The phenomenon that leaders treat subordinates differently is prevalent in both Chinese and western organizations and has attracted the attention from many organizational scholars. However, the conceptualization and related study of this phenomenon in the western academia have been independent of Chinese academia to a great degree, leading to far too few structured confrontations of conceptual frameworks and empirical findings across the two bodies of scholarship. Therefore, this paper provides a comparative review of the construct and effects of leaders’ differential treatment, aiming to benefit the progress of cross-cultural organizational theories and practice. In terms of the construct development, it shows that meanings and operationalization of constructs mainly rooted in western culture are different from those of indigenous Chinese constructs, due to different theoretical and cultural backgrounds. Western constructs, such as leader-member exchange differentiation (LMXD) and differentiated leadership, primarily based on western leader-member exchange theory and leadership theory, tend to describe leaders’ differential treatment within the working scope, while indigenous Chinese constructs, such as differential leadership and leader-member guanxi differentiation (LMGD), develop from Fei Hsiao-Tung’s differential model of association theory (chaxugeju theory) and the indigenous LMG theory, describing leaders’ differential treatment not only within the working scope but also in private lives. In addition, operationalization of western constructs seems more convenient and mature, because mainly based on the existing LMX and leadership scales they use " within-group variance” or " coefficient of variation” to measure the degree that leaders differentiate among their followers. However, operationalization of many indigenous Chinese constructs is still in the preliminary development stage and directly measures subordinates’ personal perception of leaders’ differential treatment, except for LMGD whose operationalization is similar to western constructs. Based on these Chinese and western constructs, organizational scholars have explored extensively on leaders’ differential treatment effects. By contrast, the studies based on western constructs have gained more theoretical and empirical achievements, especially the LMXD effect research. This comparative review discovers that both streams of scholarship have many inconsistencies in theoretical explanation and empirical results. Specifically, the differential treatment can generate positive work outcomes due to efficient role assignments or upward-mobilization incentives especially for ‘outsiders’. On the contrary, it may also be detrimental to the workgroup, as subordinates would respond negatively to it due to unfairness perceptions or subgroup conflicts. Western scholarship has paid great attention to these inconsistencies, mainly devoting to exploring the boundary conditions or examining whether the positive or negative effects can exist at the same time. Nevertheless, the studies based on Chinese constructs have not yet begun to deal with this issue. What’s more, although both streams of research concern how leaders’ differential treatment influence subordinates’ perception of fairness and subgroup divisions, the theoretical perspectives adopted and hypothetic mechanisms developed are different. Finally, this paper discusses the future development and cross-cultural applicability of leaders’ differential treatment theory. It argues that the redundancy of those western and indigenous Chinese constructs needs to be examined, the inconsistency of empirical findings about its effects needs a further exploration, and its causes also need attention in the future. As for the cross-cultural applicability problem, on the one hand, future research should try to apply indigenous Chinese constructs to the study of western organizations. On the other hand, the role of cultural factors playing in the formation and effect-generating process of leaders’ differential treatment also needs to be further studied.
Leader’s Differential Treatment: A Cross-cultural Review and Suggestions for Future Research
Foreign Economics & Management Vol. 40, Issue 03, pp. 92 - 106 (2018) DOI:10.16538/j.cnki.fem.2018.03.007
 Cai Y, Jia L, You S, et al. The influence of differentiated transformational leadership on knowledge sharing and team creativity: A social network explanation[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(5): 585-598.
 Chen L, Yang B, Jing R. Strategic leadership and TMT member creativity: An empirical study on high technology firms[J]. Management Review, 2015, 27(3): 142-152.
 Chen X P, Eberly M B, Chiang T J, et al. Affective trust in Chinese leaders: Linking paternalistic leadership to employee performance[J]. Journal of Management, 2014a, 40(3): 796-819.
 Chen X P, He W, Weng L C. What is wrong with treating followers differently? The basis of leader-member exchange differentiation matters[J]. Journal of Management, 2015, doi: 10.1177/0149206315598372.
 Chen Y, Friedman R, Yu E H, et al. Supervisor-subordinate Guanxi: Developing a three-dimensional model and scale[J]. Management and Organization Review, 2009, 5(3): 375-399.
 Chen Y, Yu E H, Son J. Beyond leader-member exchange (LMX) differentiation: An indigenous approach to leader-member relationship differentiation[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2014b, 25(3): 611-627.
