How Can Theory X and Theory Y Help You to Work With a Difficult Manager?

I see many comments and feedback on the site from people who say their manager is not easy to work with, and does not practise the enlightened behaviours we often discuss. And many people ask me for advice on how they can work with difficult managers.

This type of manager can sometimes be referred to as a theory X manger, whereas a more liberal, contemporary style of management is referred to as a theory Y.
Let’s begin by having a look at Theory X and theory Y to help us understand what is happening here.

What is Theory X and theory Y?

It is worth having a look at the theory in detail. It addresses motivation and management and has been used to develop a positive management style. It is often used to improve organisational culture and development.

McGregor’s theory postulates that there are basically two ways of managing people. Theory X is an authoritarian style of management, based on a belief that most people do not like work and must be forced to work towards their company goals and objectives. They need to be closely supervised, will avoid responsibility and are not ambitious. They only want security. This style of management does not encourage staff development, and fosters a limited, depressed culture. It is generally held to be unhelpful and produce poor results
Theory Y is a more participative management style, based on the belief that people will naturally make an effort at work, and will automatically try to achieve company goals and objectives, as long as their achievements are associated with rewards. They welcome responsibility and many people will use their creativity and ingenuity to solve company problems.

This style of management is liberating, allows staff to develop, achieve things, and enables and empowers them. It is generally held to be more constructive and beneficial, allow people to grow and develop and produces better performances from staff.

Why do managers behave like this?

Sometimes it helps to understand why managers behave as they do. Theory X managers are often responding to pressure from their own managers, or from external influences such as business problems or cash flow problems if they are the business owner. Maybe they have personal problems, family issues. Perhaps they are under a great deal of pressure one way or another and this is what influences their behaviour.

Theory X managers can be characterised as results-driven and intolerant. They will often issue deadlines, threats and instructions, rather than asking for something to be done. They may be short tempered, often angry, arrogant, or elitist. They are not usually good at team building, and are not interested in the welfare of their staff. They never offer praise, delegate, listen or thank their staff.

They are often a nightmare to work for, and create an extremely unpleasant situation for everyone concerned. In the next lesson we will consider what action you can tak.

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