The Carrot and the Stick

McGregor’s early management theory; you wouldn’t believe it exists in the modern workplace.

James Halliday
6 min readJul 1, 2021


Image by Artyom Kabajev — Unsplash

Lots of people get promoted to management at some point in their careers. Often it’s because they are good at their job and thus the natural successor to ‘take over’ when the current manager moves on or retires.

However, being good at a job doesn’t mean the person will make a good manager as the skillset is quite different. Often the newly-promoted person discovers the job also comes with a level of responsibility they weren’t expecting. It can be unpleasant. There can also be a bit of a shock when former friends now treat you differently when you’re the boss.

It’s also common for new managers to take the job with no extra training, ‘learning on the job’ as it were. But to manage well takes skill and knowledge, not just an ability to do the job. How do you lead people without learning effective techniques?

In these circumstances, you often find the new manager emulates the personality and techniques of their predecessor or the methods of their new boss. Or they mould themselves to fit into the existing culture, whatever that may be.

Even big companies don’t always invest much time, effort or money into training their management. And it’s a foolish approach; as is frequently stated, people leave a bad manager, not a bad company. Investment in honing the skills of the management team is usually money very well spent.

There is a lot of science behind the various elements of management theory, so let’s take a look at some different ideas, starting with the basics:

Theory X and Theory Y

These two ideas were first mooted by Douglas McGregor (1906–1964). He believed that managers’ assumptions about how people behave have a dominant effect on how companies are run. McGregor proposed two categories that these assumptions fell into — Theory X and Theory Y. His book, The Human Side of Enterprise, published in 1960, explains:

Theory X (Authoritarian Management)

This theory revolves around the idea that:

The average person doesn’t like work and will avoid it if possible



James Halliday

Project manager in live television, background in engineering and logistics. Biker, vegan, dad to two tiny terrors. Love travel, food, walking and photography