Combining strong magnetic anisotropy with strong exchange interaction is a long standing goal in the design of quantum magnets. The lanthanide complexes, while exhibiting a very strong ionic anisotropy, usually display a weak exchange coupling, amounting to only a few wavenumbers. Recently, an isostructural series of mixed (Ln = Gd, Tb, Dy, Ho, Er) have been reported, in which the exchange splitting is estimated to reach hundreds wavenumbers. The microscopic mechanism governing the unusual exchange interaction in these compounds is revealed here by combining detailed modeling with density-functional theory and ab initio calculations. We find it to be basically kinetic and highly complex, involving non-negligible contributions up to seventh power of total angular momentum of each lanthanide site. The performed analysis also elucidates the origin of magnetization blocking in these compounds. Contrary to general expectations the latter is not always favored by strong exchange interaction.