Building Resiliency in Employees Using LMX Concept: A Qualitative Study.

Date01 July 2021
AuthorMishra, Ritwik


In March 2020, COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic by WHO. (Listings of WHO's Response to COVID-19, 2020). The stress of ensuring personal and family safety against the pandemic, uncertainty about the future, and ambiguity in the current state presented employees with monumental adverse conditions (Bakiae, 2019; King, 2016). The ability of employees to deal with, bounce back from, and perform in these adverse situations became critical for organizations. In short resiliency became one of the most sought after attribute in employees. Since March 2020, there has been a spate of publications in leading management journals and publications prescribing ways to build resiliency (Glynn, 2020; Hillmann & Guenther, 2020). According to researchers, Leader and Leader Development play a key role in the development or enhancement of resilience in individuals (Humphrey et al., 2008; Luthans, 2002; Richard, 2020). However current studies stop short of identifying these behaviors and the role of leadership in promoting team member resilience has received limited attention (Richard, 2020). Current lit erature also establishes the relationship between various leadership styles (like transformational leadership, servant leadership, and authentic leadership) and resiliency (Gaddy et al., 2017; Kool & van Dierendonck, 2012; Nguyen et al., 2016). These linkages suggest that there are common leadership traits or behaviors across leadership styles that support building resiliency among team members.

The aforementioned leadership theories are based on the common premise that leaders apply the same style to all team members. However, research on leadership styles has moved from the average leadership style into the realm of dyadic relationships (Dansereau et al., 1975) commonly referred to as Leader Member Exchange theory or LMX (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). In LMX leaders build differentiated relationships with each team member. With some, they cultivate high-quality relationships (called ingroup). In contrast, with others they create low-quality relationships that are limited to the team member's job description (called out-group) (Liden & Graen, 1980). By considering leadership as a consistent or average style, we erroneously assume that the capacity to be resilient is same across all team members.

This study makes significant contributions to the field of leadership and resilience. First, it is the only study that we are aware of that specifically identifies both team leader and team member behaviors that lead to a stronger relationship and therefore assists in building resiliency among team members. Researchers have long called for gaining a deeper understanding of factors that lead to stronger supervisor-employee relationship (Klaic et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2017). Second, we look at the process of building capacity for resiliency from a LMX lens. Because of the high-quality relationship, closeness, and support that in-group members get from their team leaders, they have the necessary resources and higher ability to deal with setbacks and bounce back from adversity (Kakkar, 2019; Khan & Malik, 2017). Finally, research on this relationship is limited in the consulting services in India. Consulting for clients across all major industries produces its own set of challenges like constant technology evolution, new regulatory requirements, competition from new entrants, skill shortages, etc. All these drivers have the potential to create adverse conditions for employees (Eliot, 2020; Williams et al., 2017). The present study tries to fill this gap by studying the team leader-team member relationship in one of the largest consulting organization in India. We conducted a six month long qualitative study covering six team leaders and all their direct team members (twenty two) to identify specific behaviors and actions that team leaders and team members can take to enhance the quality of their relationship and therefore build resiliency among team members.

Literature Review: Resiliency

The study of resilience associates different categories of variables that collectively encapsulate the phenomenon of positively adapting to adversity (Fisher et al., 2019). From this vantage point, the role of a team leader becomes pivotal in building resilience in team members. One of the defining characteristics of resilience is sense making or the ability to find meaning in a crisis. Meaning-making helps 'people build bridges from present day hardships to a fuller, better constructed future' (Coutu, 2002: 50). Given the centrality of meaning-making to resilience, researchers have explored several avenues for professionals to find or build meaning. For example, Glynn (2020) offers three ways in which professionals can find meaning and therefore build resilience. These are organizational values, interpersonal networks, and role modeling.

Most successful organizations have strong value systems that they reinforce in their people and processes. Strong values create an environment of purpose and positive meaning. They offer ways to interpret and manage events or crisis to people. Strong value systems also lead to trust in organizations as sources of timely and accurate information and resources to deal with crisis. Interpersonal networks, whether face to face or virtually, create a sense of solidarity and camaraderie among teams. This sense of togetherness helps them come together and collectively face the crisis. Role modeling can help us identify individuals who are a beacon of light in the biggest of crisis for their way of handling and managing the crisis (Glynn, 2020). They become role models for emulation and inspiration who embody institutional values and thus signal resilience. In all three pathways, the team leader plays a central role in realizing these for team members.

Early on resilience was treated like an attribute (Block, 1961). However, some of the later research defined it as a capability that could be developed in individuals (Dello Russo & Stoykova, 2015; Tonkin et al., 2018). This brought into picture the role of the individual, their team leader, and the organization in creating opportunities and practices for professionals to develop resiliency (Richard, 2020). One such practice is resiliency building training programs. While most programs are focused on self-development to build resiliency (Luthans, 2012; Vanhove et al., 2016), some include the role of team leaders, specifically in helping team members manage their emotions in adverse situations (Vanhove et al., 2016). Consistent with this approach, researchers have increasingly focused on the role of leaders in supporting team members manage their emotions (Humphrey et al., 2008; Kaplan et al., 2014; Madrid et al., 2019; Sy et al., 2018; Thiel et al., 2015; Toegel et al., 2013). Thiel et al. (2015) referred to leaders' management of follower emotion as leader-facilitated emotion management. Thiel et al. (2015) also found links between leader-facilitated...

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