essential previous learningMaslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Theory X and Theory Y

The ability to motivate others is essential to successful leadership

Key learning outcomes:

  • Understand what drives and motivates your employees or team members to perform effectively.
  • Learn that according to Theory X, employees work only to satisfy their basic needs.
  • Learn that according to Theory Y, employees work to satisfy their higher needs.
  • Acknowledge that, with regard to motivation, not every employee will fit neatly into the Theory X or Theory Y box.


Learning how to motivate others is one of the keys to successful leadership and business. Without doubt, the more that you understand what motivates employees, the more likely you can provide what they need to perform at their best. Motivation has been proven to have such an impact on how businesses perform that academics, management experts and psychologists have studied it since the early 1900s in an effort to better understand what drives people to get up, go to work and to perform at their best. In this section of the website we explore a number of motivational theories and give you an insight into how you can improve your levels of employee engagement and in turn improve your business’s productivity and profitability.

This article explores a theory of human resource management put forward by psychologist Douglas McGregor in 1960. It contains two contrasting theories of employee motivation, which McGregor called “Theory X” and “Theory Y”. McGregor believed that the way a business is managed is a reflection of how a manager believes that employees are motivated. McGregor firmly believed that, overall, Theory Y managers would get the best out of people; however, he suggests that the most effective management style will draw from both X and Y. It is worth noting that McGregor draws on another theory of motivation, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. Read our article on this hierarchy for another useful frame of reference.

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