One of the greatest changes in modern times has been in the psychology and make up of the people who constitute the greater part of the western world. In 1960 Douglas McGregor identified two different ways of managing which he called Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X represented the assumptions of traditional management, authoritarian, command and control whereas Theory Y held that people were inherently motivated, by curiosity and the pleasure they could derive from using their own skills and creativity.
When he wrote “The Human Side of Enterprise” McGregor wanted people to challenge their assumptions. Many modern managers find themselves caught in a dilemma between these two management styles. Being authoritarian or being more motivational. The challenge is that neither style, when done well, is easy. Neither is right and neither is wrong. As one of my coaches says, “There is no right or wrong, only choices”. Choosing the most appropriate style is a matter of acute and accurate judgement, and the appropriate decision will likely vary from context to context and moment to moment.Nor should it be assumed that the choice is simply either X or Y.
It is likely to be a combination of both. Richard Koch refers to Theory Y managers as liberating managers and makes the point that “There is nothing soft about being a liberating manager. It demands high rather than low standards. A performance culture without liberation is a pity, but a liberating culture without performance is unsustainable.”It is not a dilemma so much as a paradox. How can you be a liberating manager and at the same time a demanding manager?In my granddad’s time his managers could apply a command and control style. They didn’t need to do anything other than rule by fear. They held granddad’s life, and his family’s lives, in their hand. If they chose to finish him he lost everything. As a mineworker his house, heating, education, everything was tied to his job.
Lose one, lose all. Fortunately times have changed. The Chinese have a proverb which says “You can throw a stone across a river but you can’t throw a bird ….” birds, like people have freedom of will and choice which Granddad didn’t. The challenges of modern managers are so much greater than they were ‘back in the day’. The business leaders and owners of today have a choice too whether they are going to inspire by love, or rule by fear and whichever they choose they need to do it well. If they do they are likely to become the employer of choice, if not the best people will vote with their feet. We get the team we deserve.