Are you a Theory X or Theory Y leader?

This lesson was given in 3 parts which included the following:
1) Identify your leadership philosophy.
Reflect on your philosophy of leadership. Are you a Theory X or Theory Y leader?
Provide a brief example to support your view.
2) Analyze your leadership style.
Of the three styles of leadership (authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire), what style comes easiest for you?
How effective is this style for you?
From what you have learned in this lesson, does your leadership style meet the needs of your followers? Why or why not?
Provide examples to support your responses.
3) Apply task and relationship behaviors to the case study “From Two to One” from the lesson readings (Northouse, 2018, p. 110).
Read the case study.
Apply what you have learned about task and relationship behaviors in this lesson to respond to Questions 1 to 3 from the case study.
Prepare paper based on the following information:
Read the assigned readings located in Lesson 4 Course Schedule.
Record your responses to each item below.
Identify your leadership philosophy.
Reflect on your philosophy of leadership. Are you a Theory X or Theory Y leader?
Provide a brief example to support your view.
Analyze your leadership style.
Of the three styles of leadership (authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire), what style comes easiest for you?
How effective is this style for you?
From what you have learned in this lesson, does your leadership style meet the needs of your followers? Why or why not?
Provide examples to support your responses.
Apply task and relationship behaviors to the case study “From Two to One” from the lesson readings (Northouse, 2018, p. 110).
Read the case study.
Apply what you have learned about task and relationship behaviors in this lesson to respond to Questions 1 to 3 from the case study.
Use APA format to provide citations and references for all of the sources that you cited in this assignment.
Leadership Philosophy Explained
We all make assumptions about human nature. These assumptions determine whether you think people are self-motivated to contribute to group goals or whether their motivation requires external incentives and/or negative consequences. In The Human Side of Enterprise, McGregor (as cited in Northouse, 2018) asserts that a leader’s practices and behaviors reflect one of two general philosophies, or core assumptions, about human nature and work. He labeled these philosophies Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X assumes that followers lack motivation, needing guidance and supervision. Theory Y assumes that followers can work autonomously when they are dedicated to achieving a goal.
Theory X
Theory X views followers as inherently unmotivated, in need of direction and control (Table 4.1).
Table 4.1. Theory X Details
Assumptions Examples
People inherently dislike work and will try not to perform work tasks if possible.
People need to be supervised and told what to do.
People want to have their basic survival needs met, not responsibility.
“If I didn’t have to pay bills, I would never work.”
A manager threatens employees with a poor performance review if they do not consistently complete assigned tasks.
A supervisor in a fast food restaurant tells workers what tasks to perform, when to complete them, and how they should be done.
Theory Y
Theory Y views followers as self-motivated, capable of working independently when they are committed to a goal (Table 4.2).
Table 4.2. Theory Y Details
Assumptions Examples
The average person likes work. Work can be considered enjoyable.
People dedicated to a goal will demonstrate discipline and accountability.
Under the right circumstances, the average person will pursue opportunities for greater responsibility.
Committed to contributing to others’ well-being, Jimmy Carter has devoted significant time and energy to Habitat for Humanity in his retirement.
A research scientist works more than 60 hours a week to help find a cure for cancer.
Even though it’s not in her job descriiption, an assembly-line worker in a manufacturing company suggests process improvements to reduce product defects.
More on Theory X and Theory Y
Douglas McGregor asserted that meeting employees’ social needs was just as important, if not more important, than the economics of compensation. Although Theory X postulates that employees don’t care about organizational problems, Theory Y contends that they are willing to help address organizational challenges because they are motivated to satisfy not only their security needs, but also drives related to belonging, esteem, and achievement, which are higher in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Herzberg (1968) extended McGregor’s emphasis on the importance of work conditions in his dual theory of motivation. This theory posits that employees will be dissatisfied if the following hygiene factors (“dissatisfiers”) are absent or fall short of realistic expectations:
a relationship with the boss,
security, and
relationships with peers.
Furthermore, Herzberg (1968) asserts that the key to increasing employee satisfaction involves enhancing the following motivating factors (“satisfiers”):
responsibility assumed,
capacity for achievement,
the work itself,
recognition by others,
opportunities for growth, and
Leadership Styles Explained
The germinal work of Lewin, Lippitt, and White—along with additional work from White and Lippitt—identified three distinct styles of leadership: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire (Northouse, 2018). Lewin, Lippitt, and White also outlined the outcomes of each style—its effect on group members. The three leadership styles can be depicted as a continuum of influence ranging from high (authoritarian) to low (laissez-faire), with democratic leadership associated with moderate influence.
