Concept of Man

What leaders believe in, matters.

A concept of man summarizes the generally accepted assumptions about human beings. The question is, for example, whether people are hard-working or lazy. We all have unconsciously somewhat different concepts in mind. More than five decades ago, it was Douglas McGregor who described two opposed concepts and named them as “X” and “Y”. This article is not assessing McGregor’s work. It’s moreover an approach to leader’s possible implicit attitude and its aftermath.

In 1960, McGregor assumed an extremely negative (“X”) and highly advantageous (“Y”) concept of human beings. The positive picture was a great provocation at a time most organizations still worked very hierarchically and in an imperative manner. I guess McGregor wanted to provoke some change with his polarization. This is a popular remedy, but it has a crucial disadvantage. If you don’t scream loud, nobody hears you. But if you are provoking, people miss either the content or fight the thesis.

Even today, executives in our training bickering whether people are more likely to conform to concept “X” or “Y”. Frequently, employees are judged as “X”, whereas leaders see themselves as “Y”. In other words, the employees are thought to be lazy and need extrinsic motivation, while leaders see themselves as motivated and diligent. After in-depth discussions, our training groups often agree that people are probably a mixture of “X” and “Y” or that the profile is individual. But this is all just as wrong as the two images themselves.

Surprise, surprise - the homo sapiens is ambivalent. For example, people are neither lazy nor diligent. People are rather energy savers and that’s good. Energy is a precious commodity. In times gone by, food was scarce. And human had neither functional clothing nor heating. Wasting energy could mean a death sentence. People, therefore, need a motivation. If you’re hungry, you’ll eat. Today, many people eat even without hunger. For one thing, the walk to the fridge is no longer as expensive as hunting. And on the other side, the sugar in many foods triggers happiness hormones. Feelings of happiness can also be a motivation.

People are neither lazy nor diligent. If they have an adequate motivation, people are mostly ready to perform. And if the motivation is lacking, people save energy. But there is one more critical finding. Motivation is not only somewhat fluid. It is also conflicting. Writing this article, having a chat with friends and booking holidays are all highly motivating task for me. But they are conflicting. It is Friday night and I am still at work. So being motivated does not mean giving something priority.

The truism that it is not possible to motivate employees is fundamentally wrong. It is a modern explanation to deport responsibility as a leader. This does not mean that executives should animate their employees throughout the day. In Fact, motivating people is maybe one of the most misunderstood tasks in leadership. Executives should not only spend a lot more time dealing with the motivation of their employees, they should do it the right way, too. And having people working hard and smart on the right tasks is crucial, right?

In this context, there is another fundamental mistake: to want something does not mean to do it nor does it mean to stick with it, even if there is no conflict of opportunities. Many people are taking good intentions for the new year. But even though they really want it and are fully motivated, they fail to hang on after a short time. Sometimes people need help for working consistently, tenaciously and disciplined on something. But today, the terms are not just out of fashion, but often downright crowding expressions. They stand in our minds for the concept “X”, but modern leadership is oriented on concept “Y”. Moreover, motivating and leading means a big deal of work. For this, executives seem to have no time between all the meetings.

It is no wonder that most of our customers fail to implement success-driven leadership behavior promoting employee’s work to be consistent, tenacious and disciplined. And this circumstance is also lamented aloud by leaders as well as by employees which seems to be a paradox. It represents a fundamental fallacy of our time. Deep inside the paradox, you’ll find an inherent logic to all of that. While these old-fashioned terms are seen to be the opposite of fun, freedom, and maturity, they represent a key factor not only for a company’s success but for employee’s happiness too. But it would be wise to adapt how to foster this terms in these days manner. And well, promoting such behavior patterns is dependent on leader’s concept of human beings.

Maybe it needs an effort to fight trends by refactoring terms and patterns to adapt proven concepts to the future. Anyone who understands and accepts these terms and the ambivalence of man can provide a lot of joy and success in daily work. And this is what leadership is all about, achieving targets while having fun. Let’s go for that. By the way, did you think about your concept of man? Did you proof your beliefs?

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Cheers and good luck, 

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