Is your organisation self-actualising? 

 February 15, 2021

By  Tamara Pickard

Are you spending your work time in a way or in a state that supports and enhances the quality of your life? If you did, how would that change things?  

To create self-actualising organisations we must first fit our organisations to human nature. But we must also go further than that and actually support and enhance human nature. For our organisations to self-actualise, they must contribute to our quality of life. 

Any organisation seeking to become a self-actualising organisation will need to design its structures, formats, leadership, management, teams, economics, budgets, planning, culture, pay schedules etc, in a way that enables people to be whole persons, that allows people to be what they are at their best and that allows them to continually become more and more of what they can become.

Of course, all of this goes right to the heart of our assumptions about human nature - to our beliefs. So what do you believe? What do you really believe about your nature, the nature of other people, and the nature of work? Here, your philosophy about people which creates your psychology, even your theology and ontology about people, will either support or undermine how you relate to people when you do business.  

In his now classic work in “The Human side of Enterprise” (1960) Douglas McGregor took Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Self Actualisation psychology and applied it to organisations, organisational development, leadership, and management. He focused on the “silent assumptions” that all of us have about work, and about people, the beliefs that operate in the back of our minds as unspoken premises. His point was simple: 

“The assumptions we start with regarding human nature determine our leadership and management style.” 

He formulated these assumptions into two basic categories. Theory X and Theory Y. He made explicit a contrast of two conflicting theories of human nature, Theory X - negative assumptions about human nature, Theory Y - Bright side of human nature. This revealed two very different ways of leading, organising, managing and running a business. He targeted the issue by putting the spotlight on one’s philosophy or worldview: 

The key question for top management is what are your assumptions (implicit and explicit) about the most effective way to manage people?

Theory X Leadership 

Theory X management views human nature as inimical to work. It assumes people don’t want to work, don’t want to be responsible, will evade responsibility, don’t want to follow morality, or ethical standards, will lie, cheat and steal, will only work if driven by threat and fear, can’t be trusted, will cover up and make excuses to avoid work, and responsibility etc. And in McGregor’s day this attitude absolutely dominated the majority of organisations. Sadly, it is not all that different today.  

This theory drives the old style of management of command and control - of motivating workers through fear, of monitoring their every move, of creating clock in situations, and security checks, due to lack of trust. Not giving employees a voice in the operations or governance of business. For Theory X leaders and managers, the solution to business problems does not lie in people, it lies in technology - especially new technology, programs and gadgets. For solutions to business problems, they mostly think in terms of technology, tools and processes. They seldom consider that the solution lies in the attitudes, relationships, and potentials of the employees. 

Theory Y Leadership 

Theory Y is the mirror opposite to Theory X. It starts from the premise that people want to work, in fact, they enjoy productive work and take pride in extending themselves and using their skills. People want to be responsible, welcome being held accountable, are intelligent and creative in solving problems, want to be a part of a winning team, want to have a voice, want to understand, improve themselves, and love to stretch to reach a challenge. 

As you can readily see, Theory X and Theory Y are philosophies about the essence of people - their inner psychology and nature. And each lead to a very different kind of leadership and management which, in turn, lead to very different kinds of companies and business cultures. 

Theory X management treats people as if they do not have such higher needs, as if they do not need respect and dignity, and that they do not need rich social experiences like companionship and friendship at work. These are all considered extras, extravagances, and unnecessary facets that have nothing to do with businesses. So, Theory X management inevitably and typically generates poor production, poor quality, greater turnover, people quitting more frequently, talking more sick leave, etc. So, no wonder Theory X management ends up with a work crew who were only minimally engaged in their work, always longing for Friday and behaving according to the worst fears of the Theory X leaders. 

So, what causes all of these people problems? This extensive mismanagement of people comes from the toxic ideas about the human nature of employees and how to treat them. It arises from the silent assumptions of leaders and managers about the people they attempt to work with and through. It arises from the unconscious premises built into the framework of the organisation.  

