as initial interactions are important to the assessment of relationship quality. This research also shows that once the initial impressions of relationship quality are formed, the performance of each dyad partner becomes important in determining the relationship quality in the early stages (first eight weeks).

Higher-quality leader-member relationships have been shown to be determinants of socialization, employee well-being, and turnover reduction. Thus it is important to consider how employees can manage their relationships with members and leaders. For example, members may be able to manage their career by engaging in more extraverted behaviors (e.g., being sociable and talkative) and by focusing on enhancing their performance. Leaders can manage their career by engaging in more agreeable behaviors (e.g., being trusting and cooperative), as well as by working to enhance their performance.

Nahrgang, J. D., Morgeson, F. P., & Ilies, R. (2009). The development of leader member exchanges: Exploring how personality and performance influence leader and member relationships over time. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 108, 256-266.