McGregor’s Management Gem – Theory X and Theory Y

“Who Am I?”

This is the first best question each human encounters in different situations in life. Many researchers gave explanation on how to find answer who you are in different perspectives. In human resource management and motivational perspective McGregor presented a theory called “Theory X-Y”. Theory X-Y basically divides management styles based on two different sets of worker assumptions into ‘Theory X’ generally known as ‘Authoritative style’ and ‘Theory Y’ generally known as ‘Participative style’. Though McGregor derived his theory from functions of military and catholic churches in 1960s, this theory still holds true to all organizations even today.


Theory X


“The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can.” – [1 – p. 33]

This theory assumes the average worker is lazy, dislikes work and will do as little as possible. Managers must closely supervise and control through reward and punishment. In this type of management style performance results are bad. 

When I review my management style in my initial managerial career, unfortunately I fall under this category. As I was treated like that by Manager, I thought that this (Theory X) was the only way for getting the work done from the team. I used to closely monitor and control every team members work, didn’t delegate mostly, even delegate I kept on pinging them for status. Even now, sometimes I feel I am following it when the project schedules are very tight.




Theory Y


“The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest. The average human being does not inherently dislike work…

Man will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which he is committed.” – [1 – p.47]

This theory assumes workers are not lazy, want to do a good job and the job itself will determine if the worker likes the work. Managers should allow the worker great latitude, and create an organization to stimulate the worker. If individuals are given freedom, certainly there is room for increased productivity.

I am practicing Theory Y for past 1 year. Having said that it is not always possible to go by Theory Y as it is challenging in managing demoralized team members. Switching of styles is required based on current situations instead of stamping oneself as Theory X or Theory Y manager.

There is an excellent explanation available in Reference [2]. 


1. The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor, McGraw-Hill, 1960

2. Douglas McGregor – Theory X-Y by Business Balls web site –

3 thoughts on “McGregor’s Management Gem – Theory X and Theory Y

  1. 1. if there are theory x managers, are there also theory x followers?
    2. If the managers are theory x’s and the followers are theory x’s, then it should lead to greater effectiveness.
    3. If the managers are theory x’s and the followers are theory y’s, there will frustration in the management and frustration in the subordinates.
    4. It is good to know the subordinates if they are x’s or y’s rather than having an assumption on them. Once done, then one puts the appropriate leader over them.
    5. Any participation from the readers?

    • Hi Max,

      Readers participation is always welcome. I am happy that you raised the question.

      For point #1, McGregor theory talks about Manager’s attitude and not about the sub-ordinates/team members. So, I don’t know any literature that talks about followers behavior using X and Y classification. Anyone have any comments about Max statements please add yours.

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