Leader-Member Exchange Theory in Education

27 Jul

I recently read the article, “Leader-Member Exchange Theory in Higher and Distance Education,” by R. L. Power (2013), and it got me thinking…how can I use leader-member exchange theory to my advantage as a high school teacher?

What exactly is leader-member exchange theory?  “LMX theory addresses leadership as a process centered on the interactions between leaders and followers” (Northouse, 2013, p. 182).  In other words, LMX is focused on how leaders and followers interact with each other with the understanding that these interactions influence the leadership process.  This can promote in-group, out-group distinctions, which do not help influence the leadership process.  As a result, the focus of LMX has recently been on how leaders should strive to develop high-quality interactions with everyone they lead.  Power’s article (2013) showed how LMX is “an important leadership theory in higher and distance educational contexts because of its emphasis on promoting autonomy and citizenship, as well as its ability to complement and mediate transformational leadership styles” (Power, 2013, p. 277).

LMX Theory Video

How does LMX theory impact education?  The central idea behind LMX theory is that leadership is a more effective process when leaders and followers are able to develop relationships built on trust and communication to be as effective as possible.  Teachers can be considered followers when looking at the administrator-teacher relationship, and they can be considered leaders when looking at the teacher-student relationship.  Because of this dynamic, teachers are uniquely positioned to benefit from the LMX theory.  Administrators should aim to develop as many high-quality, positive relationships with the teachers they lead as they can.  These high-quality relationships should trickle down into the classroom as teachers strive to develop positive, high-quality relationships with their students.  Why is this important?  As Power (2013) described, “followers [e.g., teachers and students] in high-quality LMX relationships demonstrate organizational commitment beyond contractual obligations, and develop a sense of citizenship that can be vital to promoting dramatic organizational [e.g., educational] change” (p. 279).

How can a teacher use LMX theory to his or her advantage?  The first step is recognize the negatives of this theory, which include the possible alienation of out-group members and no explanation as to how high-quality relationships should be developed.  I think that once the issue of how these relationships can be developed, the alienation issue will be resolved.  As Power (2013) indicated in his article, more research will need to be done to determine how to develop high-quality relationships between leaders and followers.  I posit that effective teachers have a pretty good idea as to how to develop these positive relationships with their students.  Creating a safe-classroom environment that promotes trust, respect, and honesty is a great place to start.  As a teacher, I genuinely care about my students, what they think, what they do, etc.  They know that I genuinely care, and that respect is reciprocated.  My classroom is also student-centered, and they have a lot of freedom in the projects they complete.  Lastly, I do my best to encourage all of my students in positive ways, and I offer correction in constructive ways to promote learning and respect.  While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I think that is a great place to start.

How do you promote positive relationships with those you lead?

If you are interested in learning more about LMX, here are some resources that may interest you:

Capture    Capture



Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Power, D. L. (2013). Leader-member exchange theory in higher and distance education.  International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(4), 277-283.

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Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


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