Case Studies

Douglas McGregor’s XY Theory

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In the 1960’s, Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, formulated his famous X-Y theory in his book ‘The Human Side of Enterprise’. His theory suggests two aspects of human behaviour at work, or in other words, two different views of individuals (employees). One of which is negative, Theory X and the other is positive, Theory Y. McGregor’s XY Theory remains central to organisational development, and to improving organisational culture.

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

Theory X (‘authoritarian leadership’ style)

Theory X leaders tend to take a pessimistic view of their people, and assume that they are naturally unmotivated and dislike work. As a result, they think that team members need to be prompted, rewarded or punished constantly to make sure that they complete their tasks.

Work in organisations can be repetitive, and people are often motivated with a “carrot and stick” approach. Performance appraisals and remuneration are usually based on tangible results, such as sales figures or product output, and are used to control staff and “keep tabs” on them.

This style of management assumes that workers:

• Dislike their work or looking for the easy option.

• Avoid responsibility and need constant direction.

• Have to be controlled, forced and threatened to deliver work.

• Need to be supervised at every step.

• Have no incentive to work or ambition, and therefore need to be enticed by rewards to achieve goals.

According to McGregor, authority is rarely delegated, and control remains firmly centralised. These leaders are more authoritarian and actively intervene to get things done.

Theory X can more often than not be the default for many organisation.  There is little understanding of the impact on employees and the organisation itself.  For some organisations, this is the easy option due to the number of employees and the tight deadlines that they have to meet.

Theory Y (‘participative management’ style)

Theory Y leaders have an optimistic, positive opinion of their people, and they use a decentralised, participative leadership style. This encourages a more collaborative, trust-based relationship between the leader and their employees. 

People have greater responsibility, and the leader encourages them to develop their skills and suggest improvements. Appraisals are regular but, unlike in Theory X organisations, they are used to encourage open communication rather than control staff.

Theory Y organisations also give employees frequent opportunities for self-development.

This style of leadership assumes that workers are:

• Happy to work on their own initiative.

• More involved in decision making.

• Self-motivated to complete their tasks.

• Enjoy taking ownership  of their work.

• Seek and accept responsibility, and need little direction.

• View work as fulfilling and challenging.

• Solve problems creatively and imaginatively.

Theory Y has become more popular among many of today’s successful organisations. This reflects workers’ increasing desire for more meaningful careers that provide them with much more than just money.

It’s also viewed by McGregor as superior to Theory X, which, he says, reduces workers to “cogs in a machine,” and likely demotivates people in the long term.  This has an impact on employee’s productivity and ultimately the profitability of the organisation.



Being Authentic Takes Courage

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“One afternoon, in the middle of a particularly boring grammar class, my English teacher set aside her book and took nominations for the best song on our local Top 40 radio station. For the first time that year, all hands were in the air. There was no ‘right answer’ to a question of personal taste, or so I thought until she eventually called on me, and I announced my choice and that it was not only the best song in the Top 40 but possibly the best song ever…. What I remember is not my recommendation so much as the silence that followed it, an absence of agreement I can only describe as deafening.

“The first time I heard the song, I was hooked…. I bought it and played it over and over again. The song satisfied me on every level, but if nobody else liked it, I guessed that I didn’t, either. That evening, alone in my room, I found that I was too ashamed to listen to my record, or even to look at it, really. It reminded me of my wretched eagerness to please. From this point on, whenever someone asked my opinion, I would turn the question around, and then proceed accordingly. If the person I was with loved game shows and Deep Purple, then so would I, and if I was caught contradicting myself—watching or listening to something I’d sworn to have hated—I would claim to be doing research, or to be enjoying the thing for its very badness. You could do this, I learned, and people would forgive you, consider you interesting, even.” Having spent my life trying to fit the will of others, I was unable to distinguish between what I enjoyed and what I thought I should enjoy.”1

We are all familiar with the old imperative “To thine own self be true,” and clear that much would be resolved if only we operated consistently with it, but the pull for getting approval from others and the need to fit in is a strong one. Even when we’re fully aware that we’re being inauthentic, and know that we don’t really believe in what we’re doing or saying, we still act as if we do—because we’re afraid we might risk losing approval of some kind. Even though we know the standards we’ve set for ourselves are impossible to realise, we still keep trying—we hide our perceived shortcomings, or pretend they don’t exist. In doing so, we unwittingly add yet another layer of inauthenticity.

