All Slices Properly Placed Together Make the Jigsaw, Otherwise You're Puzzled: A Critical Review of the Research Paper

 

 

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Introduction
A research paper is much like the mirror reflection of the research proceedings, where the researcher provides the fragments of the proceedings in such a manner that in the end it would remind one a completed jigsaw puzzle with each fragment is fitted in its appropriate compartment to provide a complete picture. Therefore, a research paper stands to share its joy of discovery to its targeted readers, who would be able to associate the elements of the research to its purpose, would be convinced with the logistics presented and would be encouraged to carry the research forward. Thus this research paper on critiquing others research work chooses the research paper presented by the trio, Kenneth J. Harris, Randa B. Harris and David M. Eplion, titled, “Personality, Leader-Member Exchanges, and Work Outcomes” to find whether it rises to the level of expectation by meeting the preconditions as mentioned above.

The Steps Applied in Critiquing
The critiquing breaks down the paper into three segments – One, Problem definition, two, research design and data collection, and three, analysis and interpretation. All segments thereafter have been divided into appropriate sections to create its own jigsaw towards finding the strengths and weaknesses of the paper and summarizes the same in its conclusion.

A. Problem definition/Literature review

This segment checks the quality of the background presented by the paper, besides the clarity and intensity of the problem, and the quality of its literature review.

Quality of Background
The researches have chosen to arrive at the scene from the word go, as it briefs LMX (Leader-Member Exchange) theory in one breath, thereby completely overlooking the significance of presenting the issues embedded with LMX, like transactional leadership, specific nature of it and how LMX theory evolved under what conditions and why it is significant in the current context.

In the process it missed out the following points which are seemingly pertinent to create the very premise of understanding:

LMX theory is an extension of transactional mode of leadership that appreciates transformational leadership, yet discards the labyrinthine process of it.
LMX theory advocates for a satellite group for the leader/s who would primarily transact with the members of this group to ensure better performance of the employees, where it would empower these members over the rest of the employees.
It is the competitive atmosphere in the modern day business sector has given birth of LMX theory for the companies to gain most in shorter time and thereby maintaining a competitive advantage over other companies belonging to the same league.
How LMX is supposed to work by exploiting motivation-reward principles among the satellite group.
The advent of globalization has converted the modern corporate world into a place for only fast paced, result driven companies who can make the most in shortest possible time – and from that perspective LMX is a significant contribution to modern management.
With the absence of these explanations, the background looks dull and fails to evoke readers’ interest. It seems that the researchers have taken the readers for granted that they will be thoroughly conversant with the background of LMX and thus decided to start from the middle. This paper thus lacks a quality background.

Clarity and Intensity of the Problem

This paper identifies ‘lesser work’ as its main reason to substantiate the fact like the “quality of the relationships between supervisors and subordinates is a significant predictor of a number of outcomes”. That evokes questions like below, which remain answered in the research:

What is the real problem that this research intends to serve?
What is the significance of its finding and where it can lead to?
According to ‘falsification theory’ mooted by Karl Popper (1902 – 1994), “science starts with a problem rather than stark observation”, and “scientific theories are conjectures that attempt to overcome problems” (Karl, 1959). From this perspective, this paper starts with inductivism, where science starts with observation, as it does not clearly mention about a ‘problem’ it is going to solve. The mere absence of huge research on a factor or two related to a theory cannot be a solid ground of research, unless that absence poses as problems. Without a problem, a study turns into narration of observation, and unfortunately, this paper tows that line. Therefore, this can be opined that this paper does not possess a clearly defined problem, save highlighting its significance.