 Dansereau Jr F, Graen G, Haga W J. A vertical dyad linkage approach to leadership within formal organizations: A longitudinal investigation of the role making process[J]. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 1975, 13(1): 46-78.
 Dong Y T, Bartol K M, Zhang Z X, et al. Enhancing employee creativity via individual skill development and team knowledge sharing: Influences of dual-focused transformational leadership[J]. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2017, 38(3): 439-458.
 Erdogan B, Bauer T N. Differentiated leader-member exchanges: The buffering role of justice climate[J]. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 2010, 95(6): 1104-1120.
 Farh J L, Tsui A S, Xin K, et al. The influence of relational demography and Guanxi: The Chinese case[J]. Organization Science, 1998, 9(4): 471-488.
 Gao L, Wang L. Does favoritism leadership style is effective? Cultural adaptability analysis and theoretical extension of the Chaxu leadership[J]. Economic Management, 2013, (4): 183-194.
 Gooty J, Yammarino F J. The leader-member exchange relationship: A multisource, cross-level investigation[J]. Journal of Management, 2016, 42(4): 915-935.
 Graen G B, Uhl-Bien M. Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 1995, 6(2): 219-247.
 Guo X. Reviews on the research of supervisor-subordinate relationship in Chinese context: Leader-member exchange and supervisor-subordinate guanxi[J]. Nankai Business Review, 2011, (2): 61-68.
 Harris T B, Li N, Kirkman B L. Leader-member exchange (LMX) in context: How LMX differentiation and LMX relational separation attenuate LMX’s influence on OCB and turnover intention[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2014, 25(2): 314-328.
 Haynie J J, Cullen K L, Lester H F, et al. Differentiated leader-member exchange, justice climate, and performance: Main and interactive effects[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2014, 25(5): 912-922.
 Henderson D J, Wayne S J, Shore L M, et al. Leader-member exchange, differentiation, and psychological contract fulfillment: A multilevel examination[J]. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 2008, 93(6): 1208-1219.
 Henderson D J, Liden R C, Glibkowski B C, et al. LMX differentiation: A multilevel review and examination of its antecedents and outcomes[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2009, 20(4): 517-534.
 Herdman A O, Yang J, Arthur J B. How does leader-member exchange disparity affect teamwork behavior and effectiveness in work groups? The moderating role of leader-leader exchange[J]. Journal of Management, 2017, 43(5): 1498-1523.
 Hooper D T, Martin R. Beyond personal leader-member exchange (LMX) quality: The effects of perceived LMX variability on employee reactions[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2008, 19(1): 20-30.
 Hu H H, Hsu W L, Cheng B S. Reward allocation decisions of Chinese managers: Influence of employee categorization and allocation context[J]. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2004, 7(2): 221-232.
 Jiang D, Chang W. Differential leadership and subordinate effectiveness in Chinese context[J]. Indigenous Psychology Research Journal, 2010, (33): 109-177.
 Jiang D, Zhong X, Huang F. Are differential leadership effective?[J]. Harvard Business Review, 2012, (12): 40-43.
 Jiang W, Gu Q X, Wang G G. To guide or to divide: The dual-side effects of transformational leadership on team innovation[J]. Journal of Business and Psychology, 2015, 30(4): 677-691.
 Kark R, Shamir B. The dual effect of transformational leadership: Priming relational and collective selves and further effects on followers[A]. Avolio B J, Yammarino F J. Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead[C]. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2002: 67-91.
 Kauppila O P. When and how does LMX differentiation influence followers' work outcomes? The interactive roles of one’s own LMX status and organizational context[J]. Personnel Psychology, 2016, 69(2): 357-393.
 Kunze F, de Jong S B, Bruch H. Consequences of collective-focused leadership and differentiated individual-focused leadership: Development and testing of an organizational-level model[J]. Journal of Management, 2016, 42(4): 886-914.
 Le Blanc P M, González-Romá V. A team level investigation of the relationship between leader-member exchange (LMX) differentiation, and commitment and performance[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2012, 23(3): 534-544.
 Li A N, Liao H. How do leader-member exchange quality and differentiation affect performance in teams? An integrated multilevel dual process model[J]. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 2014, 99(5): 847-866.
 Li S L, Huo Y Y, Long L R. Chinese traditionality matters: Effects of differentiated empowering leadership on followers’ trust in leaders and work outcomes[J]. Journal of Business Ethics, 2017, 145(1): 81-93.
