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What is Theory X? How is it used as a management style? November 27, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Definitions, Management, Project Management, Staffing & Recruiting.
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I needed to write a few short pieces on some of the different management styles I have encountered in my corporate and professional travels. I want to define each of these management styles so that I can compare and contrast them, as well as serving as reference points for the longer articles on this topic which I am in the process of drafting.

I will begin with some of the “Letter Management Styles”, of which there are several. The purpose of this litany of alphabetic management styles is not to promote one over another; in fact, I don’t recommend adopting any of these naively. But nevertheless, many individual team members and managers will exhibit some behaviors from one of the above styles, and it is helpful to know what makes them tick. Finally, certain individuals may prefer to be managed as a Theory X or Theory Y type (Theory Z, which I will write about at a future date, is less likely in this case), and it is good to be able to recognize the signs. Moreover, some companies might be implicitly based on one style or another.

The first management style about which I will write is one which will be recognizable to every person, regardless of professional or personal background: “Theory X”.

Theory X is perhaps the oldest management style and is very closely related to the hierarchical, command-and-control model used by military organizations (of which I am intimately familiar).

One thing I can personnally attest to in regards to the Theory X management style is that it maintains the military organizations’ faith in the fact of the necessity of this approach, as (in the view of Theory X proponents) most people inherently dislike work and will avoid it if they can. Hence, in the Theory X management style, managers should coerce, control, direct, and threaten their workers in order to get the most out of them.

A statement that I recall from a conversation with a prototypical Theory X manager with whom I worked (in a prototypical Theory X organization) with was “people only do what you audit”.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.


1. What is Theory Y? How is it used as a management style? « Hub Tech Insider - November 29, 2009

[…] write is one which will be perhaps less recognizable to many people than the aforementioned “Theory X“: “Theory Y”. As opposed to Theory X, Theory Y holds that work is […]

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