The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief history and perspective on the influence of McGregor's Theory Y on research about and practice of management and leadership. Although best known for Theory X and Y, Douglas McGregor involved himself in more than theory. He was for a time President of Antioch College, a builder of a strong academic program of management and organizational behavior in the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and a pioneer in the origination of organization development.
The legacy of Theory Y can be characterized as a set of beliefs that are antecedents to participative and involvement modes of management, that these modes are associated with success backed by considerable evidence, yet are not practiced by the majority of people in management and leadership positions. Moreover, the track record of management and leadership in the USA is not exactly exemplary, for example, at least half of those in management fail, and more than 70 percent of employees surveyed in a variety of contexts state that the main cause of stress for them at work is their boss.
With respect to Theory Y, McGregor's intent was to show the relativity of authority, and that participative management was consistent with Y, but these assumptions did not necessarily lead to a specific style of management.
This apparent paradox of evidence that involvement forms of management pays off yet few practice participation begs the question of why. Among many reasons the following stand out: executives do not trust the evidence at least not for their levels (It is okay for first line supervisors), and besides participative forms of management require a particular set of skills and competence time (too much one suspects), and patience. Many executives do not have the requisite skills nor do they have the patience to take the time that such forms of management and leadership require.
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