Relationships between communication style and leader-member exchange: an issue for the entrepreneur.

Author:Yrle, Augusta C.
Position:Survey
 
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ABSTRACT

It is almost a truism that the entrepreneur, even more than the manager in a large, established business, is dependent in many ways on the organization's employees. In turn, it is widely recognized throughout the managerial literature that the willingness of employees to put forth their best efforts arises in large part from the quality of the employees' relationship with their manager--here, the entrepreneur. What can the entrepreneur do to influence the quality of the relationship? In this research, our focus is upon communication, and we examine the relationships between findings from two related literature streams: a prescriptive body of theory involving "best practices" in supervisor-subordinate communication, and leader-member exchange (LMX) theory from the management literature. LMX suggests that supervisors may afford differing treatment, and thus possibly use different communications tactics, with subordinates in higher quality exchange relationships than with those in lower quality relationships. This literature, however, leaves unresolved whether the entrepreneur, as supervisor, should treat employees differently. In this research we find evidence that employees perceive differences, especially in level of participation-related communication, depending upon whether they believe they are in a higher or lower quality LMX relationship. Moreover, we find weak evidence for congruence between supervisor and subordinate perceptions of the quality of the exchange and no significant evidence that similarity of the dyad influences its quality. Implications for entrepreneurs are developed.

INTRODUCTION

It has been recognized that as soon as the entrepreneurial organization reaches a size where there is a payroll and employees, a series of challenges arise. Specifically, the entrepreneur, even more than the manager in a large, established business, is dependent in many ways on the organization's employees. This dependence occurs for several reasons: these individuals, and there may be relatively few of them, may be representing the firm to its customers and/or producing the firm's "product." Where they perform poorly, their deficiencies may quickly become obvious and irreversible. In turn, it is widely recognized throughout the managerial literature that the willingness of employees to put forth their best efforts arises in large part from the quality of the employees' relationship with their manager--here, the entrepreneur. Yet entrepreneurs are often visionary, driven individuals who may find it difficult to establish the needed relationships. What can the entrepreneur do to influence the quality of the relationship with the organization's employees?

In this study, our focus is upon communication as a potential vehicle for the entrepreneur to use in influencing employees. Specifically, it represents an initial effort to investigate relationships between two distinct literature streams within communication and management which appear to have implications for entrepreneurial communication. We first examine the "best practices" communication literature dealing with perceptual congruence. We then turn to the management leadership literature involving leader-member exchange (LMX). Therefore, we question whether the LMX literature can be used to aid in understanding any variations which may exist in the ways managers communicate with different employee types and whether there are differences between subordinates perceiving that they obtain higher or lower quality exchanges with their supervisors.

THE COMMUNICATION LITERATURE

Historically, the communication literature has had a prescriptive orientation and, in the area of superior-subordinate communication, has been concerned with identifying "best" communication styles, tactics, and behaviors. Note, especially Jablin's (1979) literature review which refers to Redding's (1972) findings that "communication-mindedness," empathetic listening, persuasion rather than telling, sensitivity, and openness characterize better supervisors. Moreover, Jablin points to wide support for these ideas throughout the literature. More recently, Pettit, Goris, and Vaught (1997) have shown that the quality of several aspects of communication could be used to predict job satisfaction on the part of employees. Moreover, communication represented a weak moderator of the job performance-satisfaction relationship. (See also Clampitt & Downs (1993); Dansereau & Markham (1987); Pincus (1986) for related discussion of these issues.) Note that the underlying idea is that "best" behaviors can be identified and, if used by the manager, will improve the manager's effectiveness.

If this is the case, how may deviations from the "ideal" be understood? One perspective coming from the literature proposes that perceptual differences between supervisors and subordinates may distort communications, suggesting that perceptual differences held by a subordinate may cause distortions to the supervisor's message. If so, the subordinate may, in effect, receive an ineffective message even when an effective one was sent. Conversely, of course, the distortion may be the supervisor's. This is especially true if the supervisor believes the message was ideally sent, when, in fact, it was not. Of interest are numerous studies (Boyd & Jensen, 1972; Schnake, Dumler, Cochran, & Barnett, 1990; Tompkins, 1989; Wexley, Alexander, Greenwalt, & Couch, 1980; White, 1977) which have indicated that superiors and subordinates have differing perceptions of a variety of factors which affect their relationships. Moreover, supervisor-subordinate expectations regarding many aspects of the communication process may also be vastly dissimilar (McCallister, 1983). Similarities--especially those related to demographics, attitudes, and/or values--have been shown to reduce the potential for distortion (Cheryl, Ravlin, & Meglino, 1996; DiSalvo & Larsen, 1987; McCroskey, Richmond, & Daly, 1975; Schnake et al., 1990).

More broadly within the management/perception literature, a number of comparable findings of perceptual distortions and lack of supervisor-subordinate congruence have been reported (See especially Kolb, 1995; Webber, 1970). Hatfield and Huseman (1982) developed a scale (used in this study) to test for supervisor-subordinate congruence in perceptions of aspects of their communications and found that congruence was directly related to satisfaction.

In general, then, the communication literature has historically taken a "classical" approach to supervisor-subordinate communications and has attempted to identify "best" practices which apply across situations. Distortions, arising from lack of congruence between supervisors and subordinates, have been seen as a primary problem area, moderating the direct relationship between improved communications and satisfaction and/or performance outcomes. From the perspective of the entrepreneurial literature, a potential problem may be that the orientation and perceptual differences between the visionary, driven entrepreneur and...

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