Becoming an effective leader

Outcome 1 

1.1 - Evaluate own ability to use a range of leadership styles, in different situations and with different types of people, to fulfil the leadership role

Management theory and approaches

McGregor’s Theory XY

Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, proposed his famous theory XY in his 1960 book 'The Human Side Of Enterprise'.


McGregor proposes that there are two fundamental approaches to managing people: Theory X and Theory Y. The two different approaches, which, at the extremes, are polar opposites on a continuum, assume that people are either, work-shy (Theory X) or motivated by work (Theory Y). His proposition is simple: for Theory X employees, managers should adopt an authoritarian management approach, and, for Theory Y employees, a more participative management approach should be used. For many this model is too rigid as it stands. However, it provides a useful analysis, particularly when viewed alongside the Psychological Contract, which suggests that adopting Theory X management style can be counter-productive.


In simple terms, the management styles associated with Theory XY are as follows:


  • Theory X (the ‘authoritarian management style) proposes that the average person dislikes work and will avoid it if they can. It is assumed that the average person prefers to be directed (that is, they want to be told what to do, how to do it and when to do it); they will avoid responsibility; they are lacking in ambition; and seek security. To manage Theory X people, the leader must take a coercive approach, threatening sanctions and punishment to ensure that organisational objectives are achieved.


  • Theory Y (the 'participative management' style) proposes that people enjoy work and will be prepared to give of their best. It assumes that people are committed to, and will pursue, organisational goals and objectives without threat of punishment or external control because they crave achievement. Theory Y people are perceived to thrive on responsibility and the opportunity to solve workplace problems. Further it is proposed that there are significant numbers of people with these characteristics in every organisation and that human potential is seldom realised.


In analysing McGregor's Theory XY, it is worth considering what the typical characteristics of managers who operate at each end of the Theory XY continuum might be – what type of behaviours do they display?

Typically, Theory X managers are likely to exhibit some or all of these characteristics:


  • Results- and deadline-driven, often to the exclusion of everything else

  • Intolerant

  • Issues deadlines and ultimatums

  • Issues instructions, directions,edicts

  • Issues threats to make people follow instructions

  • Demands, never asks

  • Does not participate

  • Unconcerned about staff welfare, or morale

  • One-way communicator, a poor listener

  • Does not thank or praise

  • Withholds rewards

  • Operates a ‘blame culture’ seeking culprits to blame for failure, rather than learning from experience and preventing recurrence

  • Does not invite or welcome suggestions

  • Sees the issue of orders as delegating

  • Fails to empower his colleagues


The Theory Y manager, unsurprisingly, tends to exhibit the exact opposite behaviours! For example, where the Theory X manager does not invite or welcome suggestions from his team, the Theory Y manager is likely to start any workplace problem-solving by explaining the issue to the team and asking them for their ideas.