Would someone please describe the basic premise underlying leader-member exchange theory.  Further, could you elaborate about what determines worker behaviors in becoming part of the "in-group"...

Would someone please describe the basic premise underlying leader-member exchange theory. 

Further, could you elaborate about what determines worker behaviors in becoming part of the "in-group" or "out-group" with an example of to become one of the members of a group? 

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are reasons business schools include courses on management and leadership techniques.  Absent effective skills at communicating with one’s subordinates and superiors, not only will the individual’s performance suffer, but the entire process in which this individual is an integral component can fail.  While it would be nice if all employees were identical replicas of each other, with each committed to the mission’s success and each lacking the kind of ego that can create tensions in a workplace environment, such is not the case outside of some science fictions novels.  It is a manager’s responsibility to get the most out of his or her employees, while recognizing that these are individuals with different personalities, temperaments, needs, skills, and backgrounds.  If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then either remove that link or strengthen it so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to success.

The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory was developed during the 1970s for precisely this reason: to help managers and their subordinates learn to adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies and individual styles so that the whole can prove stronger than the sum of its parts.  While recognizing and adapting to the disparate personalities and skill levels that comprise one’s “team” is essential, however, so are the measures needed to strengthen those “weak links.”  This is where role playing and the concepts of “in-groups” and “out-groups” come into the play.  By engaging in tasks that should ostensibly involve most if not all of one’s team, the manager has a natural tendency to isolate those individuals who fail to conform and produce on par with the others.  Such individuals constitute the “out-group,” and are metaphorically separated from the activity.  Those who “buy-in” to the mission and to the tactics the manager employs in its execution constitute the “in-group.”  Once the “out-group” has been identified, and they now know who they are, and they now know everybody else recognizes who they are, the manager can begin to engage those members on an individual basis for the purpose of identifying deficiencies and correcting them.  By facilitating the development of stronger individual relationships with members of the “out-group,” the manager can help them to address those deficiencies, utilizing each member’s strengths while marginalizing their weaknesses.  Once these relationships are established, members of the “out-group” are more likely to transition to the “in-group,” which leads to a healthier workplace environment and to greater productivity.

Those characteristics or traits that may generally result in an individual being categorized as part of the “out-group” can vary widely, but often involve personality conflicts; a temperamental disinclination to “buy in” to the mission either because of a genuine rejection of the purpose and/or process involved or because of simple apathy; or a physical, mental or emotional inability to participate in a constructive manner.  Disgruntled employees, regardless of motivation, can have a profoundly deleterious effect on the workplace atmosphere.  Such antipathy, either toward the manager or toward the mission, definitely places someone in the “out-group,” and whether such an individual can be motivated to improve or needs to be separated from his or her place of employment and be replaced by someone more inclined to fall into the “in-group” is a decision management and human resources (if it exists within the company in question) are required to make at some point.  The LMX theory is designed to facilitate the process in which weaknesses are identified and addressed.  Ultimately, it is up to the individual employee to conform to workplace standards and requirements.  

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