The LMX theory of leadership, or the Leader-Member Exchange theory, involves a leader stepping down from their mantle of leadership to assume the day-to-day roles that their direct reports complete every day. In some ways, leaders do this every day in some way. This theory applies, however, to those leaders who do it on a full time basis. There are some definite advantages and disadvantages to this particular leadership theory, so let’s look at them in greater detail.
What Are the Advantages of the LMX Theory of Leadership?
1. It creates high levels of morale within a team.
One of the most common places where a team is unable to trust their leader is in the completion of daily front-line tasks. When a leader is able to step out of their role and complete the responsibilities they’re asking their team to complete with a high degree of quality, it inspires a new level of trust that other leadership theories are unable to inspire.
2. It gets a project completed more rapidly.
Leaders who roll up their sleeves to do the same work their team is doing provide an extra set of hands. This allows projects to be completed more quickly because there is extra manpower available for the tasks at hand.
3. It forms closer relationships.
Leaders who are directly with their team members forge closer relationships with them that inspire higher level of confidence. Closer relationships foster creativity and better skill development because the leader is seen as an expert at what is being accomplished. This is why direct work can always help to train others because they can see the best practices being performed by a recognized expert.
What Are the Disadvantages of the LMX Theory of Leadership?
1. Leaders like the feeling of not being in charge.
Leadership is a grind. It is a very lonely experience at the best of times. By rolling up their sleeves to work with their team, the loneliness goes away and so does the daily grind. Every day a leader stays out of their leadership role, they assume more of the personality traits and skills that their team members already have. It essentially creates a leadership vacuum.
2. A lack of overall direction may be present.
In the first days of a leader practicing this theory of leadership, team members will often become inspired. When this theory is practice for prolonged periods of time, however, a lack of overall direction for that team may present itself. With no true leader at the helm, choices become based on popularity or democratic principles instead.
3. It may negatively impact a leader’s social network.
This isn’t a reference to the popularity of a leader’s Facebook page. Leaders need to network with other business leaders within their industry in order to have influence and expertise. When they are not in a leadership role on a consistent basis, they will lose this needed social network and this could have a long-term negative impact on a leader’s career.
The best way to impact an organization in a positive way is to focus on leadership development. Organizations that focus on recruiting good people and raising them up to be leaders have no limit to the success that they can achieve. The LMX theory of leadership can help leaders see the broad goals of a mission when used appropriately, but it must be used carefully. Otherwise a leader may lose complete sight of the mission, the goals at hand, and even their own desire to be in a leadership position in the first place.