A leadership style refers to a pattern of leadership practices or behaviors—what leaders do and how they act. Each style reflects the leader’s basic beliefs and assumptions about human nature and work (his or her leadership philosophy). A leader can demonstrate more than one style in a given situation and can use different styles from one situation to the next. Typically, a leader has a dominant or primary style that he or she uses most often, switching to alternate styles more optimal for different situations or individuals. Ideally, a leader will
keep a broad range of styles in his or her repertoire,
analyze a specific leadership challenge, and then
consciously select and implement the best style for that situation.
Authoritarian Leadership Style
An authoritarian leader exercises a high level of influence. This style of leadership is sometimes referred to as directive, coercive, autocratic, or commanding.
similar to Theory X in assuming that employees need direction
leader exerting strong influence and control
common in hierarchical bureaucracies, as well as the military and law enforcement agencies
Situations for Which This Style Is Appropriate
triaging emergency-room patients
situations requiring fast, decisive action, especially if the risks of inaction are high
instances in which the leader has special expertise or access to information unavailable to others
Outcomes or Effects
Table 4.3. Outcomes or Effects of Authoritarian Leadership
Positives Negatives
establishes clear goals and work standards
provides supervision and clarifies work to be accomplished
fosters dependence and conformity
hinders innovation and employee development
reduces employee interest, satisfaction, and morale
Democratic Leadership Style
A democratic leader exercises a moderate level of influence. This style of leadership is sometimes referred to as participative or enlightened.
similar to Theory Y in assuming that employees are fully capable of working on their own
the leader treating others as equals, listening, and providing counsel and support
common in team-oriented organizations that do not emphasize hierarchy
Situations for Which This Style Is Appropriate
making a decision that will have a direct effect on employees
when employees have special expertise and firsthand knowledge (e.g., dealing with a technical work process or customer need)
Outcomes or Effects
Table 4.4. Outcomes or Effects of Democratic Leadership
Positives Negatives
greater fulfilment, commitment, and connection among group members
more camaraderie, mutual approval, and group-mindedness
enhanced enthusiasm for work
increased innovation
more time-consuming for the leader
potentially less efficient than an authoritarian style
Laissez-Faire Leadership Style
A laissez-faire leader exercises a low level of influence.
dissimilar to both Theory X and Theory Y
an uninvolved leader failing to control, guide, nurture, or discipline employees
potentially appropriate when experienced, high-performing employees are completing routine tasks
Situations for Which This Style Is Appropriate
when employees need a great deal of freedom
when experienced employees have demonstrated a high level of competence
Outcomes or Effects
Table 4.5. Outcomes or Effects of Laissez-Faire Leadership
Positives Negatives
minimal time and effort required of the leader
little accomplished
employee confusion about goals, tasks, and procedures
chaotic atmosphere
frustrated employees
decreased motivation and productivity
Leadership Styles in Practice
Each leader has a unique style of leadership. Leadership styles are not discrete entities; rather, they occur on a continuum from high to low influence.
styles of leadership and influence continuum
Figure 4.1. Styles of Leadership and Influence. Adapted from Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice (4th ed., p. 89), by P. G. Northouse, 2018, Sage. Copyright 2018 by Sage. Adapted with permission.
Leadership styles can be used in a flexible style to meet the needs of particular circumstances. Effective leadership includes understanding where you tend to lie on the continuum and engaging the style that is most appropriate for a given situation.
Northouse (2018) states that laissez-faire leadership is rarely appropriate. In Laissez-Faire Leadership, Goodnight (2011) further describes authoritarian (or autocratic) and democratic (or enlightened) leadership. Goodnight also summarizes work by Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson (2000) that explains how laissez-faire leadership may be the ideal leadership style when competent and experienced employees are fully prepared to work independently.
Task and Relationship Styles Explained
Personal style refers to the unique habits we develop over time for approaching challenges, tasks, and people, both at work and at play (Northouse, 2018). Reflecting our personality, our personal style is rooted in prior habits and inclines us toward task or relationship behaviors, although each of us exhibits both to some degree. Table 4.6 contrasts task- and relationship-oriented styles.
Table 4.6. Task-Oriented Versus Relationship-Oriented Personal Style
Task-Oriented Relationship-Oriented
oriented toward goals
person wants to achieve
person is gratified by getting things done
person finds meaning in doing
using color codes in a daily planner
making a list for everything
completing chores early on Saturday mornings
oriented toward people
celebrates relationships
person is gratified by connecting with people
person finds meaning in being
keeping one’s cell phone on as much as possible
interrupting someone who is working just to talk
working out problems by soliciting others’ perspectives
Our personal style influences many aspects of our daily behaviors, and there are a number of ways to examine personal style. For example, personal style can be characterized in terms of the Big Five personality traits mentioned and described in Bligh’s (2009) “Personality Theories of Leadership” (required reading for Lesson 3).
