Leaders – Check Your Older Ways at the Door

A family friend was hosting the rehearsal dinner for their son’s wedding. The Dad dutifully stood up during the dinner and began to make his toast to the bride and groom.

As is usual at such affairs, there were several generations sitting around the tables.

Dad proceeded to speak about the ways that his mother and father met and dated. Back then, as the story went, the smitten couple needed chaperones to go anywhere together. That is, they were supervised for many of their first dates.

For the Dad and his wife, they met somewhat accidentally on a cruise ship. But it turns out they lived several states apart. Long-distance phone calling (a very old art form) cost over $1.00 per minute. There was no texting or emailing, so they had to rely upon the U.S. Postal system to communicate.

So as young lovers, separated by a great distance, letter writing was their only way to communicate.

Get updates via email

Fast forward to the bride and groom, they had met online. With a stream of emails, texts, and the occasional actual (no cost) phone chat, their relationship blossomed.

As this tale of lovers unfolded, I realized the same can be said for management styles. Older management styles can look and feel very ineffective in today’s fast-paced business world.

very old technology

Good leaders will change with the times.

The Management Spectrum

Modern management theory has evolved during the past 50 years.

The Industrial Revolution relied upon a rigid hierarchy of management. After WWII, soldiers returning home were used to military discipline and attitude, so they naturally applied those principles into command and control principles for managing businesses.

In the 1960s, social psychologist Douglas McGregor developed two contrasting theories that explained how managers’ beliefs about what motivates their people can affect their management style. He labeled these Theory X and Theory Y. These theories continue to be important even today.

Understanding Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y were first explained by McGregor in his book, “The Human Side of Enterprise,” and they refer to two styles of management – authoritarian (Theory X) and participative (Theory Y).

If you believe that your team members dislike their work and have little motivation, then, according to McGregor, you’ll likely use an authoritarian style of management. This approach is very “hands-on” and usually involves micromanaging people’s work to ensure that it gets done properly. McGregor called this Theory X.

On the other hand, if you believe that your people take pride in their work and see it as a challenge, then you’ll more likely adopt a participative management style. Managers who use this approach trust their people to take ownership of their work and do it effectively by themselves. McGregor called this Theory Y.

The approach that you take will have a significant impact on your ability to motivate your team members. So, it’s important to understand how your perceptions of what motivates them can shape your management style.

Older, command and control styles like McGregor’s Theory X have given way to open concepts and more collaborative thinking.

Servant Leadership

What we now know as Servant Leadership sprung up as an off-shoot of Theory Y management thinking. If your people are somewhat self-motivated, you can achieve greater results with a servant mindset. The thinking goes that the leader should be there to serve the workforce rather than them serving him/her.

servant leader

Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences. I would argue that management has entered a new era of empathy.

[See HBR article on the cycles of management thoery]

What do you do?

Managers and business leaders today must check their style and approach. Are you using old, antiquated ways to run your teams?

Relying on old methods (like the grandparents dating routine) may get you tagged as ineffective and unrelatable.

Yet by agreeing to shift your style and approach you become far more effective as a manager.

In management, one size does not fit all. A good leader in today’s business world will be sensitive to the needs and personalities of the team. Problem-solving will rely upon various ways to get to the right action.

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