When Caring Leaders Are Constrained: The Impact of LMX Differentiation on Leader Empathic Concern in Predicting Discretionary Work Behaviors

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Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies

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Empathic leaders often create high-quality relationships with their subordinates, and these relationships are suggested to increase several beneficial outcomes for employees and organizations alike. Yet leader–member exchange (LMX) theory suggests that leaders do not have such high-quality relationships with each of their subordinates, leading to varying levels of LMX differentiation. We examine how leaders’ empathic concern, a trait-based assessment of leader empathy, may incite additional discretionary efforts in the form of assisting coworkers with interpersonal facilitation and taking on additional tasks with job dedication. However, we suggest that when these empathic leaders are constrained, it reduces their ability to form high-quality relationships with all of their subordinates, resulting in high LMX differentiation. This LMX differentiation is expected to influence empathic leaders’ ability to motivate their followers to engage in altruistic behaviors. In a field study of workplace groups, we find that leader empathic concern positively affects interpersonal facilitation and job dedication only when LMX differentiation is low, providing support for our contention that the effects of empathic leadership may be situationally constrained. Findings and future directions are discussed.


Discretionary work behaviors; Empathic concern; Empathic leadership; Interpersonal facilitation; Job dedication; LMX differentiation


Business and Corporate Communications | Organizational Behavior and Theory



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