DiSC Profile
A common way to view personal style involves a self-assessment called the DiSC, which was developed by William Moulton Marston. DiSC results characterize personal style in terms of four dimensions of observable behavior:
dominance (D): This dimension represents straightforward, results-driven people who make decisions quickly. Those high in dominance tend to be self-sufficient and outcome-oriented. Highly determined people, they enjoy challenges and producing immediate results.
influence (I): This dimension represents people who are persuasive, enthusiastic, optimistic, and highly social. Those high in influence prefer collaborating, building relationships, sharing their thoughts, and energizing others.
steadiness (S): This dimension represents empathetic and cooperative people. Those high in steadiness are typically patient, calm, deliberate team players who work in supportive roles, providing consistency and predictability. They have the capacity to be effective listeners, avoiding conflict.
conscientiousness/compliance (C): This dimension represents concerned, cautious, and accurate people. Those high in conscientiousness are concerned about details and emphasize quality, preparing in advance for what needs to be done.
The style with the highest score is called the primary style. For example, a person who scores highest in dominance—whose primary style is dominance—is referred to as a “high D.”
The DiSC provides a useful way to understand yourself and others. Reviewing your DiSC results can help you understand why you click with some people and clash with others. Your individual profile offers strategies for increasing your effectiveness when working with those with differing profiles. The DiSC is often used as a professional development tool in leadership training and executive coaching programs, helping leaders improve their understanding of themselves and others. The goal is to be able to adapt when styles differ. Adapting to accommodate others’ personal styles promotes goal achievement and strengthens working relationships.
You can learn more about this personality profile (as well as purchase and complete a statistically valid version of the assessment) at the DiSC Profile website. A number of free versions of the DiSC—with dubious statistical validity—are also available online; you can try one at the 123test website.
More About Personal Styles
According to the DiSC, a person’s primary personal style can be described with one of the four quadrants shown in Table 4.7. The typical characteristics associated with each style are listed as bullet points in each quadrant.
Table 4.7. Primary Personal Styles
Slow-Paced Fast-Paced
high C
steady performer
engineers and accountants
deliberate and meticulous
high D
bottom line–oriented
needs to be sure to not rub others the wrong way
high S
laid-back, peaceful, and relaxed
calm in a storm, preserving sanity in a fast-paced group
ensures there’s a balance in life
gets things done in an emergency
high I
life of the party
wants to be in the limelight
likes to have fun
tends to “lose it” in an emergency
needs to focus and get things done
Notice the following patterns among the four personality styles:
People who are high in conscientiousness and steadiness tend to be slower-paced than those high in dominance and influence.
People who are high in conscientiousness and dominance tend to be more task-oriented, while those high in steadiness and influence tend to be people-oriented.
It’s important to note that every person displays a mix of the four DiSC styles; no one style is better than another. Be aware of your own primary style, as well as your followers’—this knowledge will help you adapt your behavior and leadership practices to accommodate others’ needs and preferences. Resisting the inclination to automatically engage your primary style is a useful strategy for relating more effectively to those whose styles differ. You can also strengthen relationships by adopting the strengths of all four styles, adapting them as appropriate for a given situation in order to increase your ability to accomplish goals.
The Ohio State and University of Michigan Studies
From a research perspective, some of the first explorations of the behavioral approach to leadership were The Ohio State and University of Michigan studies (Northouse, 2019). If you remember, in Lesson 2, we explored the evolution of leadership, beginning with the focus on traits to describe the unique characteristics of great leaders. In the 1940s, after years of study had failed to consistently distinguish leaders from non-leaders across situations, researchers at Ohio State decided to explore leadership behaviors, directing their attention to what leaders do and how they act. Hundreds of employees were administered the Leader Behavior Descriiption Questionnaire (LBDQ) to rate their leaders on frequency of specific leadership behaviors. From the results, two types of behaviors emerged, aligning with the behaviors described earlier: initiating structure (task-oriented) and consideration behaviors (relationship-oriented), which the most effective leaders balanced. Initiating structure and consideration behaviors will be described further later in this lesson.
The University of Michigan studies also examined leadership behaviors, specifically focusing on how they influence small-group performance. From this research, again, relationship- and task-oriented behaviors emerged: Leaders could either have an employee (relationship) orientation or a production (task) orientation. Again, leaders would combine these task and relationship behaviors to effectively impact performance. Employee and production orientations will be described later in this lesson as well.
In the optional readings for the lesson listed in the Course Schedule, you will find an abbreviated version of the LBDQ in Northouse (2019), which you can use to assess your orientation toward task and relationship behaviors.