 Liao H, Liu D, Loi R. Looking at both sides of the social exchange coin: A social cognitive perspective on the joint effects of relationship quality and differentiation on creativity[J]. The Academy of Management Journal, 2010, 53(5): 1090-1109.
 Liden R C, Sparrowe R T, Wayne S J. Leader-member exchange theory: The past and potential for the future[J]. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 1997, 15: 47-119.
 Liden R C, Erdogan B, Wayne S J, et al. Leader-member exchange, differentiation, and task interdependence: Implications for individual and group performance[J]. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2006, 27(6): 723-746.
 Lin C, Chang K, Liu C, et al. Effect of leader’s differential management on subordinates’ justice attitudes and political behaviors[J]. Indigenous Psychology Research Journal, 2009, (31): 143-175.
 Liu J, Zhang K, Zhong L. The formation and impact of the atmosphere of the “Error Routine” of the work team: A case study based on successive data[J]. Management World, 2009, (8): 92-101.
 Liu Z. The effects of Chaxu climate on the subordinate’s work attitude and behavior[D]. Taiwan Dong Hwa University, 2003.
 Ma J, Wang J, Yang C. Relationship between perceived fairness of performance appraisal and employees’ performance under difference matrices[J]. Journal of Management Science, 2012, 25(4): 56-68.
 Nielsen K, Daniels K. Does shared and differentiated transformational leadership predict followers' working conditions and well-being?[J]. The Leadership Quarterly, 2012, 23(3): 383-397.
 Peng Z, Zhao H. Research of effect to team innovation performance from team Chaxu climate based on knowledge transfer perspective[J]. Studies in Science of Science, 2011, 29(8): 1207-1215.
 Sui Y, Wang H, Kirkman B L, et al. Understanding the curvilinear relationships between LMX differentiation and team coordination and performance[J]. Personnel Psychology, 2016, 69(3): 559-597.
 Wang L. The influence of differential leadership on employee and team creativity in Chinese family businesses: A multilevel and longitudinal study[J]. Advances in Psychological Science, 2015, 23(10): 1688-1700.
 Wang L, Cheng M Y, Wang S. Carrot or stick? The role of in-group/out-group on the multilevel relationship between authoritarian and differential leadership and employee turnover intention[J]. Journal of Business Ethics, 2016, doi: 10.1007/s10551-016-3299-z.
 Wang Z, Sun J. Effects of leader-member exchange quality and differentiation on team[J]. Chinese Journal of Management, 2013, 10(2): 219-224.
 Wu J B, Tsui A S, Kinicki A J. Consequences of differentiated leadership in groups[J]. The Academy of Management Journal, 2010, 53(1): 90-106.
 Xue Y, Zhang X, Ding X, et al. How do employees with political skills avoid workplace ostracism? A study based on Chinese cultural context[J]. Management World, 2016(7): 98-108.
 Yan Y. “Chaxu geju" and the notion of hierarchy in Chinese culture[J]. Sociological Studies, 2006, (4): 201-213.
 Yu W, Zhang P. Chaxu climate and employees’ indifference: The role of workplace ostracism and OBSE[J]. Journal of Central University of Finance & Economics, 2016, (10): 122-128.
 Zhang X A, Li N, Ullrich J, et al. Getting everyone on board: The effect of CEO differentiated transformational leadership on top management team effectiveness and leader-rated firm performance[J]. Journal of Management, 2015, 41(7): 1898-1933.
 Zhang Y, Wang X, Zhang X. A literature review of differentiated transformational leadership and prospects[J]. Foreign Economics & Management, 2015, 37(8): 43-53.
 Zheng B. Chaxu climate and behaviors in Chinese organizations[J]. Indigenous Psychology Research Journal, 1995, (3): 142-219.
 Zheng B. Chinese culture and organizational leadership: From phenomenological description to theory testing[J]. Indigenous Psychology Research Journal, 2004, (22): 195-251.
 Zhou J M, Liu S, Zhang X S, et al. Differential leadership, team conflict and new product development performance[J]. Chinese Management Studies, 2016, 10(3): 544-558.
Cite this article
Lai Xianwei, Xu Xiaoli, Cheng Yanyuan. Leader’s Differential Treatment: A Cross-cultural Review and Suggestions for Future Research[J]. Foreign Economics & Management, 2018, 40(3): 92-106.
Previous: The Persuasion of Health-Related Advertising: Which Is More Important, “Effectiveness” or “Easiness to Use”?