It’s hard to be at ease when we have to keep up a pretense and not be true to ourselves in some way. Yet it’s not as if we woke up one morning and intentionally said, “Gee, I think I’m going to act inauthentically today. What my life’s going to be about is looking good and avoiding looking bad.” This way of being is just kind of automatically there. Every time we opt for looking good or avoiding looking bad over what’s actually true for us, inauthenticity creeps in and we compromise who we are.

We don’t much like thinking of ourselves as being inauthentic, but we live in societies today in which the name of the game is to “make it,” to “fit in,” to “look good,” so a great deal of what we think and do becomes shaped by a kind of cultural commitment to that. That pull or gravitational force is an ontological phenomenon, not a psychological one—it’s the already/always condition of being human (a term which kind of speaks for itself). This condition is ubiquitous—it influences everything: How we see and respond to situations, what we’re concerned with, what’s important to us. While we might think we are responding in true, authentic ways, what is actually happening is that our responses are essentially just a fallout of that already/always condition. And it is against that pull—the enormous gravitational force of that condition—that we attempt to be authentic.

When we compromise, even in the tiniest of matters, it’s easier for those compromises to become more and more commonplace; we begin to feel as if doing that is a normal and O.K. way of behaving. Over time, bit by bit, this erodes our sense of self. It’s like stirring one drop of red paint into a can of white. The paint may turn only the palest shade of pink, and while that might seem barely noticeable—no matter what we say about it—the paint is no longer what it was. Similarly, when the wholeness and completeness of who we are is jeopardised in some way, albeit imperceptible at first, our sense of ourselves gets obscured, making it harder to return to who we are. When that begins, there’s really no starting point to become ourselves—it’s all flailing around.

To be authentic requires putting aspects of our present ways-of-being on the line—letting go of pretenses, letting things show themselves in new ways, and acknowledging whatever inauthenticity is at play. The possibility of fully being ourselves occurs in proportion to our being authentic; said another way, it occurs in proportion to the degree we own our inauthentic ways of being. In not owning them, we essentially resign ourselves to inauthenticity staying around. Living with a pretense, or being afraid that some aspect of ourselves might be found out, precludes any real freedom. We live, rather, with a kind of fabricated freedom—a large price to pay.

Sartre said that facing one’s freedom can be terrifying and uncomfortable—because facing it makes one feel insecure, and inevitably produces some level of anguish. Hence, we are constantly tempted to live inauthentically, pretending to ourselves that we are not free. To maintain this pretense, we try to convince ourselves that our actions are determined—by our character, our circumstances, our nature, or whatever. The last thing we want to admit is that our actions are determined only by our free, unconstrained choices.2

Being authentic—stepping outside of the swirl of the already/always condition—requires courage. Humorist Josh Billings said, “This undertaking is not only the most difficult thing to do, but the most inconvenient as well.” In being authentic, the already/always condition becomes stripped of its power and is no longer the determining force in shaping who we are. Here, the context for the question “who am I?” shifts from flailing about, trying to find ourselves somewhere out there, to a context of creation. This is more difficult, because there is no zeitgeist to read, no template to follow, no known path to success. It’s a blank slate. It’s a matter of courage—a matter of creating possibility. It gets made up as we go along, and it is this shift that makes available to us the full possibility of being human.

I don’t understand my teenager!

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If you’re the parent of a teen, you may feel like one day they went to bed and woke up with a totally different personality.

Whereas before they were sweet, helpful and easy-to-handle, now they are suddenly uncommunicative, messy, rebellious and rude.

