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Leader -member exchange (LMX) or fulfillment? The role of basic psychological needs in LMX relationships

Thomas Michael Hepperlen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Although numerous researchers have consistently found high leader-member exchange (LMX) relationships to be associated with a variety of positive organizational outcomes, our knowledge of the basic underlying nature of LMX remains impoverished after nearly three decades of research. In an attempt to better understand why LMX relations are so important, the present dissertation took a fresh look at this construct through the lenses of the economic man versus basic psychological needs perspectives of human motivation. The economic man conceptualization views people as being led by an “invisible hand” which is both rational and self-interested. In contrast psychological needs theory views humans as intrinsically driven to fulfill certain basic and fundamental psychological needs. Specifically, based on a multidisciplinary literature review, basic psychological needs were operationalized to include belongingness, autonomy, and self-esteem. Although the economic man perspective has been very influential in social science theories of human motivation—including LMX—psychological needs fulfillment may also likely be a key issue in the workplace. In this vein, the workplace needs fulfillment hypothesis was proposed. Based on a thorough review of past LMX theory and research, it was deemed appropriate to apply the workplace needs fulfillment hypothesis to the LMX. To test this assertion, 436 student employees, and 196 of their respective supervisors, completed an assessment battery. In support of the proposed hypotheses, LMX was shown to significantly predict employee needs fulfillment. In addition, needs fulfillment (examined both individually and together) was found to mediate the association between (a) LMX and job satisfaction, as well as (b) LMX and affective well-being in the workplace. Needs fulfillment was also importantly related to employee organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), as well as reduced intentions to leave. Considered in sum, the present study found broad support for the proposed hypotheses. The implications of these results, and the workplace needs fulfillment hypothesis in general, are discussed from both applied and theoretical perspectives. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Psychology, Industrial

Recommended Citation

Hepperlen, Thomas Michael, "Leader -member exchange (LMX) or fulfillment? The role of basic psychological needs in LMX relationships" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3074080.