Established antecedents of quality in LMX-relations

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Leadership relevance of the study

According to Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991) one of the crucial factors for leadership making is based on how relational exchanges take place in LMX-relations. The pivotal point is that LMX focuses on the importance of dyadic relationships with all the subordinates and that it is beneficial to make everyone a part of the in-group. In other words, leadership making promotes partnership when leaders attempt to build effective dyads with all the subordinates in their work unit. LMX leads to insightful understanding of leadership approaches because unlike other theories, addresses the specific relationships and underscores that effective leadership is contingent on effective leader-member exchanges. Another noteworthy point is that LMX directs attention to the importance of communication in leadership. The reason is that communication is a key vehicle to create, nurture and sustain useful exchanges (Northouse, 2019).
Another important point considering LMX-relations refers to individualized consideration done by the “leader”. Individualized consideration is the degree to which the “leader” considers the needs of every employee and acts as a mentor or coach and focuses on everyone’s concern. Motivating and treating all the subordinates exactly in the same way and avoiding differentiation may be ineffective. However, it is clear that subordinates do not evaluate their LMX-relations in isolation from their co-workers, clearly social comparison in its contexts have powerful effects on subordinates (Lee, Gerbasi, Schwarz & Newman, 2019). Still, subordinates tend to reciprocate to a greater extent when they perceive a better LMX-quality with the “leader”, rather than when their co-worker’s LMX-relationship is of high quality (Lee et al., 2019). This emphasizes the importance for the “leader” to be aware of LMX-relations. Consequently, it is crucial to understand whether the subordinates’ different perceptions of impersonal trust factors are associated with quality in LMX-relations, because it helps the leader in assessing and developing every unique LMX-relation.

Subordinate relevance of the study

Finding strategies to promote high quality LMX-relations result in positive consequences regarding subordinates in the organizations. According to Zhao, Wu and Gu (2020) a crucial characteristic of high quality LMX-relations is team effectiveness, which depends on how subordinates share their knowledge and speak up with suggestions and opinions. Subordinate voice behavior leads to a whole range of consequences such as, team improvement, reducing team turnover, promoting team performance and team innovation. High quality LMX-relations are the key predictor of team voice, it reduces subordinates’ fear of negative consequences of communication and concurrently increases subordinates’ confidence to speak up (Sears & Hackett, 2011; Martin et al., 2005; Harris & Kacmar, 2005).
According to diverse studies employees with high quality LMX-relations are more creative regarding task accomplishment (Masood, Usta & Shafique, 2019; Liao, Hu, Chung & Chen, 2017). The underlying reason is that employees with high quality LMX-relations enjoy challenges in their work which fit their job values. These authors claim that challenging tasks makes work more meaningful and can provide opportunities for learning through experimentation. Put differently, high quality LMX-relations lead subordinates toward better job performance complemented by novel ideas of completing tasks. By taking all these into consideration, one can argue that identifying factors or strategies which can promote high quality of LMX-relations are useful because engaged subordinates play an important role in organizational effectiveness.

Human resource relevance of the study

In the perspective of human resource development (HRD), trust is recognized as one of the most important components for team development and overall performance. The reason is that interpersonal trust facilitates informal cooperation. A higher level of trust in LMX-relations increases the likelihood of emotional support, cooperation and sharing of information between “leaders” and employees. In other words, trust building is recognized as one of the most important (HRD) interventions (Armstrong, 2009). Another practical implication contributed by Kang and Stewart’s (2007) study refers to observed better performance of individuals and organizations through the diagnosis of LMX-relations. Indeed, LMX can diagnose relationships so high-quality relationships can be developed where it is needed, and hence improve overall performance in organizations. The developmental features of LMX provide insightful understanding for (HRD) about the relations within the organization (Kang & Stewart, 2007). Above the potential benefits for the HR-department to have LMX-relations diagnosed, this study contributes to HR-practitioners knowledge about the role of impersonal trust in these diagnosed LMX-relations.
Exploring whether impersonal trust can significantly predict the quality of leaders- subordinate relationships is valuable especially for the strategic-management and human resource development (HRD) functions, because HR-practitioners formally incline the authority to manipulate these activities. Interestingly, impersonal trust is considered as a more comprehensive concept incorporating both aspects of trust, the interpersonal and impersonal organizational factors such as vision and strategy, top management, justice, fairness and HRM policies. The crucial point is that impersonal trust is a more comprehensive measure which can be used to evaluate, analyze, and develop the concept of organizational trustworthiness. Obviously, it is of high practical value for the HR-department, which increasingly strives to differentiate the organization in terms of human capital. Those organizations which try to build a higher level of trust, can increase their efficiency and effectiveness as a result of exploiting more benefits related to organizational trust (Vanhala et al., 2011).

