If you’re a manager or a leader, you are no doubt interested in the effect your well-intentioned behaviours can have on your team – the very people you hope will deliver outcomes that make you look good.
Hasn’t every employee been told at some point that their job is to make their supervisor look good?
We all know this motivation is not enough to achieve great productivity outcomes.
Conversely, if we could find the motivators that lead towards, rather than away from productivity, we could understand which leadership styles to adopt to lead our teams most productively.
Thankfully, there is a lot of research into about what motivates people at work. It turns out that leaders and managers play a large part. In one study, 59% of employees indicated that their motivation levels are directly impacted by their managers.
One powerful set of motivation theories to look to is Theory X and Theory Y by social psychologist Douglas McGregor, who compared two contrasting management styles.
On the one hand (Theory X) is the view that people won’t do good work unless they’re forced, controlled and threatened. Managers who hold this view actively intervene at every step; they supervise, direct and control their staff. In other words, they are micromanagers.
On the other hand (Theory Y) is the view that people are creative, self-directed and independently capable of doing good work. These are the products of managers who give responsibility, goals and support. McGregor always advocated for Theory Y, which he saw as a powerful motivational approach for most people. His theory has been tested and reviewed and is still a popular management theory.
I find it compelling that in addition to McGregor’s theories, many of the seven or eight major motivational theories also pick up on the importance of independent, autonomous work. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Alderfer’s ERG theory and expectancy theory all list the ability to control or influence as a central motivator.
If that wasn’t enough, leadership research also appears to support the importance of autonomy. Five of the six leadership styles described by consulting firm Hay/McBer are consistent with Theory Y and only one, ‘coercive leadership’, is consistent with Theory X, which demands immediate compliance.
So what does this say to those of us who are looking to become leaders of productive teams?
A small number of people are indeed motivated by being controlled, forced or threatened. So there is a need for managers to be versatile in their approach, to suit the situation and the individual.
But keep in mind that most people, most of the time, are motivated by autonomy. So adopt a leadership style that provides it.