Managing Your Manager – The Nightmare Theory X Boss

We have all had the manager from Hell – we still might even be working for one and, worst of all, YOU might be one!

Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, proposed his famous X-Y theory in his 1960 book ‘The Human Side Of Enterprise’. Theory X and Theory Y are still referred to commonly in the field of management and motivation and X-Y Theory remains a valid basic principle from which to develop positive management style and techniques.

The concept points to two fundamental approaches to managing people. Many managers tend towards Theory X, and generally get poor results. Enlightened managers use Theory Y, which produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop.

The Theory X or authoritarian/controlling management style demonstrates the following;

The average person dislikes work and will avoid it he/she can so most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organisational objectives.

The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security above all else.

The Theory Y or participative/involving management style demonstrates the following;

Effort in work is a natural process and people will apply self-control and self-direction in the pursuit of organisational objectives, without external control or the threat of punishment.

Commitment to objectives is a function of rewards associated with their achievement so people usually accept and often seek responsibility.

The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organisational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.

So how would you recognise a Theory X manager?

The following points indicate a Theory X; your example may not show all of them (and if they do you have my sympathy!) but there will a good number of the statements that will apply. They are;

  • results-driven and deadline-driven, to the exclusion of everything else
  • intolerant, often issuing deadlines and ultimatums
  • distant and detached, aloof and arrogant, elitist with a short temper
  • fond of issuing instructions, directions, edicts, making threats to make people follow instructions
  • demanding, never asking, aloof, unconcerned about staff welfare or morale and proud, sometimes to the point of self-destruction
  • a one-way communicator, a poor listener, fundamentally insecure and possibly neurotic
  • uncomfortable in giving thanks or praise, happy to withhold rewards and scrutinise expenditure to the point of false economy
  • happy to seek out culprits for failures or shortfalls, apportion blame instead of focusing on learning from the experience and preventing recurrence
  • unresponsive to suggestions and takes criticism badly and likely to retaliate if from below or peer group
  • poor at proper delegating – but believes they delegate well thinking that giving orders is delegating
  • holds on to responsibility but shifts accountability to subordinates

But apart from that they’re OK really? NOT!

How to manage upwards – managing your Theory X manager

This is not an easy task for anyone; working for such people makes for an unpleasant working life but there are ways of managing these people upwards. Avoiding confrontation (unless you are genuinely being bullied, which is a different matter) and delivering results are the key tactics.

  1. Theory X managers (or indeed Theory Y managers displaying Theory X behaviour) are primarily results oriented – so orientate your own discussions and dealings with them around results – i.e. what you can deliver and when.
  2. Theory X managers are facts and figures oriented – so cut out the waffle and be able to measure and substantiate anything you say and do for them, especially reporting on results and activities.
  3. Theory X managers generally don’t understand or have an interest in the human issues, so do not even try to appeal to their sense of humanity or morality. Set your own objectives to meet their organisational aims and agree these with the managers; be seen to be self-starting, self-motivating, self-disciplined and well-organised – the more the Theory X manager sees you are managing yourself and producing results, the less they’ll feel the need to do it for you.
  4. Always deliver your commitments and promises. If you are given an unrealistic task and/or deadline state the reasons why it’s not realistic, but be very sure of your ground, don’t be negative; be constructive as to how the overall aim can be achieved in a way that you know you can deliver.
  5. Stand up for yourself, but constructively – avoid confrontation. Never threaten or go over their heads if you are dissatisfied or you’ll be in big trouble afterwards and life will be a lot more difficult.
  6. If a Theory X manager tells you how to do things in ways that are not comfortable or right for you simply confirm the end-result that is required, and check that it’s okay to ‘streamline the process’ or ‘get things done more efficiently’ if the chance arises – they’ll normally agree to this, which effectively gives you control over the ‘how’, provided you deliver the ‘what’ and ‘when’.

Whatever happens you must focus upon results and deadlines – if you consistently deliver, you’ll increasingly be given more leeway on how you go about the tasks, which amounts to more freedom.

Be crystal clear on what is expected of you and make sure that you fully understand the assignment – then just deliver.

Good Luck!

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