By Judi Neal, Ph.D.
The first management theory I was taught was Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. He developed this theory in the 1950s and it still has value today. The theory states that your management style is based on your beliefs about why people come to work. Theory X managers believe people are basically lazy, dislike work, and are only motivated by money. This set of beliefs leads to a high-control, autocratic management style. Theory Y managers believe that workers are internally motivated, and they find meaning in the work they do. Therefore, Theory Y managers are more participative, less controlling, and more relational. Research has shown that participative management tends to get much better organizational results than autocratic management.
What does Theory X and Theory Y have to do with faith? People usually associate the word “faith” with religious faith, but James Fowler, author of Stages of Faith, defines it more broadly as the “universal quality of human meaning making.” He encourages us to examine which “centers of value” we put our trust in. This could be religion, as in the commonly accepted use of the term “faith.” Other centers of value are family, money, or power. In Theory Y, the participative manager puts her faith in the people who work for her.
Mel Toomey was a mentor to me, and the co-author of our book Integrating Change. One of the things he taught me was “Everyone wants to make a difference.” For him, this was an article of faith. I once had someone assigned to work for me in a support position who seemed not to be very interested in getting the things done that I needed. Mel encouraged me to see reframe how I saw this person. I found myself interacting with her in a much more compassionate way when I asked myself the question, “How does she want to make a difference?” Soon we found projects that allowed her to have an impact in ways that mattered to her, and that served my goals. I developed faith in her.
These days I find myself asking what Americans have faith in. Are we a Theory X country that believes that people are basically lazy, that they are only motivated by money or fear, and therefore must be highly controlled by an autocratic leader? Or are we a Theory Y country that believes in the intrinsic motivation of citizens, the American pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit? Do we believe that some people are inherently better than others and that they should autocratically rule, or do we have faith that the best decisions are made when everyone has a voice? And finally, do we believe in an angry and punitive God, or do we put our faith in a loving God that wants the best for all His children. Theory X or Theory Y? Which do you believe?