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Phases of relationship development

This article identifies key phases within relationship devleopment and how this effects followers and leaders.

In the previous steps you learned the importance for leaders to make followers feel as if they are part of the in-group and, by doing so, eliminate the inequities and negative feelings of being in an out-group.

In this step you will focus on how leaders and followers to develop effective relationships.

LMX theory suggests three phases in leadership making, i.e. the stranger phase, the acquaintance phase and the mature partnership phase (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1991).

The stranger phase:

Since they do not know each other, leaders and followers have formal relationships and based on organisational policies. The leader’s role is to determine what the follower can do and then offer feedback.

The acquaintance phase:

During this phase, leaders sort followers into one of two groups: the in-group and the out-group. Followers can use influence techniques to foster their relationship with their leader and to be assigned to the in-group. On the other hand, leaders provide their in-group members with career- enhancing benefits and responsibilities allowing followers to grow positively in the organisation and contribute to achieving organisational success.

The mature partnership phase:

Leaders and followers understand each other and develop strong mutual trust, respect, and obligation allowing them to work well together.

  Stranger Acquaintance Partner
Roles Scripted Tested Negotiated
Influence One Way Mixed Reciprocal
Exchanges Low Quality Medium Quality High Quality
Interests Self Self/Other Group

Source: Northouse, PG (2016) Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Reflect and Reply

Please reflect upon the key question below and respond using the comments section below.

Considering your experience as a leader or a follower, what is the most important phase of relationship development?


Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1991). The transformation of professionals into self-managing and partially self-designing contributors: Toward a theory of leadership-making. Journal of Management Systems, 3, 25–39.

Northouse, PG (2016) Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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