Thursday, October 25, 2007

Leadership 5: Theory X, Theory Y

Leadership 5

"Know thyself" - Plato

According to an American Society for Training and Development study, job knowledge is the only thing that ranks higher than communication in determining good leadership. One of the most important ways a leader communicates to his or her group is by example and attitude, and attitude usually determines behavior.

What’s your general attitude toward your colleagues? Are you a Theory X leader or a Theory Y leader? Theory X and Theory Y are well-researched leadership principles. In a nutshell, Theory X states that people inherently dislike their jobs, see them as a necessary evil, are unmotivated, and must be externally controlled throughout the day by coercion, direction, or threat of punishment. Theory Y, on the other hand, states that work is natural and allows one to express oneself physically and creatively (i.e., work is ego-satisfying). Most managers have a mindset combining both of these theories, but, without a sophisticated psychological instrument, it might be difficult to determine the proportions of each. When motivating subordinates and leading by example, however, some degree of introspection and self-evaluation is helpful if we want to work smarter and more efficiently. Evaluation can get tricky because you can have a Theory Y person trapped in the body of a Theory X company. This is known as the “press of corporate culture” (which opens up the corporate culture can of worms-more on that in another post).

Let's try to evaluate our attitudes regarding Theory X and Theory Y management style:
1. In your leadership role, do you feel more like a policeman or a teacher?
2. Do you find some degree of meaning and value in your work? If yes, how much?
3. Do you think your team members or employees find meaning in their work? If so, how much?

Scenario One: You feel that you are more of a teacher/mentor who works with intrinsically motivated people who find value and meaning in their jobs.

Scenario Two: You’re stuck in a meaningless job with little value and act like a policeman all day to a bunch of Theory X employees. ("I’m telling ya doc, it’s them, not me!")

It’s okay if you responded that you feel like a cop in a valueless job, which, now that you mention it, is rather meaningless. It’s okay because you know where you stand. And knowledge is a good thing. However, if this is the case and you're not just experiencing a temporary bout of clinical depression, you're going to come off as quite INCONGRUENT, even hypocritical, when you give your next pep talk or motivational speech. Incongruence is the opposite of genuine. You will, of course, still be leading by example, but I fear it may not be the example you wish to set. Genuineness is a good thing; incongruence is not a good thing. You don’t want your employees saying, "That manager is like, soooo totally incongruent!" Though incongruent is the technical term, I’ve heard the condition stated in much more colorful language.

Now the goal of the game is to try to move your peg from Scenario Two to Scenario One. The reason behind this, in case several haven’t already flooded your neural pathways, is that the research is abundantly clear that Scenario One is...well, just better, as confirmed by a long list of payoffs such as health, happiness, progress, and success.

Step 1: Try (very hard if you have to) to find one little, perhaps even minuscule, sense of meaning or fulfillment in some aspect of your work. Most jobs are multifaceted, so it might not be so difficult to locate one or two meaningful aspects. Write down, in concrete terms, what it is exactly that makes this facet meaningful.

Step 2: Observe (or shall I say, actively look for) some sense of creative motivation in your team member. Catch them doing something good and tell them you noticed it, as this is excellent feedback and positive reinforcement. Don’t make the same mistake I have made on several occasions of thinking that a person can’t possibly find meaning in their particular job. I have been surprised-make that astounded-to find out how much meaning and value the person sitting across from me placed on their work.

Perceptions and changes my be small at first, but bit by bit, you’ll be progressing in the right direction. More importantly, you’ll be leading by a more genuine example. Way to go, dude!

Ian

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