Quality of the Literature Review
Though the paper contains around 40 references, it seldom goes beyond quoting inferences from the earlier researchers, interspersed by general comments, seemingly attempting to bridge several ideas. An example from its introduction would surely explain the above statement:

“…The relationship between supervisors and subordinates has received considerable research attention [general comment] and has been suggested to be one of, if not the most, important relationship for employees (Manzoni &Barsoux, 2002). Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory has provided a useful framework for examining these relationships [general comment] and has been the focus of numerous empirical studies (Gerstner & Day, 1997, Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995), LMX theory varies from other theories of leadership (i.e., trait leadership theories, contingency theories) in that it assumes leaders differ in the types of relationships they develop with their subordinates [again a general comment]…”

A research should provide appropriate clarifications by explaining the reference. Here too the researchers are expected to touch down the reasons why such a relationship receives research attention or in which way LMX provides a useful framework or how it differs from other leadership theories. This pattern of presentation is prevalent in most of literature review part and thus it goes on creating a long list of unanswered questions. If a fact is worth mentioning, then the reason behind it should also be mentioned. Alongside, the marshalling of facts should drive home the prime fact – the finding. While such attempt can be found in this paper, the lack of explanation of the facts used blurs that attempt. As for example, the researchers mention that “much less attention has been paid to antecedents”, or “there are very few instances where both antecedents and outcomes have been examined in the same study”, but fail to explore the reason behind such instances, though they earmark the era of research on LMX as stretched as 30 years, thereby leaving the readers at the crossroads of contrasting possibilities like

1.      Either research on antecedents does not merits attention

2.      Or it has gained significance under the modern day context.

That kind of elucidation requires extended research too, like the rise and fall of companies and the preconditions of survival amid the environment of globalization – that too is missing in this paper, which otherwise could have been instrumental to help the readers to see the forest among trees. Basically the paper could have started by mentioning how “leadership has evolved over time from other leadership styles as the social situations changed” (Transformational, 2007),

Thus this paper deprives its readers from certain backgrounds like how the advent of LMX has raised the scope of Transactional Leadership, where it guides the “role-making process between a leader and a follower, besides describing how the leaders can develop different exchange relationships over time with various followers (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975).

This paper also misses out to mention about how LMX “discriminates against the out-group and fails to explain how high quality dyads are made” (Northhouse, 2000). It is from here the argument could have stemmed out and could have been further fuelled by the propositions like “leaders use rewards and punishments to promote performance, thereby making the leader-follower relationship an economic exchange transaction” (Barnett, 2003; Gellis, 2001; Jung & Avolio, 1999), where some might argue that a transactional leadership remains limited into transaction itself and thus thrives on mechanical relationship between the leader and the followers that is assumed to come to an end with the completion of the transaction (Lussier & Achua, 2004, p.359). All these could have created a perfect launching pad for any research that wants to establish an idea like “LMX is positively related to desired outcomes”.

The threefold purpose of this study as mentioned by the researchers too deserves more explanation than it contains, as the basement theories like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or ERG or Need theory seem conspicuous in their absence, as the diagrams that could have explained more about LMX or the personality and outcome variables. These flaws in the literature review altogether diffuse the enthusiasm of the readers who are deprived of the vital clues associated with the research.

This theory of Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)[1] provides an outline of human needs that a manager should know and exploit to motivate the employees, because motivation is guided by unfulfilled needs. Thus Maslow’s model of ‘needs’ is invaluable to systematically pursue the needs while keeping the flow of motivation intact.

Maslow’s model (Maslow’s, 2006) divides the human needs into five broad based categories and they are:

1. Physiological Needs: Air, Water, Nourishment and Sleep – these are the basic needs of humans and a company should take care that the employees are having all these in proper measure. It’s only after meeting this need, humans can look towards sustenance, and thus arrives the need like Safety need.

2. Safety Needs: This need covers the issues of safety in both living and in workplace, medical insurance, job security and financial backup. Company should try to contribute in all of these areas with the view that the problem in any of these areas takes away the focus of the employees. This provides much needed mental space and time to the employees, where they can afford to pursue another vital need like Social Need.

3. Social Needs: Group activities, socialization, or enhanced interpersonal communication are the elements that fulfill the social needs and which are well within the ambit of a company to imbibe in the employees, where they form a sense of belonging, which paves the way for the next need, that is Esteem Need.

