LMX & Leader Competence: Impact on Subordinates' Perceived Cohesion.

AuthorGupta, Megha


Over the years, a good amount of effort, time, and resources have been invested in gauging a deep understanding of the concept of leadership. Various leadership theories have assessed leadership from their own purview. However leader-member exchange (LMX) theory has received significant attention for establishing that there is a unique relationship between each leader/supervisor and member/subordinate, wherein the members have an active role (Dansereau, Cashman & Graen, 1973). LMX, quintessentially a measure of quality of relationship between the leader and the member, can be explained by the virtue of relational power. The underlying feature of LMX consists of emotions and feelings, leading to informal power resulting from the relationship shared within the dyad (Harvard Business Essentials, 2005). With LMX rooted in relational power, we wanted to draw a parallel to a form of power with expertise at its core. Hence, we looked at expert power, which emerges from member's faith in the leader's expertise and knowledge with respect to his/her work. Thus, leader competence, operationalized as expert power, is studied along with LMX in order to measure their impact on subordinate outcomes. With LMX established in work team differentiation, studying team based outcomes is significant. Teams have become the central focus of organizational structure with team based collaborations becoming highly significant for organizational performance (West, Patera & Carsten, 2008). Thus, we focus on examining the impact of LMX in relation to leader competence on a significant team-based outcome of subordinates, that of perceived cohesion.

Literature Review

LMX is focused on the unique interactions between the leader and his/her subordinate, and considers this dyad as the unit of analysis (Bhal, Gulati & Ansari, 2008). In 2005, Harvard Business Essentials identified relational power which stems from the affective relationship between leader and member (Shang, Fu & Chong, 2012). This, we believe, is in sync with LMX as it also has quality of relationship at its core. Leaders form differential interpersonal relationships with their subordinates (Dansereau, Graen &Haga, 1975), thus, we believe that relational power constitutes the basis for operationalization of LMX.

LMX is rooted in social exchange theory perspective (Dienesch &Liden, 1986; Liden & Maslyn, 1998), as LMX relationships are grounded in social exchanges. Blau (1964) noted that social exchanges, as opposed to economic exchanges, result in feelings of increased obligation, gratitude and trust. Consequently, as the social exchanges between supervisors and subordinates increase, the quality of the leader- member relationship probably becomes stronger. A leader shares distinct and unique relationship with each subordinate irrespective of his/her span of control. Researchers in the past have explored the impact of LMX on various subordinate outcomes (Bhal& Ansari, 1996; 2007). However limited attention has been given to perceived cohesion (e.g., Decoster, Camps & Stouten, 2013).

In organizations, power and leadership are highly entwined concepts (Bhal & Ansari, 2000). Power, which is the ability to influence, has been identified in various forms at the workplace. French and Raven (1959) ascertained that there are 5 bases of power, of which what interested us most was expert power, as it is a personal basis of power which involves the member's faith in the leader's competence. Expert power is when an individual attributes superior knowledge, skills or ability to the other, who then serves as a guide & eventually directs the path to be followed by the individual to achieve his/her goals. Expert power is operationalized as leader competence. It is member's perception of the leader's power that induces influence. In fact, research suggests, expert power base is used often to deal with a crisis situation in an effective manner (Bhal & Ansari, 2000). In this study we look at leader competence as a manifestation of expert power. Leader competence is defined as the skill, ability, knowledge and expertise a leader possesses in order to identify and solve problems effectively at the workplace (Zaccaro et. al, 2000). In the past, some researchers have stressed that leader competence is an internal trait while some have established it to be a set of learned skills over a period of time. However, overall, leadership based literature posits that leader's competence has a positive relationship with leadership effectiveness (Connelly et al., 2000; Podsakoff et al., 1983). Leader competence is dependent on the members' image of his/her leader based on his/her assessments of technical expertise, proficiency and knowledge of the leader. This influences his/her perception of a capable leader. Though researchers have linked leaders' competence to leadership effectiveness, we have not come across studies that focus on members' perception of their leaders' competence impacting their outcomes, especially perceived cohesion, at the workplace.

According to Bollen and Hoyle (1990) the concept of perceived cohesion "comprises an individual's sense of belonging to a particular group and his/ her feeling morale associated with membership in the group". It is primarily an individual's understanding and sense of self within a group in terms of how much they feel a part of the group, and feeling of moral attached to membership and identification within the group. Stronger the bond higher is the unity. According to this definition, cohesion has two dimensions--sense of belonging and feeling of morale. Sense of belonging is fundamental to the existence of the group. Only when a member feels he/she belongs to a certain group, will he/she associate him/herself with the group values and comply with them. It results in bonding within the group, leading to more positivity and liking within the group. Hence, sense of belonging is fundamental to subordinates' identification with a group. On the other hand, feeling of morale encompasses the emotional response an individual has as a result of belonging to a group (Bollen & Hoyle, 1990). Belonging captures feelings associated with social outcomes whereas morale captures feelings associated with personal outcomes (Chin et al., 1999).

Although researchers have examined perceived cohesion in the light of leadership, very few have investigated it in relation to LMX (Wu, Neubert & Yi, 2007; Bakar & Sheer, 2013; Decoster, et al., 2013), let alone leader competence. Also, we have not come across research looking at an antecedent of perceived cohesion with power base as a potential differentiator. Since no study to our knowledge has assessed the relative impact of these two...

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