Don’t panic! While many parents are surprised and often stressed out by the changes that teens go through upon hitting puberty, it’s important to recognise that most of this behaviour is totally normal.

  • There’s a whole host of behaviours that your teen may begin to exhibit.
  • They may stop listening to you or refuse to comply with simple requests.
  • They may take more – or less interest – in their appearance.
  • They may become less interested in school and achieving.
  • They’re likely to start taking an interest in sex.
  • They may even begin to dabble in smoking, drugs or alcohol.

None of this is any reflection on you as parent. Your teen is beginning to express themself as an independent person. They are pushing boundaries and wanting to try out new and different things.

So what can you do?

  • Reassure them about what they are going through and acknowledge how difficult this time is for them.
  • Negotiate boundaries ‘with’ them, as opposed to ‘telling’ them what to do. Teens tend to be much more responsive to discussions including them, rather than rules that dictate to them.
  • Many parents try stopping their teen making valuable mistakes that are healthy to their development. It’s important you don’t constrict their freedom so much that they can’t learn lessons for themselves.
  • Try to talk to your teen about sex. You may both find this awkward, but it’s crucial they know how to avoid making silly mistakes.
  • Check they aren’t being bullied, and keep communication open with them.
  • Try to understand what they might be going through… and try to remember what it was like for you at this age.

 When should you start to worry?

Of course, it’s also important to be able to notice the real signs of trouble. Some behaviour is unacceptable – even if your teen is going through a period of change. If they are acting in the following ways, it may be time to intervene.

  • If your teen becomes violent towards you, or other family members, this is not OK.
  • If your teen is getting into trouble and committing illegal offences talk to them about the consequences of their actions.
  • Regular truancy from school can mean your teen is experiencing problems.

What can you do if you think your teenager might be going down a bad path? 

Talk to your teen about risks and consequences. Make sure they understand that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable, and that now they’re growing up, they need to start taking responsibility for their actions.

  • Offer your support. Find out if something is troubling them. Bad behaviour is often the symptom of a problem they’re struggling to deal with.
  • Be a good role model. After all, one of the biggest influences on your teen’s development is you.
  • Discuss boundaries and rules.  If they feel they’re unfair, ask what they feel is reasonable and fair, and try negotiating these with them.
  • Get support for yourself. It’s important that you make sure that you have all the help you need too. Ask family and friends for help if you’re struggling to cope – or talk to a life coach.

How long will this go on for?

Because the rate of growth in teens is so variable, it’s impossible to know how long this period will last. It could be months, or it could be years.

And while that may be frustrating, remember they will come out of the other side – and that’s when you’ll see the benefits of the support, reassurance and boundaries that you provided.

How can I help?

If you need more information or advice on dealing with changes in your teen visit my website or email me on

Relationships, What has love got to do with it?

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It’s February 2008 and yet another 7-year relationship bites the dust. Of course, it is absolutely not my fault! It’s just that, once again, I’ve picked the wrong woman to invest in.

One day soon, I really will find that special someone who will truly love me. And I’ll know this because she’ll do what I want when I want, and will automatically know all of this without me telling her. What I’m looking for, in fact, is a selfless mind-reader. I can say this now with tongue-in-cheek, but this was how I actually thought about my relationships; ‘Real love’ is this way. It just isn’t fair I’m on my own. I’m unlucky in love. Poor me.

And I would have continued to be oblivious to this state of affairs, but for the fact I finally took up a friend’s long-standing suggestion to get some coaching. Wow, did things start to move! I noticed the constant commentary in my mind about how life was going – FYI it rarely came up with a positive conclusion! I realised that I usually heard a lover’s happy
recollections as criticism of me because I just wasn’t good enough. And perhaps most importantly of all, I started to see the strategies I used to get love and prove how much I was loved.

A new relationship would always be amazing. We were ‘together’, life was great and the world was a wonderful place to be. And then the doubts and negative thoughts would creep in. Is this too good to be true? Could this fantastic woman, really love me?

