Leader-Member Exchange in Scripture: Insights from Jesus, Noah, and Abraham

  • Jennifer J. Dose


Although much has been written about leadership from a Christian perspective, Christian principles have greater potential to be integrated into the academic research literature than has yet been realized. Leadership theory and practice is one area in which Scripture can contribute significantly, leader-member exchange theory (LMX) being one example. LMX states that leaders have limited personal, social, and organizational resources (e.g., time, energy, personal power); thus, rather than interacting similarly with each follower, leaders have different relationships with different followers. Some followers receive a higher degree of social exchange including increased levels of information sharing, interaction time, mutual support, and informal influence. In contrast, other followers receive a lower level of social exchange and are treated in a more formal, “by-the-book” manner. This paper applies biblical principles to LMX with the goal of making recommendations regarding the desirability and possible limitations of building differential relationships with followers as a leadership practice. Jesus’ relationship to the twelve disciples in comparison to other followers, as well as God’s relationship to Noah and Abraham, are used to derive principles for effective LMX practices. Distinctive qualities of these high LMX relationships are shown through the instruction, unique experiences, empowerment, and higher expectations that these followers received. Unique relationships between a leader and followers are appropriate, but must be established based on appropriate criteria, e.g., values rather than demographic variables. Additionally, followers can, in turn, develop LMX relationships with others, thus allowing the leader to influence a greater number of individuals, though indirectly, and to support organizational goal accomplishment.Finally, a leader has a minimum responsibility and expectation for all followers, not just those with high LMX. These principles have implications for activities such as increasing workforce diversity, span of control, succession planning, and strategic leadership.