Attribution Theory

“Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment” (Fiske & Taylor, 1991, p. 23). The development of attribution theory started off with the work of Heider (1958), a psychologist known as a theoretical mastermind due to his book “The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations”. Heider (1958) claimed that individuals are naive psychologists when trying to make sense of the world. Put differently, people tend to seek for cause-and-effect relationships in almost every situation, even when it is impossible to truly determine it. There is a plethora of research about attribution theory in almost all kinds of contexts. In the writing moment (i.e., 2021-01-28) a search on “attribution theory” on the database OneSearch gives 799454 hits, whereof 604723 are peer-reviewed articles. Therefore, we had to be rather selective in our literature choices and thus aim to get the essential parts of the theory down that are relevant for the thesis topic. Holt et al. (2019) is a well-reviewed book used internationally in all basic-educational psychology programs, and hence includes a comprehensible validated summary of the attribution theory’s development and its relevant successors. Holt et al. (2019); Heider (1958) both emphasizes that the attempts in understanding and predicting behavior typically includes personal- (i.e., internal, also as dispositional) or situational- (i.e., external) attributions. How does the person decide whether to attribute internally or externally? The most prominent answer to this question is provided in Kelley’s (1973) covariation model. Kelley (1973) claimed that these decisions are grounded on circumstances of the present (i.e., circumstances that co-vary) at the particular time which the behavior took place. The model consists of three different types of covariation: distinctiveness, consensus, and consistency. By observing an individual’s behavior in a particular social context Holt et al. (2019) declare that the combined impact of these three types of covariation will determine what type of attribution is made. Consensus is the covariation of behavior across different people. For example, if one student (Kim) and another student say that “History of Art” is great, then consensus is high which indicates situational attribution. But if just Kim says that “History of Art” is boring, consensus is low which relates to personal attribution. Distinctiveness refers to how unique the behavior is to the particular situation. For example, if Kim dislikes only the evening class in “History of Art”, then distinctiveness is high but if she says that most of her courses are terrible, then distinctiveness is low. Consistency refers to the extent to which the individual behaves in the same way on different occasions. For example, consistency is high if Kim says that “History of Art” is always great (Holt et al., 2019).
When distinctiveness, consensus and consistency are all high, an internal attribution is most likely to occur. When consistency is high and consensus and distinctiveness is low, an external attribution is most likely to occur (Kelley, 1973). According to Holt et al. (2019) individuals can, but often do not, look for and combine the three types of components which were discussed earlier. These guidelines for ways of attributing are supported in several studies (Harris, Todorov & Fiske, 2005; Sutton & McClure, 2001). Notwithstanding, the covariation model serves as a guideline for attributes, it is insufficient for a prediction. Psychologists must also determine the plausible causal mechanisms between factors in the model. For a more comprehensive explanation of the high and low circumstances in the model, as well as an example of determining causal mechanisms between the factors, see (Holt et al., 2019, p. 645-647).