To test it out. I’d throw little hand grenades into the relationship. If she learned to deal with my minor over reactions, I just threw in bigger and more volatile love bombs! When my ex mentioned how much she missed her annual two-week holiday to the Caribbean – the one she used to take with her ex-husband – I would hear this as why can’t you afford to take me? I’d get upset, we’d argue and then I’d throw in my hand grenade – I’m leaving! When she cried and begged me to stay, I knew she cared and all was good. Eventually, of course,
she had enough of the histrionics and the relationship exploded – as had all the others before. I was upset, but I was right – There you are you see, I knew she didn’t love me!

My insecurity and a constant need to feel loved meant I had found a sure fire way to get my partners to prove it. The people around me knew it, but I genuinely had no idea that my failed relationships were largely down to me.

This insight changed my world. I started to notice when I was about to drop in an incendiary comment and found that I could stop myself from pulling out the proverbial pin. It wasn’t easy at first, but the more I held back, the more I saw my partner’s genuine affection for me. And I learned to be with her simply because she added something wonderful to my already satisfying life, not just because of my need to feel loved.

With my hand grenades all but deactivated, I soon found what I was looking for and in August 2013, I married my amazing wife. I don’t need to test her love and she doesn’t have to do anything to prove it to me. I just know it’s there – and she does too.

Moving from “doer” to “leader”

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A little over a year ago, I was promoted into a newly-created management position that elevated me above several former peers and significantly increased the number of direct reports in my group. In thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in my new role, as well as my longer-term professional goals, I felt it would be helpful to have a partner who could help me define and pursue a clear path for myself going forward.

After David and I began working together, we conducted  feedback surveys. The themes that emerged from the interviews with my coworkers helped me better appreciate my core strengths. They also helped me become aware of a few development opportunities I was ready to tackle. Our early conversations also helped me identify some personal growth objectives, including strategically expanding my network both within and outside the company and achieving a healthier work-life balance.

During my work with David, I began setting and enforcing stronger boundaries around my time and priorities. I also reached out to co-workers in other departments to build stronger relationships that would expand my understanding of the organisation as a whole so I could lead my own department more strategically. Giving my direct reports the latitude to take on greater responsibilities allowed me to expand my focus beyond the day-to-day operations of my group.

As a result, I was able to spend more time on departmental and organisational strategy rather than transactional activities that my employees could easily address and resolve.
After just nine months in that job, I was promoted.  In my new position, I continue to find my work with David valuable. With his assistance and expertise, I am able to hone in on my yearly goals as well as take incremental action to ensure my future goals come to fruition.

Director, compliance, education management

I discovered what would make me happy

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My stress levels were high with a demanding full-time job, two young children, a wife suffering regular bouts of depression and having just moved house.  My confidence was low and my current job didn’t make me feel a success – nor did my role as a father.  I’d lost sight of where I was going in my life.  I realised I was too hard on myself and needed to make career choices that would bring satisfaction and financial security.

In the coaching we looked at what made me feel fulfilled and how I could start to bring this into my work life. I learnt that my expectations of myself were totally unrealistic and just added to my negative feelings.  With David’s help I discovered how to make my expectations of myself more realistic so I could begin to feel a success again.  David helped me tackle my fears so I could overcome my procrastination and start to take some positive steps with my career.

I began to feel much more positive about myself and about my life, because I was doing something to improve things.  My relationships grew stronger, and I got on top of my finances for the first time.  After years of being unhappy in my job, I’d discovered what would make me happy, and gained the confidence to find a new career as a special needs teacher.

I have very much valued working with David – the sessions have been excellent.  I value her combination of kindness and sympathy and straight-forwardness.  I could never have imagined feeling this empowered and this me or making so much progress in so little time.  I gained the confidence to start out on a new path in my life which I am finding scary, challenging and immensely rewarding. I can’t believe what I’ve achieved!

Chris, Teacher

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