In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Leader-Member Exchange

  • Introduction
  • Foundation Knowledge
  • Review

Management Leader-Member Exchange
Siting Wang, Jiaqing Sun, Robert Liden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0094


Leader-member exchange (LMX)+ theory and research focuses on the quality of the dyadic relationships between leaders and their direct reports. A major premise of the theory is that leaders differentiate between followers in terms of the quality of the relationships formed with each follower. For nearly two decades, LMX research was based on role theory. Beginning in the early 1990s, social exchange theory supplanted role theory as providing the foundation for LMX research. This bibliography introduces the Foundation Knowledge behind the theory and a review of LMX research. Then, it addresses the theoretical foundations as well as the measurement of LMX that are commonly used in LMX literature. Furthermore, it discusses the empirical evidence of LMX and the effects of LMX under different contextual conditions. Finally, various related constructs of LMX are introduced.

Foundation Knowledge

Leader-member exchange (LMX) evolved from vertical dyad linkage (VDL) theory. In their seminal article, Fred Dansereau, George Graen, and William Haga (Dansereau, et al. 1975) introduced this unique leadership theory, which reflects the vertical dyadic interaction between leaders and members. Further, Graen and Scandura 1987 suggested that the development of LMX goes through three stages, which are the role-taking stage, the role-making stage, and the role-routinization stage. Even though the term VDL is seldom mentioned in the recent literature, these fundamental works are important sources for understanding the origin of LMX theory.

  • Bauer, Talya N., and B. Berrin Erdogan. The Oxford Handbook of Leader-Member Exchange. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    This book comprehensively introduces all of the contemporary critical issues of LMX research over the past four decades.

  • Dansereau, Fred, Jr., George B. Graen, and William J. Haga. “A Vertical Dyad Linkage Approach to Leadership within Formal Organizations: A Longitudinal Investigation of the Role Making Process.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 13 (1975): 46–78.

    DOI: 10.1016/0030-5073(75)90005-7

    The authors propose a new leadership approach, the vertical dyad linkage (VDL) theory, which provides the foundation for LMX. According to vertical dyad linkage theory, leaders develop leadership exchange with some subordinates, and only supervision relationships with others.

  • Graen, George B. “Role-Making Processes within Complex Organizations.” In Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Edited by Marvin D. Dunnette, 1201–1245. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976.

    This chapter introduces role theory as a mechanism for the way in which differential relationships form between leaders and followers. The concept of “negotiating latitude” is introduced in this chapter as the key ingredient of differentiation. Followers who are able to negotiate with the leader for changes in their jobs are referred to as “informal assistants” or “winners,” whereas those not able to engage in such negotiations are “ordinary members” or “losers.”

  • Graen, George B., and Terri A. Scandura. “Toward a Psychology of Dyadic Organizing.” Research in Organizational Behavior 9 (1987): 175–208.

    Graen and Scandura propose that LMX development involves three stages, which include the role taking, role making, and role routinization stages.

  • Jacobs, T. O., eds. Leadership and Exchange in Formal Organizations. Alexandria, VA: HumRRO, 1970.

    This book greatly influenced Dansereau, Graen, and associates for the distinction made between supervision and leadership. Jacobs describes supervision as interactions between a supervisor and subordinate necessary for carrying out contractual obligations, whereas leadership involves informal influence based on the cultivation of a supportive relationship, rather than based on formal power and authority, through which a leader can positively influence a follower.

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