Y Embrace X?

Mark Frasco - President


171109-nov-MARK-Article-landing page

I developed my earliest leadership style by mirroring my first managers: those early supervisors at the grocery store where I worked. The work wasn’t deeply meaningful, but made less so by the lack of involvement and trust my supervisors showed in me and my peer group.

We largely did what we were told as our time and activities were highly overseen. We feared the organization more than we cared for it.

A new wave of thought on human motivation was in the air. Research had been completed, and scholarly writings were being published on the topic. In 1960, Douglas McGregor of MIT was at the forefront of this research. That year, he published his widely-acclaimed “The Human Side of Enterprise.” 

In this book, he has formulated two models which he calls Theory X and Theory Y.

The Difference Between Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X Assumptions

The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can.

  • Because of their dislike for work, most people must be controlled and threatened before they will work hard enough.
  • The average human prefers to be directed, dislikes responsibility, is unambiguous, and desires security above everything.
  • These assumptions lie behind most organizational principles today and give rise both to “tough” management with punishments and tight controls, as well as “soft” management which aims at harmony at work.
  • Both these are “wrong” because man needs more than financial rewards at work: he also needs some deeper higher order motivation – the opportunity to fulfill himself.
  • Theory X managers do not give their staff this opportunity so that the employees behave in the expected fashion.
Theory Y Assumptions
  • The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest.
  • Control and punishment are not the only ways to make people work, and man will direct himself if he is committed to the aims of the organization.
  • If a job is satisfying, then the result will be a commitment to the organization.
  • The average man learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility.
  • Imagination, creativity, and ingenuity can be used to solve work problems by a large number of employees.
  • Under the conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potentialities of the average man are only partially utilized.

Fortunately for me, when I settled into my first “big boy” job, I was managed by a gentleman named Wayne Biessman. Wayne was a Theory Y guy, but didn’t know it. He mentored me and promoted me before it was evident that I could lead an operation.

He taught me a belief system that was centered on customers and our people. He encouraged me to ask questions and involve people – including our customers – on important decisions. I was in my 20s. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn so many important lessons at that stage in my life.

Theory Y in Action at COACT

Today, COACT features a solid self-directed work team foundation. Our service model is based on teamwork – internally and externally.

Our people work on strategic tracks that gather, organize, analyze and make monthly recommendations to leadership. Each person in our organization chooses and completes a Building Block every quarter, building a lifelong learning habit.

We have no “evaluation” process of grading employees. Rather, we meet with them annually in a COACTion Conversation.

During that conversation, we discuss their career path and determine how COACT can help them reach their goals.

Our business system is very transparent. Every day, we share performance metrics. Every week, we review key performance indicators, as a team. Every month, we review our financials, client activity and results, COACT growth progress, and talent attraction and retention results. We work hard every day to build our future leaders.

So, why do so many continue to embrace Theory X? I’m not sure if it is because it is all they know, or they just think that it is easier. In my opinion, once leadership embraces Theory Y, people engage more deeply, feel valued, and learn how to become better leaders and servers to the market, making life more fun and much more rewarding for all.

In my experience, it’s much more than a theory.

*Note: This article was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated and revised for relevance.