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Theory X- Also known as “Basement Thinking” Theory

The two most prominent management theories are Theory X and Theory Y.   In an earlier post we looked at the lesser-known Theory Z.

Douglas McGregor coined the two phrases in the 1950’s.  McGregor was a psychologist who taught at MIT and served as President of Antioch College.  McGregor drew his motivational theories from the work of Abraham Maslow and was intent on proving that Theory X assumptions led to ineffective management as well as lower productivity of workers.

Theory X Principles:

  • People inherently dislike their jobs
  • People are naturally lazy
  • Work is a necessary evil
  • Most people are not ambitious, have little desire for responsibility, and prefer to be directed
  • Employees must be externally controlled by coercion, direction, or threats of punishment
  • People have little capacity of creativity in solving organizational problems
  • Most people are self-centered
  • People have a natural resistance to change

How depressing! Operating under the above management principles leads to an environment of “command and control”.  In this model, leadership styles tend to be autocratic and communication flows downward from manager to subordinates.   Performance tends to be “past” based, where the manager acts as judge and jury and looks back at performance as opposed to looking forward as in goal-setting and coaching improvement plans.

Most Theory X managers have been eradicated from leadership positions.  Current work cultures do not easily support this management philosophy.  This theory basically developed from the darkness of Freudian principles but was later replaced with Theory Y principles, based largely on the more pleasant philosophies of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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Judy W Bell

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