Efficient Exchange and Attribution

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One can hardly doubt that the efficient communication between a manager as a leader and an employee as a follower is an essential part of a successfully achieving business. Numerous leadership theories elaborate on different means of establishing more effective relationships between managers and subordinates. It is possible to mention that one of the most important areas of concern is the process of evaluation of subordinate’s performance by the manager (or vice versa) and expressing an appropriate reaction to it. This paper aims to study the case, which describes the situation of a leader-follower conflict over an insufficiently completed task. The purpose of this study is to determine the mistakes which were made in the process of communication and to discuss possible solutions in the context of leadership theories.

Background and Applicable Theories

First of all, it is important to provide the background to put further study into a proper context. The case, written by Yukl (2013), describes a controversy over the task which was not completed due to the deadline. Betty Powell, the manager of human resources for American Financial Corporation, asked her subordinate Don Adams to gather the information and write a staffing report, which was for the vice president of the company (Yukl, 2013). However, when Powell returned from her business trip, she found out that the report was not ready. She had set a meeting with Adams, and they had a conversation about the case. The specific aspects of their discussion will be further elaborated to retrieve the communication mistakes which could be avoided and thus to improve the efficiency of their work.

Also, it is essential to determine which leadership theories could be applied to analyze the case under consideration. It appears that three theoretical frameworks apply to this case study: attribution theory, leader-member exchange (LMX) theory, and impression theory (Yukl, 2013). Each of these methods describes a particular approach to situations similar to the case. The attribution theory is concerned with two stages of managerial decision-making: (1) the evaluation of factors that caused subordinate’s poor performance, and (2) selecting an appropriate reaction to subordinate’s mistake (Yukl, 2013). LMX theory primarily dwells upon the concept of exchange relationships, asserting that such bonds “are formed by personal compatibility and subordinate competence and dependability” (Yukl, 2013, p. 222). Additionally, follower attributions theory and implicit theories of leadership will also help to study the case more profoundly, since they explore the manager-subordinate communication from the perspective of a follower. The following section will discuss the applications of each of the mentioned theoretical frameworks.

Application of Identified Theories

First of all, it is essential to dwelling upon the leader-member exchange theory since it provides a significant context for the described situation. It is not stated explicitly in the text; however, it is implied that Powell and Adams did not have high-exchange relationships. It is evident that Adams is a loyal and committed employee who strives to provide the company with high-quality results (Yukl, 2013). However, it appears that he does not receive enough motivation and support from his manager. It should also be noted that one of the core aspects of successful leader-member relationships is the mutual process of defining the subordinate’s role. However, it is evident from the case that Powell and Adams have different perspectives on what comprises the employee’s responsibilities.

Further, it is possible to elaborate on attribution theories since it appears to be the most applicable approach for this case. According to the two-stage attribution model, designed by Green and Mitchell, a manager initially determines whether internal or external factors influenced the subordinate’s poor performance, and then the appropriate reaction should be expressed (Yukl, 2013). It is evident from the study that Powell attributes the causes of Adams’ insufficient work to internal factors since she tells him: “You seem to be incapable of planning the action steps needed to do a project like this one” (Yukl, 2013, p, 246). Also, she adds that Adams has “the messiest office in the company” which is an apparent demonstration of her biased attitude toward the subordinate (Yukl, 2013, p, 246).

Finally, it is possible to mention several theories that can explain the controversy of the case from the perspective of Don Adams. Implementing the follower attributions theory, it is possible to suggest that Adams might perceive his manager as if she is more concerned with personal benefits than a commitment to the company since Powell was on the trip for the management training workshop (Yukl, 2013). Also, it is possible to propose another explanation: Adams could be affected by the fact that the manager did not take direct action aimed at the improvement of performance. Additionally, according to implicit theories of leadership, employees tend to have certain beliefs about the qualities of an ideal manager, and thus these beliefs can significantly influence the evaluation of a manager’s actions and performance (Yukl, 2013).

What was Wrong with the Meeting?

Since the applications of the mentioned theories were discussed, it is possible to dwell on the mistakes which were made by Powell and Adams during the meeting. First of all, Powell should have gathered the information about the performance problem before the meeting, which she did not (Yukl, 2013). It also appears to be that the manager was attribution-biased, and she did not describe Adams’ performance elaborately and in specific terms (Yukl, 2013). It is also evident that she was not calm and professional in her communication since she expressed her dissatisfaction along with the feedback about the poor performance. Concerning Adams’ behavior during the meeting, it is possible to notice that his arguments were defensive to an excessive extent, which is not a beneficial strategy (Yukl, 2013). Also, he did not promote himself as a skillful worker nor did he explicitly exemplify himself as an employee who is committed to the mission; however, both of these aspects are important to leave a positive impression on the manager (Yukl, 2013).


Further, it is possible to propose several suggestions for the improvement of the situations similar to the case. First of all, it is essential to follow the guidelines for correcting performance deficiencies which were mentioned in the previous section. In addition to already stated examples, it is possible to suggest that Powell and Adams should have mutually identified the reasons for poor performance and set a specific improvement plan (Yukl, 2013). Secondly, the study by Little, Gooty, and Williams (2016) reveals that it is possible to efficiently employ leader emotion management to increase the level of employees’ job satisfaction. Thirdly, the research by Story and Neves (2015) suggests that “employee task performance increases when employees attribute both intrinsic and extrinsic motives” for corporate social responsibility (p. 111). Overall, it is possible to conclude that leaders and followers should be aware of their attribution biases and improve their relationships to achieve a higher level of positive exchange.


Little, L. M., Gooty, J., & Williams, M. (2016). The role of leader emotion management in leader–member exchange and follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(1), 85-97.

Story, J., & Neves, P. (2015). When corporate social responsibility (CSR) increases performance: exploring the role of intrinsic and extrinsic CSR attribution. Business Ethics: A European Review, 24(2), 111-124.

Yukl, G. A. (2013). Leadership in organizations (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

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