Task and Relationship Leadership in Practice
Leadership style reflects an individual’s personal style. According to Northouse (2018), leadership style involves two dimensions: relationship leadership and task leadership. As illustrated in Figure 4.2 below, these two styles anchor each end of a continuum, with most leadership practices falling in between. Effective leadership requires the leader to attend to both tasks and relationships, balancing task and relationship behaviors for optimal performance in various situations.
task relationship leadership continuum
Figure 4.2. Task and Relationship Leadership Continuum
Adapted from Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice (4th ed., p. 104), by P. G. Northouse, 2018, Sage. Copyright 2018 by Sage. Adapted with permission.
Task Leadership
Task-oriented leadership emphasizes procedures, activities, and goal accomplishment. This style focuses on the completion of tasks—in other words, on what the leader is doing. Research has characterized task leadership in different ways:
concern for production (focusing on new product development, policy decisions, workload, and sales volume),
production orientation (focusing on the production and technical aspects of the work), and
initiating structure (establishing work routines, defining work responsibilities, or scheduling specific work functions).
Perspectives on Leadership Video: Task-Oriented Leadership
In the following video, four leaders representing different industries discuss task-oriented leadership. Participants in the discussion include
Walt De Treux, labor arbitrator and mediator;
Sarah M. Naraghi, regional human resources manager, Tokio Marine North America Services, LLC;
Rex Simpson, former vice president of administration, Yokohama Tire Corporation; and
Adam Taliaferro, associate, Duane Morris, LLP.
Time: 00:05:24 Task-Oriented Leadership Video Transcriipt
Relationship Leadership
Relationship-oriented leadership is concerned with interactions, work culture, and followers’ well-being. This style emphasizes leadership practices that help followers feel at ease with themselves, others, and the work environment. As with task leadership, research has characterized relationship leadership in different ways:
consideration behavior (building compatible relationships based on respect and trust, allowing leaders and followers to work effectively together),
an employee orientation (paying attention to the welfare of workers, appreciating their unique characteristics, and understanding their particular needs), and
concern for people (establishing good working conditions, trusting relationships with workers, a fair salary structure, and good social relations).
At its core, relationship leadership involves
establishing relationships with followers based on dignity and respect,
building compatible relationships in general,
creating a pleasant work environment, and
enhancing working relationships with followers.
The next video resumes the discussion of leadership style as Mr. De Treux, Ms. Naraghi, Mr. Simpson, and Mr. Taliaferro define relationship-oriented leadership.
Perspectives on Leadership Video: Relationship-Oriented Leadership
This video rejoins the discussion with Mr. De Treux, Ms. Naraghi, Mr. Simpson, and Mr. Taliaferro as they explore relationship-oriented leadership in their industries.
Time: 00:02:25 Relationship-Oriented Leadership Video Transcriipt
Leaders influence others to achieve group and organizational goals. In order to be effective, it’s essential for a leader to build and sustain positive long-term working relationships with followers over time. Sustaining relationships on a day-to-day basis often calls for the leader to act deliberately.
Perspectives on Leadership Video: Strategies for Sustaining Relationship-Oriented Leadership
This next video rejoins the discussion with Mr. De Treux, Ms. Naraghi, Mr. Simpson, and Mr. Taliaferro as they explore strategies for building and sustaining productive working relationships in the face of obstacles and adversity.
Applying Task and Relationship Leadership
As our society evolves and becomes more dependent on technology, coworkers are increasingly working in virtual teams, geographically separated from one another. As this trend continues, will relationship-oriented leadership become more or less important? How does this trend affect task-oriented leadership? Get some insight into these questions by reading Zimmermann, Wit, and Gill’s (2008) article “The Relative Importance of Leadership Behaviours in Virtual and Face-to-Face Communication Settings” (available in Library Resources).
What Kind of Leader Do Your Followers Need?
Virtually every challenge requires the leader to integrate task and relationship leadership practices in the right proportion while adapting to both the followers’ and the situation’s needs. When followers are uncertain about their roles and responsibilities, task leadership will be essential for clarifying needs. Similarly, when followers want to belong and feel connected to others, relationship leadership is important. The key to effective leadership involves reading the situation, recognizing followers’ needs, and then making the necessary adjustments. Not only do the best leaders get the job done well and on schedule, but they also demonstrate genuine care for others in the process.
Time: 00:03:11 Building and Sustaining Relationship-Oriented Leadership Video Transcriipt
Perspectives on Leadership Video
Balancing Task and Relationship-Oriented Leadership: The final video for this lesson joins the conclusion of the discussion with Mr. De Treux, Ms. Naraghi, Mr. Simpson, and Mr. Taliaferro as they explore the challenge of balancing task- and relationship-oriented leadership. Click the white arrow to launch the video.Click the white arrow to launch the video.

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