theory x theory y

The Massive Power of Assuming Positive Intent

Over the course of my continued leadership development and culture transformation work, I have had ample opportunity to have fun with the participants of my workshops/speeches as we learn from each other. One of my favorite exercises has to do with McGregor’s Theory, which distinguishes two sets of assumptions that leaders can subscribe to: Theory X assumes people are inherently lazy, avoid responsibility, and have to be told what to do, and Theory Y is essentially the opposite and states that people are good and they want to achieve, are dependable, and can self-direct. With a list of the various characteristics under each theory projected on the screen, I ask the audience how many of them know people who fit into the Theory X category, and just about every hand goes up. Then I ask them to raise their hand if they are one of those people, and, of course, hardly any hands ever go up. This happens literally every single time, which means those “bad" people who could really use some teaching and coaching always escape my session and I end up preaching to the choir... or so it seems!