S. Amir Kohan

Theory X + Theory Y of Leadership

Theory X + Theory Y of Leadership

Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human work motivation and management. They were created by Douglas McGregor while he was working at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1950s, and developed further in the 1960s.

Theory X is based on assumptions regarding the typical worker. This management style assumes that the typical worker has little ambition, avoids responsibility, and is individual-goal oriented. In general, Theory X style managers believe their employees are less intelligent, lazier, and work solely for a sustainable income. Management believes employees’ work is based on their own self-interest. Fischer, Elizabeth (October 1, 2009) Managers who believe employees operate in this manner are more likely to use rewards or punishments as motivation.

According to McGregor, there are two opposing approaches to implementing Theory X: the hard approach and the soft approach. Theory X and Theory Y  The hard approach depends on close supervision, intimidation, and immediate punishment. This approach can potentially yield a hostile, minimally cooperative workforce and resentment towards management. Managers are always looking for mistakes from employees, because they do not trust their work. Theory X is a “we versus they” approach, meaning it is the management versus the employees. Fischer, Elizabeth (October 1, 2009).

The soft approach is characterized by leniency and less strict rules in hopes for creating high workplace morale and cooperative employees. Implementing a system that is too soft could result in an entitled, low-output workforce. McGregor believes both ends of the spectrum are too extreme for efficient real-world application. Instead, McGregor feels that an approach located in the middle would be the most effective implementation of Theory X.

Theory Y managers assume employees are internally motivated, enjoy their job, and work to better themselves without a direct reward in return. These managers view their employees as one of the most valuable assets to the company, driving the internal workings of the corporation. Employees additionally tend to take full responsibility for their work and do not need close supervision to create a quality product. Harvard Business Review. 01.05.1970  It is important to note, however, that before an employee carries out their task, they must first obtain the manager’s approval. This ensures work stays efficient, productive, and in-line with company standards.

Theory Y managers gravitate towards relating to the worker on a more personal level, as opposed to a more conductive and teaching-based relationship. As a result, Theory Y followers may have a better relationship with their boss, creating a healthier atmosphere in the workplace. In comparison to Theory X, Theory Y incorporates a pseudo-democratic environment to the workforce. This allows the employee to design, construct, and publish their work in a timely manner in co-ordinance to their workload and projects.

Although Theory Y encompasses creativity and discussion, it does have limitations. While there is a more personal and individualistic feel, this leaves room for error in terms of consistency and uniformity. The workplace lacks unvarying rules and practices, which could potentially be detrimental to the quality standards of the product and strict guidelines of a given company.


In order to achieve the most efficient production, a combination of both theories may be appropriate. Hattangadi, Vidya (December 2015).

Discover more from S. Amir Kohan

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Discover more from S. Amir Kohan

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading