The Dark Side of High-Quality LMX: Relational Tensions and Their Impacts on Leaders and Members
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Organizational Behavior & Human Resources Management
Brian R. Dineen
Committee Member 1
Kelly Schwind Wilson
Committee Member 2
Committee Member 3
As one of the most popular approaches to study leadership, the leader-member exchange (LMX) theory focuses on the dyadic relationship between a leader and a member (Gerstner & Day, 1997; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). It posits that supervisors develop different forms of exchange relationships with followers (Sparrowe & Liden, 1997). Low quality LMX is more like economic exchange based on mutually agreed on duties, while high quality LMX is characterized by trust, support, loyalty, and commitment (Uhl-Bien & Maslyn, 2003). Past LMX studies have documented and supported many positive outcomes for high-quality LMX subordinates, such as higher job satisfaction, organizational commitment, in-role and extra-role performance, and lower levels of stress (Dulebohn et al., 2012; Ferris et al., 2009; Gerstner & Day, 1997). Though it is intriguing to believe that high-quality LMX does only good to members and leaders, there may be more to the story. Being an interpersonal relationship, LMX should suffer the same tensions all interpersonal relations have. Moreover, because relationship power differs between leaders and members, members may face less freedom in choice and greater pressure to maintain the relationship (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003; Inesi, Gruenfeld, & Galinsky, 2012; Rios, Fast, & Gruenfeld, 2015). Indeed, theories indicate that high quality LMX can be stressful to employees due to feelings of uncertainty and lack of control (Henderson, Liden, Glibkowsk, & Chaudhry, 2009; Liden & Graen, 1980). However, such viewpoints mainly serve as theoretical arguments to support the main propositions in the mentioned studies without systematic discussion or empirical support. Beneficial aspects of high-quality LMX still dominate the LMX literature, leaving the potential dark side of high-quality LMX understudied.
According to Relational Dialectics Theory (DRT), interpersonal relationships are by nature paradoxical, and the management of dialectical tensions between relational partners is central to the conduct and interpretation of relationship development and loss (Baxter, 1990, 2004; Montgomery & Baxter, 1998). Across a pilot study and two primary studies, this dissertation investigated relational tensions leaders and members experience in high-quality LMX (e.g., high-quality LMX denotes a close connection between leaders and members, but this close connection can detract members’ autonomy when facing leaders’ extra demands and expectations) and their effects on leaders and members. Specifically, the pilot study explored the relational tensions leaders and members experience in LMX through an open-ended survey question and in-depth interviews. In study 1, I developed and validated two scales of LMX tensions (one of leader tensions and one of member tensions) based on the pilot study results and extant literature. Using scales developed, study 2 investigated the influences of LMX tensions on leaders and members.
This dissertation contributes to the LMX literature in several ways. First, by demonstrating tensions inherent in high-quality LMX, it illuminates the potential costs for both members and leaders in high LMX relationships, despite the well-supported benefits. Second, as both leaders’ and members’ LMX tensions in high-quality LMX and their outcomes were considered in the hypothesized model, the current dissertation answers the call for more research on “what about leaders?” in LMX (Liden, Sparrowe, & Wayne, 1997; Wilson, Sin, & Conlon, 2010). Third, according to DRT, relational contradictions drive changes in relationships (Baxter, 2004; Sias, 2006). More specifically, LMX tensions in high-quality LMX can be stressful, which damages leader-member relationship satisfaction and commitment and gives rise to LMX disengagement intentions. Thus, although I will not study this empirically, it still shed light on LMX quality change and decline by examining how LMX tensions relate to intentions to disengage from LMX.
Wu, Lusi, "The Dark Side of High-Quality LMX: Relational Tensions and Their Impacts on Leaders and Members" (2018). Open Access Dissertations. 2103.