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Leader–Member Exchange and Social Network Theory


The concept of leadership and the notion of a leader always assume the presence of the followers. As a result, various theories exploring styles and models of leadership view them from the perspective of interpersonal relations and interactions. This paper discusses leader-member exchange theory and social network theory, their differences and similarities, and their application in the field of public health.

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Similarities and Differences

Social network theory explores the interactions of various individuals and groups within their networks (Claywell, 2015). This theory views networks as larger interacting pieces that are comprised of smaller ones – the actors (Kadushin, 2004). Similarly to the social network theory, leader-member exchange theory (also known as LMX) is focused on the relationships and interactions, but it views them from the perspective of a leader as the center of a network where the communication moves from the center outwards to the periphery (Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory, 2015). In other words, the interactions head from the leader towards the closest executives, to the assistants, to the managers, and the employees. The way these theories view the direction of communication is their main difference. However, Sin, Nahrgang, and Morgeson (2009) discuss the dyadic nature, so the communication develops mutually, with both sides testing and studying each other.

Integration of the Theories

LMX theory emphasizes that the relationship between the leader and the followers differs based on the groups and individuals the leader is interacting with. That way, the leader’s communication will have various forms and styles depending on which individuals it targets (Bass & Bass, 2009). As a result, this theory is suitable for me as a public health leader during my interaction with the representatives of different groups of followers. Therefore, the more competent professionals will be provided with space for creativity and an opportunity for independent work, and those who are not ready to work on their own will be given clear instructions to follow. Besides, LMX theory may be used to inspire and empower the groups of followers who require more influence and wish to be heard (Davies, Wong, & Laschinger, 2011). As for the social network theory, it may be employed to improve my understanding of the organizational structure and culture (Cavanagh, 2007). This theory will provide me with a deeper perspective of the organization as a whole with the multitude of its processes and will help me adjust the operations and maximize the efficiency of communications.

Public Health Scenario

Wilson, Sin, and Conlon (2010) point out that the impact of LMX theory on the leader is not well-explored. In my opinion, the main benefit for the leader applying LMX and social network theories is information. This insight may be tested in the social scenario of a common public health issue such as underreported medication errors among nurses. The factors impacting the reporting behaviors of nurses are organizational, ethical, and cultural pressure; it is a managerial failure (Bahadori et al., 2013). The problem can be addressed using the unified theory. That way, the application of social network theory will provide knowledge about the phenomenon and LMX theory will help the leader empower the nurses and make them less reluctant about discussing medication errors.


LMX and social network theories are extremely useful for a public health leader, who is highly dependent on interpersonal relations with the followers. These theories allow a better understanding and more constructive interaction with the executives and the employees to maximize the efficiency of the operations and communications.

Reference List

Bahadori, M., Ravangard, R., Aghili, A., Sadeghifar, J., Gharsi Manshadi, M., & Smaeilnejad, J. (2013). The Factors Affecting the Refusal of Reporting on Medication Errors from the Nurses’ Viewpoints: A Case Study in a Hospital in Iran. ISRN Nursing, 1-5.

Bass, B. M., & Bass R. (2009). The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications. New York, NY: Free Press.

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Cavanagh, A. (2007). Sociology in the age of the Internet. Maidenhead, UK: McGraw Hill/Open University Press.

Claywell, C. R. (2015). What Is Social Network Theory? Web.

Davies, A., Wong, C. A., & Laschinger, H. (2011). Nurses’ participation in personal knowledge transfer: The role of leader-member exchange (LMX) and structural empowerment. Journal of Nursing Management, 19(5), 632–643.

Kadushin, C. (2004). Introduction to Social Network Theory. Web.

Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory. Web.

Sin, H. P., Nahrgang, J. D., & Morgeson, F. P. (2009) Understanding why they don’t see eye to eye: An examination of leader-member exchange (LMX) agreement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(4), 1048–1057.

Wilson, K. S., Sin, H., & Conlon, D. E. (2010). What about the leader in leader-member exchange?The impact of resource exchanges and substitutability on the leader. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), 358–372.

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