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action-centred leadership

adams' equity theory

body language

corporate responsibility and ethics

emotional intelligence (EQ)


erikson's life-stage theory

herzberg - motivation theory

kirkpatrick learning evaluation

kubler-ross - stages of grief

leadership tips

love and spirituality

maslow's hierarchy of needss

motivational theory and ideas

multiple intelligences and VAK

nudge theory

personal change - fisher

personality theories

the psychological contract

tannenbaum and schmidt continuum

transactional analysis

neuro-linguistic programming (nlp)

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douglas mcgregor - theory x y

Douglas McGregor's XY Theory, managing an X Theory boss, and William Ouchi's Theory Z

Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, proposed his famous X-Y theory in his 1960 book 'The Human Side Of Enterprise'. Theory x and theory y are still referred to commonly in the field of management and motivation, and whilst more recent studies have questioned the rigidity of the model, Mcgregor's X-Y Theory remains a valid basic principle from which to develop positive management style and techniques. McGregor's XY Theory remains central to organizational development, and to improving organizational culture.

McGregor's X-Y theory is a salutary and simple reminder of the natural rules for managing people, which under the pressure of day-to-day business are all too easily forgotten.

McGregor's ideas suggest that there are two fundamental approaches to managing people. Many managers tend towards theory x, and generally get poor results. Enlightened managers use theory y, which produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop.

McGregor's ideas significantly relate to modern understanding of the Psychological Contract, which provides many ways to appreciate the unhelpful nature of X-Theory leadership, and the useful constructive beneficial nature of Y-Theory leadership.


theory x ('authoritarian management' style)

theory y ('participative management' style)

tools for teaching, understanding and evaluating xy theory factors

The XY Theory diagram and measurement tool below (pdf and doc versions) are adaptations of McGregor's ideas for modern organizations, management and work. They were not created by McGregor. I developed them to help understanding and application of McGregor's XY Theory concept. The test is a simple reflective tool, not a scientifically validated instrument; it's a learning aid and broad indicator. Please use it as such.

free XY Theory diagram (pdf)

free XY Theory diagram (doc version)

free XY Theory test tool - personal and organizational - (pdf)

free XY Theory test tool - personal and organizational - (doc version)

same free XY Theory test tool - two-page version with clearer layout and scoring - (pdf)

same free XY Theory test tool - two-page version with clearer layout and scoring - (doc version)


characteristics of the x theory manager

Perhaps the most noticeable aspects of McGregor's XY Theory - and the easiest to illustrate - are found in the behaviours of autocratic managers and organizations which use autocratic management styles.

What are the characteristics of a Theory X manager? Typically some, most or all of these:

how to manage upwards - managing your X theory boss

Working for an X theory boss isn't easy - some extreme X theory managers make extremely unpleasant managers, but there are ways of managing these people upwards. Avoiding confrontation (unless you are genuinely being bullied, which is a different matter) and delivering results are the key tactics.

And this is really the essence of managing upwards X theory managers - focus and get agreement on the results and deadlines - if you consistently deliver, you'll increasingly be given more leeway on how you go about the tasks, which amounts to more freedom. Be aware also that many X theory managers are forced to be X theory by the short-term demands of the organisation and their own superiors - an X theory manager is usually someone with their own problems, so try not to give them any more.

See also the article about building self-confidence, and assertiveness techniques.



theory z - william ouchi

First things first - Theory Z is not a Mcgregor idea and as such is not Mcgregor's extension of his XY theory.

Theory Z was developed by not by Mcgregor, but by William Ouchi, in his book 1981 'Theory Z: How American management can Meet the Japanese Challenge'. William Ouchi is professor of management at UCLA, Los Angeles, and a board member of several large US organisations.

Theory Z is often referred to as the 'Japanese' management style, which is essentially what it is. It's interesting that Ouchi chose to name his model 'Theory Z', which apart from anything else tends to give the impression that it's a Mcgregor idea. One wonders if the idea was not considered strong enough to stand alone with a completely new name... Nevertheless, Theory Z essentially advocates a combination of all that's best about theory Y and modern Japanese management, which places a large amount of freedom and trust with workers, and assumes that workers have a strong loyalty and interest in team-working and the organisation.

Theory Z also places more reliance on the attitude and responsibilities of the workers, whereas Mcgregor's XY theory is mainly focused on management and motivation from the manager's and organisation's perspective. There is no doubt that Ouchi's Theory Z model offers excellent ideas, albeit it lacking the simple elegance of Mcgregor's model, which let's face it, thousands of organisations and managers around the world have still yet to embrace. For this reason, Theory Z may for some be like trying to manage the kitchen at the Ritz before mastering the ability to cook a decent fried breakfast.



To develop your understanding of McGregor's X-Y Theory, complete the free McGregor XY Theory Test (pdf), or doc version, which indicates whether your organisation is more Theory-X or Theory-Y, as well as indicating your own (or the particular individual's) preference to be managed by X or Y style. The test is a simple reflective tool, not a scientifically validated instrument, designed to give a broad indication of XY Theory tendencies and to aid understanding of the model.

The free XY Theory diagram (pdf) or doc version, is helpful for teaching and training, presentations and project work, and is adapted from McGregor's ideas so as to convey simply and quickly the essence of the concept.

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The use of this material is free provided copyright (see below) is acknowledged and reference or link is made to the www.businessballs.com website. This material may not be sold, or published in any form. Disclaimer: Reliance on information, material, advice, or other linked or recommended resources, received from Alan Chapman, shall be at your sole risk, and Alan Chapman assumes no responsibility for any errors, omissions, or damages arising. Users of this website are encouraged to confirm information received with other sources, and to seek local qualified advice if embarking on any actions that could carry personal or organisational liabilities. Managing people and relationships are sensitive activities; the free material and advice available via this website do not provide all necessary safeguards and checks. Please retain this notice on all copies.

© Douglas McGregor original XY-Theory model 1960; Theory-Z is William Ouchi 1981; Alan Chapman review, code, design 1995-2014