Leadership contingency theory is credited to Fiedler in 1967 who stated that the leader’s relationship with their followers, task structure, and position of power regulated how effective a leader was (Antonikis & Day, 2018). Soon after the contingency movement started, another line of research looked strictly at the relationship between the leader and the follower (Antonikis & Day, 2018). These studies were initially called the dyad linkage theory but eventually evolved into what is commonly known today as the Leader-Member Exchange (Antonikis & Day, 2018). Leader-Member Exchange describes the relationship between the leader and their followers (Antonikis & Day, 2018). In LMX a leader creates close relationships with only a few followers, and they have high-quality interactions (Sharifirad & Hajhoseiny, 2018). A high-quality leader-follower relationship is based on trust and respect (Antonikis & Day, 2018). These high-quality relationships go well beyond just what is required by the job, and these relationships are mutually beneficial (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019).
Most people can understand the LMX better by thinking of your past coaches or teachers who had a hands-on approach (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019). These coaches or teachers had their in-group and out-group (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019). Coaches had the player they spent extra time mentoring and teachers had students that seemed to be always picked in class before other students. Classic LMX is the haves and the have nots. Some employees have a quality relationship with their leader and others do not. Recently the LMX model has changed, and it is suggested that leaders should develop special relationships with all followers (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019). The outcome of a leader making high-quality relationships with all followers results in the entire team becoming the in-group (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019).
Biblical Context for LMX
Leader-Member Exchange theory deals with building special high-quality relationships between the leader and follower (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019). Jesus demonstrated the LMX theory in His leadership style. Jesus had the crowds that followed Him everywhere. Luke 14:25 tells us “Now large crowds were going along with Jesus.” Matthew 4 also reaffirms that by saying, “Large crowds followed Him (Jesus) from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” However, Jesus had His smaller in-group with the twelve disciples. “He (Jesus) called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:13-16 NIV). Then Jesus had His inner-inner circle of three, “About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28 NIV).
Jesus communicated to each group differently. To the crowds, He preached, healed and performed miracles. To the twelve disciples, Jesus lived with them and taught them on a deeper level. When Jesus took the smallest group of three onto the mountain, He appeared to them with a face that was transformed and clothes that became dazzling white (Luke 9:29). The inner-inner circle saw Jesus the Son of God. The new model of LMX teaches that a leader should develop a high-quality relationship with everyone on the team (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, Contingency Theories of Leadership, 2019). LMX can be Biblical or non-Biblical depending on the way one look at it. If you look at the twelve disciples as Jesus’ in-group, then it is Biblical. Jesus developed a close relationship with each one of them. However, Jesus still had a smaller inner-group with the three. Also, if one considers the large crowds that followed Jesus, He did not have a high-quality relationship with them. Biblically speaking LMX is best defined as a small-group of high-quality relationships. The new model of LMX that everyone should be in the in-group does not apply Biblically. LMX is a theory that every Christian leader could benefit from because it is about building relationships.
-William A. Horton
Doctorate Student at Liberty Univerisity