After years of study and after more years outside of the walls of academia, I’m still influenced by something I learned during my post-secondary school years in the informative book Reframing Organizations: Artistry Choice, and Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X assumes “subordinates are passive and lazy, have little ambition, prefer to be led, and resist change” (Reframing Organizations, Bolman & Deal, p. 118). Whereas Theory Y is built on the premise that “‘the essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions so that people could achieve their own goals best by directing their efforts towards organizational goals.’ (McGregor, 1960, p. 61)” (Ibid., p. 119).

I prefer the Theory Y approach, since I see it as the most natural way to lead any kind of group whether a volunteer planning committee, department or organization. When you delegate the responsibilities of members according to their natural strengths and interests so their personal job goals align with the larger goals of the group, you tap into the heart of your human resources; thereby getting the job done with a passion and enthusiasm that is simply not possible with the Theory X, top-down, command-and-obey approach.

There is something powerful and exciting about team members or employees who are personally driven to succeed instead of told they have to obey or else suffer the consequences. Also, it is the healthier more ethical way to operate. Hopefully, more and more leaders – from small group leaders to managers to powerful corporate executives – will embrace Theory Y as the better way to manage.

Reference: Bolman L.G., Deal T. (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. (3rd ed.) San Francisco (CA): John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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