Leadership and Motivation

At first glance, you may think Leadership and Motivation examines what motivates employees.  But this information highlights what managers believe about employees. 

What managers believe about their employees (and why they choose to work), directly affects how a manager interacts with that employee.

Douglas McGregor was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  He developed these theories, which were published in his book "The Human Side of Enterprise" in 1960. 

Theory X & Theory Y

These theories relate to a manager's belief about what motivates humans and why people work. 

Theory X makes negative assumptions about why employees work, whereas  Theory Y assumes that employees work for positive reasons, not just selfish reasons.

What a manager believes about an employee and their reason for working, directly affects his or her attitude about and behavior toward the direct report.

Each manager makes assumptions about what motivates employees.  But their assumptions lead to very different behavior and interaction with employees.

Leadership: Theory X

The manager who holds the views of “Theory X” generally believes that employees are lazy and want to avoid work.  As such, this manager closely supervises their employees work.  This manager believes that employees must be externally motivated to do what needs to be done because the employee has little to no internal motivation to do good work.  

Even if an employee is not lazy and does not try to avoid work, the manager who thinks s/he does will micro-manage the employee. 

The manager who subscribes to “Theory X” believes employees are irresponsible and only work for the money.  This manager tends to keep a very tight right on employees.  They believe “the stick” is the best way to keep employees in line.  This manager believes that employees must be externally motivated to do a good job.


Leadership:  Theory Y


The manager who subscribes to Theory Y believes their employees want to work, are self-motivated and responsible.  As such, the manager interacts with employees in a different, more positive manner than the Theory X Manager.

This manager creates a climate of trust and communicates with his employees, resulting in a more engaged workforce

The difference between a Theory X and Theory Y manager is what the manager believes about an employee and what motivates them to do what they do.  

Leadership and Motivation

So, what motivates you to do what you do?  What motivates your direct reports to do what they do?  What leadership style would produce the results you most desire?

Check out this fascinating video from RSA Animate about the surprising truth about what motivates us. 


Want To Know More?

In a nutshell, Theory X managers believe individuals are motivated by lower order needs.  Whereas, Theory Y managers believe individuals are motivated by higher order needs. For a more indepth view on motivation, take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Coming January 2024

I am committed to bringing you the best in leadership development practices so you can stay in the know.  To get monthly updates from Leader Who Leads directly to your inbox, just click the subscribe button and submit your information.  I look forward to receiving your request.  

Be on the lookout for new leadership training sessions via live and recorded webinars.  

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

About Coach Gwen



Leaders don't







- Tom Peters


7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Five Dysfunctions of a Team
For Your Improvement Coaching Guide