Management Styles – Theory X & Theory Y

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The aim of McGregor’s model here is to seek to explain the motivational styles taken by individuals when adopting their management styles. In his book (‘The Human Side of Enterprise’, 1960) McGregor argued that there are essentially two approaches to managing people. Theory X & Theory Y.

Management Styles Model – When it is used

Whilst this model was developed some years ago it helps in ‘diagnosing’ the mind-set of individual managers/leaders and also the collective environment of an organisation, often taking its lead from those at the top.

Theory X & Theory Y of Management Styles

Theory X & Theory Y of Management Styles

It’s a useful tool in helping leadership to recognise and adapt their own personal management style. It helps with individual self-assessment and contextual analysis, to ensure that the best results are obtained from the workforce.

How to use it

In the right environment this is a useful tool to explain and understand performance issues, i.e. identifying a mismatch between staff motivation and managerial style.  Essentially the objective here is to develop behaviours which are more likely to achieve the objectives of the organisation. It can be used as a first step when designing management processes – for example organisational structures (e.g. autocracy vs. meritocracy), performance and reward approaches and employee consultation.

Managers & Leaders: Assumptions & Characteristics

Theory X managers assume that: • People inherently dislike work and are intrinsically lazy. They take no responsibility and have no self-discipline and only want security. • People must be controlled and threatened before they will work. An autocratic leadership style is the only one that works.

Theory Y managers assume that: People like their work and are intrinsically motivated, they have self-control and do seek responsibility. • Commitment to objectives is a function of rewards associated with their achievement. • The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organisational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population. • A participative approach to problem solving and decision making leads to far better result.


Theory X managers: results-driven and deadline-driven, to the exclusion of everything else; intolerant; issues deadlines and ultimatums; distant and detached; aloof and arrogant; elitist; short temper; shouts; issues instructions, directions, edicts; issues threats to make people follow instructions; demands, never asks; does not participate; does not team-build; unconcerned about staff welfare, or morale; proud, sometimes to the point of self-destruction; one-way communicator; poor listener; fundamentally insecure and possibly neurotic; anti-social vengeful and recriminatory; does not thank or praise; withholds rewards, and suppresses pay and remunerations levels; scrutinises expenditure to the point of false economy seeks culprits for failures or shortfalls; seeks to apportion blame instead of focusing on learning from the experience and preventing recurrence; does not invite or welcome suggestions takes criticism badly and likely to retaliate if from below or peer group; poor at proper delegating – but believes they delegate well thinks giving orders is delegating holds on to responsibility but shifts accountability to subordinates; relatively unconcerned with investing in anything to gain future improvements; unhappy

Theory Y managers: Participative when making decisions; value both results and relationships; delegate and empower their people; trust; positive; coaches; developing positive work environments; expressing regular recognition and appreciation; believe in people; people are important; people are worth developing; people feel appreciated and dignified; high morale; will motivated.


Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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