You get what you wish for

The American management professor, Douglas McGregor (who also taught at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta), conceptualized Theory X and Theory Y management.

Some managers operated from what McGregor called a ‘Theory X’ lens. They believed that employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work whenever possible. They enforced strict controls and workplace surveillance practices. A Theory X manager is prone to micromanagement.

Others operated from a Theory Y lens. They believed that workers are ambitious, self-motivated people who can exercise self-control. Accordingly, they entrusted their employees with trust and responsibility. A theory Y manager is more of a hands-off manager.

Here’s the catch though – both these theories are true. A team managed with Theory X principles will do their best to game the system and validate their manager’s thinking. The same team operated under a high trust environment will be self-driven, and reinforce their manager’s Theory Y assumptions.

Regardless of which of these two contrasting theories you believe in, you get what you wish for. So which theory would you rather believe in?

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