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Attribution Errors

As the individual’s process includes rather sophisticated techniques to determine an internal or external attribute, it may not be too startling to hear that systematic errors occur within this process. For the purpose of sticking to the topic of this thesis, some attribution errors have been excluded (e.g., the self-serving bias & actor-observer bias). Self-serving bias refers to individuals’ tendency to make personal attributions for their own success and situational attributions for their own failures. The actor-observer bias refers to a tendency to attribute one’s own action to external cause while attributing other people’s behaviors to internal cause. Both types of these bias play an important role in how individuals perceive and interact with other people (Holt et al., 2019). However, our attention will be directed towards the fundamental attribution error for its important contribution for our hypotheses. Indeed, systematic errors in attribution processes are the main premise in the development of our hypothesis.
The fundamental attribution error is a systematic error where the individual tends to underestimate the impact of the situation (i.e., the external attribution), simultaneously as the individual overestimates personal factors (i.e., the internal attribution) (Holt et al., 2019). Even under circumstances in which it should be evident that external factors account for the behavior, individuals still overestimate internal factors (e.g., Jones & Harris, 1967; Doosje, Loseman, & Bos, 2013). It is essential to understand that the fundamental attribution error only applies to attributions of other people, rather than one own’s behavior. What causes this error is still in debate but according to Holt et al. (2019); Sabini, Siepmann & Stein (2001) psychologists agree that it is inevitable. Interestingly, when individuals have time to reflect on their judgments or are highly motivated to be careful about their reflections, the fundamental attribution error is reduced. This process is summarized in figure 1.

Leader-member exchange (LMX)

LMX is defined as a relational approach to leadership which focuses on the quality of the dyadic relationship between “leader” and subordinate, at the core of the leadership process. A fundamental tenet of LMX is that “leaders” develop different quality relations with their subordinates in organizations which can drive attitudinal and behavioral reactions in the dyadic LMX-relations (Afota, Robert & Vandenberghe, 2020; Harris, Li & Kirkman, 2014; Zhao et al., 2020). LMX is grounded in role-theory and social exchange theory, in addition, LMX clarifies how the quality of relationships is shaped by dyadic role-making processes and reciprocal social exchange (Anand, Vidyarthi & Park, 2016; Sears & Hackett, 2011).
Unlike most leadership theories which emphasized the leader’s perspective, LMX theory conceptualized leadership as a process that is centered on the interaction between “leaders” and employees. It means that the employees play an important role in creating the relationship as well (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). These authors claim that LMX-relations do not focus on the specific characteristics of leaders which is thought to be influential for effective “leaders”. Clearly, LMX highlights the quality and nature of relationships and the important idea that leaders should strive to develop as many high-quality relationships as possible.
The early studies of LMX are referred to as vertical dyad linkage (VDL) theory. In VDL-theory the focus was oriented towards the nature of vertical linkages that leaders form with their followers. The theory sees the leader’s relationship to their work unit as a series of different vertical dyads. Researchers observed the existence of two general types of vertical linkages: Those that were based on their defined roles according to the formal employment contract (i.e., out-group), and those that were based on increased and discussed role responsibilities (i.e., in-group) (Northouse, 2019). What then, determines the followers group affiliation? It depends on how well the follower works with the leader, and how well the leader works with the follower, whereof personality characteristics relate to this process (Dansereau, Graen & Haga, 1975; Maslyn, Schyns & Farmer, 2017; Randolph-Seng, Cogliser, Randolph, Scandura, Miller & Smith-genthôs, 2016). Furthermore, the membership of a group is affected by the follower’s willingness to take on expanded role responsibilities that go beyond the formal employment contract (Graen, 1976). VDL research was highly focused on comparing differences between in-groups and out-groups.
There was a shift in LMX, compared to the initial studies that primarily addressed the differences between in-groups and out-groups, modern research moves beyond investigating leader-subordinate dyads in isolation of the social contexts. LMX research started to scrutinize the role of LMX-relations structures, such as organizational effectiveness and the importance of teams in organizations (Northouse, 2019; Hooper & Martin, 2008). Note that this shift in LMX was still on a dyadic level of analysis, but the differentiated LMX-relations was in this shift validated against organizational outcomes instead of validated against relations within the work units themselves (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995).

Table of contents :

1 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Leadership relevance of the study
1.3 Subordinate relevance of the study
1.4 Human resource relevance of the study
1.5 Problem discussion
1.6 Purpose
2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 Attribution Theory
2.1.1 Attribution Errors
2.2 Leader-member exchange (LMX)
2.2.1 Quality in LMX-relations
2.2.2 Established antecedents of quality in LMX-relations
2.3 Impersonal trust
2.3.1 Capability
2.3.2 Fairness
2.4 Hypothesis
3 Methodology
3.1 Procedure
3.2 Sampling
3.3 Instruments
3.4 Ethical considerations
4 Results
5 Discussion
5.1 General discussion
6 Conclusion
6.1 Practical implications
6.2 Implications for future research
6.3 Limitations
List of References

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