Douglas McGregor's Theory X/Theory Y; and Abram Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theories correlate to the teachings and writings of Confucius, Niccolo Machiavelli and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A review of the basic teachings is required to effectively relate the leadership theory to the philosophies of these three men. These leadership theories have had immense impact on leadership thinking for centuries. Each philosophy and leadership theory has disparate tenets but taken together they form a cogent basis for leadership in today’s organizations.
Douglas McGregor postulated under Theory X that people avoid responsibility and dislike work. Coercion by the leader is necessary for followers to perform in satisfactory manner. In contrast, theory Y supposes people may find enjoyment in work and embrace responsibility if they can become committed to the goals of the organization. McGregor concluded Theory Y could lead to superior organizational performance (Theory X and Theory Y, 2006). Before his death McGregor envisioned theory Z that synthesized the concepts of theories X and Y. William Ouchi built on McGregor’s work and developed Theory Z further.
Ouchi’s theory included such concepts as concern for employees by leaders, lifetime employment, stellar communication, strong middle management and informal control (Theory X and Theory Y, 2006). Maxwell concurs about communication and refers to the process as essential to leadership (Maxwell, J. 2007). People do their jobs better when they feel their concerns have been acted upon.
. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has its roots in humanistic psychology and made him one of the leading experts in the field. (Hierarchy of Needs, 2001) He stated that humans have five basic needs; physiological, safety, love or belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The lower order physiological needs of food, shelter clothing, and the like must be met first. Each need is built on the other and if the lower tier needs are left unmet the higher tier needs will then be unrealized. Where Maslow focused on needs Confucius’ focus was on relationships and moral obligation.
The crux of the teachings of Confucius is that morally principled people are superior and self-interested persons inferior. According to Confucius a good society is based on strong relationships between people and a strong sense of moral obligation. The source of power and authority lies in the five virtues of courtesy, kindness, good-faith, magnanimity, and diligence (Rippey, 2001). The goal of leadership is to ensure an orderly society based on morality and giving of oneself for the common good of society.
Machiavelli taught the leader’s values are based on the circumstances the leader is in. If the leader is treated honestly then he or she should treat that person honestly. In contrast, if someone has cheated then it is acceptable for a person to be dishonest with them. In Machiavelli’s teaching the features of society are competiveness and struggle for the people. He believed humanity could not be perfected because it is wicked. Machiavelli also taught that religion and traditional morality are useless unless they advance a well-ordered society. The leader, according to Machiavelli, must cultivate internally the instincts for power, profit, and domination (Rippey, 2001). Leaders often back away from taking a directive approach with their followers due to their fear of be perceived as Machiavellian by their followers. I have witnessed this dynamic that keeps many organizations from moving forward. Rousseau saw society very differently from Machiavelli.
Rousseau took a socialist tact. Society represents the depravity of humanity but also the perfecting of humankind. He taught it was the duty of the individual to subjugate him or herself to the general will or best for the social order. The individual does not lose their freedom but rather finds liberty in the general will because the general will always works for the good of the society.
We are considering five very different outlooks on leadership. Leadership is a nebulous and dynamic process where the leader uses influence to motivate the follower to perform some action. A person can be a good leader and be amoral or even immoral. I propose a level of leadership that takes the highest ideals of Machiavelli, Roseau, and Confucius and intertwines them with Maslow and McGregor. The result would be truly great leaders that are able to keep organizational objectives and the needs of their followers in balance.
Reconciling these disparate viewpoints is no small feat. Confucius would say humanity is superior and has been endowed with the power to craft its own destiny. Machiavelli would counter that humanity is wicked and must constantly be reminded of the authority that exists. Power is supreme. Power, according to Machiavelli, lies in the instinct of humans and expresses itself in the military and the state. Rousseau would answer that it is not the individual we should be concerned with but the general will of the society because no individual is greater than the society in which they live. The individual should willingly sacrifice of themselves for the general will. Let us now contrast contemporary leadership theory with these ancient philosophies.
McGregor’s theory X follows much of Machiavelli’s thought. McGregor’s theory X posits that Humans are inherently lazy and despise industry or hard work. Therefore, the leader is justified in using any means necessary to achieve superior production from the followers. Since Theory X hypothesizes that humans cannot be trusted, they must then always be supervised and driven by a leader since they have no resolve of their own to work. Machiavelli would concur that humanity has a bent toward the negative aspects of their psyche. Cambodia’s National Leader Pol Pot was ruthless and Machiavelli likely would have approved of his methods (Kellerman, 2004). Confucius is a stark contrast to the despot.
Confucius’ teachings revolutionized his country and his thought would most closely align with McGregor’s theory Y (Rippey, 2001). This theory stipulates that humanity has value and wants to work and participate in a good organization (Rippey, 2001). People will freely give themselves to the right cause. This thinking coincides with Roseau’s thoughts that the individual should abase oneself in favor of the greater good and collective betterment of the society. McGregor would add that people are willing to sacrifice for the greater good when they are free to use their imagination and knowledge for the advancement of the organization.
These concepts follow Maslow’s hierarchy by meeting the five needs he outlines. Work satisfies the physiological needs by providing income that can be used to meet those needs. The need for safety is met by the protection provided by those in authority. A sense of belonging is provided by working for a good organization with great leaders. The person’s esteem needs are met by participating in the life of the organization. If a person continues in this positive environment it is possible they may achieve self-actualization.
McGregor’s theories and Maslow’s Hierarchy assist us in understanding a little more about human nature. The understanding we glean guides us as we lead the people we are entrusted with. The leadership sages we considered serve as guides for us who aspire to leadership. We learn from Confucius to cultivate the inner life of reflection. Maslow teaches us that people have distinctively felt needs that drive their behavior. Meeting those needs will result in better productivity by our followers. We receive a warning from Machiavelli that human nature can be deceptive and there will be instances where we must be directive or harsh with a follower but we are reminded by McGregor’s Z theory of the greater dimensions of humanity. That knowledge stays us from doing something that would be damaging to one of our followers. We hold the future of our followers and we can help or hinder these people from our position of influence in their lives. We must not take our responsibility lightly. We must remember the principles we learn from these men. To forget these values would be like throwing a priceless treasure in the wastebasket. The people we lead are much too valuable for us to not lead them well.
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