4. Esteem Needs: At this stage humans turn their focus on esteem that involves recognition and social status, at the outer world and self-respect or sense of achievement in one’s own mind. This creates the platform to pursue the self-realization process, which is a unique and endless process, where one can bask in the endless discoveries about oneself. Maslow had named this ultimate need of humans as Self-actualization. It is thus understood, that an employee would reach his/her highest point of regard about the company, if it can help him/her to reach this state.

5. Self-actualization: Every human life is ideally poised to pursue this need where one can delve deep within and keep on discovering oneself from many perspective both on mental and physical plane – it is something like playing in one’s own garden – in Maslow’s words, “Self-actualized persons have frequent occurrences of peak experiences, which are moments of profound happiness and harmony” (Maslow’s, 2008).

The brief take on Maslow’s model clearly shows its utility value in linking anything pertaining to human behavior, the absence of which in this paper would surely be felt by its readers.  There were other handy theories too, like ERG theory or Need Theory, which could have served as a perfect foil to the research issue.

B. Research Design and Data Collection

This segment probes the merit of research design, methodology, sampling strategy and maintenance of ethical norms while treating the respondents.

Research Design
The research design seems to be a combination of exploratory and casual approach, where the latter seems to have taken place due to the lack of extended input – as the paper provides one-dimensional approach to its design, where its hypotheses command more than that, especially hypothesis 2, that says, “internal locus of control, need for power, and self-esteem are positively related to LMX quality”. It encompasses a very large area of study and thus merits a sub section of research to convince the readers. Appropriate Methods Applied

There is nothing wrong with the methods applied, where it appears that the researchers have tried to maintain balance on certain elements of research like sex ratio, age range or job experience. The adoption of “5-point Likert scales” as well as other appropriate scales for measuring personality variables, outcome variables, organizational feedback or supervisor feedback also looks sensible, as the mode of research favors such practice.

Wrong Sampling
The next glaring loophole in the research lies in the sample selection, where the researchers select samples from such a trade that doesn’t even contain the basic element of an organization, i.e., interactive process of production. No matter how much the researchers wanted to defend their selection by saying “this sample is especially appropriate for examining antecedents and consequences of LMX because the respondents had jobs where the leader-member relationship was integral and important for completing their work”, a lottery company is known to work with published lottery bills, where its chief activities are confined within collecting and selling bills.

The proceedings of a lottery company don’t have to go through major tensions of a large process that involves giving birth to a product, developing and fostering it to perfection, vying for competitive advantage over similar products through branding and positioning, diffusing management and employee conflict or formulating novel idea to synchronize them and many more that are involved in a full scale company – where all of these and more responsibilities are carried out by the leader and his/her exchange with the members.

Therefore, it would have been better had the researchers opted for some other companies that involves in a full-scale production or at least doing their business in an intense competitive environment – because, it is the stress and strain of the situation that brings out the inner elements of humans to a great degree, and accordingly, the employees of a full-scale company here could have provided more richness and variation in their feedbacks regarding team communication, leader-member communication or personal life-view or global view.

Maintenance of Ethical Norms
Simpler method was adopted in sampling where the researchers duly asked for the consents of the respondents that followed by a forwarding letter of the lottery company and a pen-and-paper survey, where everyone was assured of their anonymity. It clearly appears that the researchers have maintained the required ethical norms while dealing with respondents.

C. Analysis and Interpretation.

Data Analysis
The researchers followed Baron and Kenny’s (1986) three-step procedure, and that makes this part cogent and comprehensible, as they related independent variables to mediator variables and dependent variables before relating mediating variables to the dependent variables while including independent variables in the equation. Accordingly the researchers have been able to garner support in favor of the hypotheses that showed tangible outcome like LMX positively relating to the desired outcomes and thus broadened the scope of the proposition that “personalities exert strong influences on organizational phenomena, where the supervisor-subordinate relationship plays one of the important predictors of outcomes for employees”(Manzoni & Barsoux, 2002).

