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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Olga Epitropaki

Thomas, G., Martin, R., Epitropaki, O., Guillaume, Y. & Lee, A. (2013). Social cognition in leader-follower relationships: Applying insights from relationship science to understanding relationship-based approaches to leadership. Journal of Organizational Behavior 34: S63-S81.

Author(s) from Durham


Relationship-based approaches to leadership (e.g., Leader–Member Exchange theory) currently represent one of the most popular approaches to understanding workplace leadership. Although the concept of “relationship” is central to these approaches, generally this has not been well articulated and is often conceptualized simply in terms of relationship quality between the leader and the follower. In contrast, research in the wider relationship science domain provides a more detailed exposition of relationships and how they form and develop. We propose that research and methodology developed in relationship science (i.e., close relationships) can enhance understanding of the leader–follower relationship and therefore advance theory in this area. To address this issue, we organize our review in two areas. First, we examine how a social cognitive approach to close relationships can benefit an understanding of the leader–follower relationship (in terms of structure, content, and processes). Second, we show how the research designs and methodologies that have been developed in relationship science can be applied to understand better the leader–follower relationship. The cross-fertilization of research from the close relationships literature to understanding the leader–follower relationship provides new insights into leadership processes and potential avenues for further research.