Findings do Link with Research Objectives and Literature Review
The findings as placed on table 1 and table 2 do connect to the research objective and literature review, as they provide partial or full support to the hypotheses. That aligns with the study goals as declared by the researchers too – as it examines the relationship between three subordinate personality variables and LMX quality besides examining antecedents and consequences of LMX quality in the same study, while investigating whether LMX mediates the personality-outcomes relationships to reach their findings.

Alignment between Conclusion and Findings
Since the issue itself deals with intangible items like elements of human behavior, which is always dynamic, no finding can be complete and final in determining the outcome in every instance of the application of LMX training. However, the main positive outcome of this research lies in the fact that it correlates and partially substantiates the propositions it used in the first place – that is, “LMX is positively related to desired outcomes”.

Admission of Limitations
Considering the fact that there is a good many loose ends in this paper which the researchers have not addressed in any form, it can be said that they are not frank and thorough in presenting the limitations to research. However, this can always happen in the situations where the researchers cannot identify the gray areas of their work. Otherwise, the researchers have expressed their desires to see the future researchers covering other personality elements like core self-evaluations (Judge & Bono, 2001, McClelland, 1985), conscientiousness, self-efficacy, self-monitoring (Barrick et al., 2005), or political skill (Ferris et al., 2005). This in a way hints at their admission of limitations of this research.

Conclusion

The discussion above clearly shows that this paper has more weaknesses than its strengths, as it starts with an observation and not with a problem directly related to LMX. The paper has left many chinks in its literature review and subsequently limited the scope of the issue by selecting atypical samples to find answers for the situations that are more prevalent in the full-scale companies. Since there was no argument to defend or to win over, this paper ends up an extended observation, which might have some bearing on the future line of research, where its findings can serve a clue or two towards solving problems arising out of the practice of LMX. Otherwise, this paper resembles a jigsaw that has a good many squares empty, in spite of successfully filling up some of its areas, thereby succeeding only presenting partial picture of the whole.

Ends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Barnett, K., McCormick, J., and Conners, R. 2001. “Transformational leadership in         schools – panacea, placebo or problem?” Journal of Educational Administration,         39 (1): 24-46.

Dansereau, F., Graen, G., & Haga, W.J. (1975). “A vertical dyad linkage approach          to leadership within formal organizations: A longitudinal investigation of the    role making process.”

Gellis, Z. D. 2001. “Social work perceptions of transformational and transactional           leadership in health care”. Social Work Research, 25 (1): 17-25.

Gerstner, C.R., & Day, D.V. (1997). “Meta-Analytic Review of Leader-Member            Exchange Theory: Correlates and Construct Issue. Journal of Applied Psychology,     82: 827-844.

Graen, G.B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). “Development of Leader-Member Exchange          (LMX) Theory of Leadership over 25 years: Applying a Multi-Level Multi-   Domain Perspective”. Leadership Quarterly, 6, 219-247.

Jung, D. I. and Avolio, B. J. 1999. “Effects of leadership style and followers’     cultural orientation on performance in group and individual task conditions”.        Academy of Management Journal, 41 (2): 208-219.

Lussier, R .N. and Achua, C. F. 2004. “Leadership: theory, application, skill        development”. 2nd ed. Eagan, MN: Thomson-West.

Manzoni, J., & Barsoux, J. (2002). “The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome. How Good Managers           Cause Great People To Fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

“Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. Web document. Retrieved 3 April 2008, from             http://www.netmba.com/mgmt/ob/motivation/maslow/

Northhouse, P. (2000). Leadership Theory and Practice. Sage Publications, 2000.

Popper, K. (1959). “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”. London. Hutchinson Education.

“Transformational Leadership Report”. (2007). Web document. Retrieved 9 May 2008, from http://www.transformationalleadership.net/products/TL_ReportTrack.php

 

[1] A devoted Social Scientist who researched extensively to create a workable pattern and placement of various human needs, where he traced clues in monkeys!

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