The Assumptions about People 

Theory X;

- Are lazy and hate work

- Don't want to be challenged 

- Want things to stay the same 

- Want equilibrium, peace 

- Don't want to think 

- Prefer to be unthinking 

- Don't want to think about the future 

- Are dependent and passive 

- Are compliant and prefer to be obedient to authority 

- Fear and avoid responsibility 

- Prefer to be directed, told what to do, controlled 

- Are not creative 

- Work exclusively for money 

- Are unethical, immoral and prone to lie, cheat and steal

- Are dishonest, secretive, hiding and distrustful 

- Aggressive, violent, dangerous 

- Aggression is character logical

Theory Y;

- Want to work and be involved

- Love challenges and will rise up to a challenge 

- Can embrace change and come to love change, disequilibrium 

- Love to think, study and use their intelligence 

- Can anticipate trends and look forward 

- Are independent, proactive, and responsible 

- Want to be active, involved to be mutually accountable 

- Prefer responsibility 

- Prefer self-direction, have a voice and a say 

- Are creative 

- Have meta-needs, money important but not top factor 

- Are conscientious and want to be ethical 

- Driven by good intentions 

- Trustworthy 

- Positive emotional signal 

- Aggression is reactive and situational 

What makes Theory X limited and negative from the perspective of Self-Actualisation Psychology, is its distorted view of human nature. It wrongly views and maps out human nature. It frames people falsely. It only sees the lower animal needs of people and fails to see and recognise, or acknowledge the higher self-actualisation needs. 

How to Lead People 

Theory X Company Command and Control;

- Authoritarian 

- Bureaucratic rules leadership 

- Bureaucracy 

- People are told what to do

- Command and control approach 

- People told where/ how to fit in 

- Micro-managing 

- Iron fist managing 

- Coerce for conformity 

- Blind conformity 

- Fear and threats 

- Be suspicious, don't trust 

- Be serious 

- Constant monitoring 

Theory Y Company Facilitation of Self-Actualisation;

- Collaborative, Democratic  

- Functional leadership 

- Representational leadership 

- Gives people a voice and say

- Invites dialogue conversations 

- Taps the human capital of intelligence 

- Sense and respond approach 

- Gives people choices 

- Empowers people for responsibility 

- Creativity, risk taking 

- Provides room for exploration 

- Trusts, team spirit 

- Create fun and excitement 

- Pushes power, decision making, and creativity down to touch points 

Theory X dismisses self-actualisation needs as idealistic, psychological, not the concern of business, the “soft” stuff, and even “psycho-babble.” Theory Y corrects this oversight. So, what are the higher needs that drive us as our biological impulses and urges? What are the higher needs that we need in our work? 

Maslow described the higher needs as the truly human needs above and beyond our physical and social animal needs. These are the needs that emerge when we have a basic foundation for gratifying the lower needs. They are the needs of our mind and spirit, as beings who live for meaning and significance. In the lower needs we strive from our deficiency to achieve specific requirements for basic health and well-being. In the higher needs we strive to simply express ourselves. 

From the perspective of Theory Y, based on Self-Actualisation Psychology, does not see work as inherently at odds with our nature as human beings. In fact, we can transform work, so it becomes a self-actualising expression of ourselves for learning, growing, relating, and bringing out our best. We can transform work via our attitude and response so that it becomes play, passion, engagement, and fascination. And, obviously, to speak of work in this way completely changes the meanings typically given to work. 

In fact, for self-actualising people, work is no longer “work”. Instead, there is a love of doing something that perfectly fits one’s visions, passions and sense of calling in life. Now imagine a whole company like that! Image what going to work would feel like if you were committed, engaged, passionate and in love with what you do? What if there was no dichotomy between your work and your person? What if you used your work as one of the ways to best express yourself? What if you didn’t separate your work self from your home self, relational self, hobby self, and so on?


If this blog has resonated with you, and you would like to lead your organisation to self-actualise, here are a couple of inquiry questions for you to consider… 

As you observe your behaviour and the way you talk, what does your actual behaviour and speech say about your philosophy of human nature? 

What do you need to challenge in your belief system so you can step more fully into seeing the bright side of human nature? 

At Modo we are passionate and committed to assisting organisations to reach their highest and best through working with leaders to self-actualise. Contact us today to start a conversation about how this could be possible for you and your organisation. 


Michael Hall Headshot - Is your organisation self-actualising?

This article was co-authored with Dr. Michael L. Hall, Meta-Coach Co-Founder.

Dr. Hall’s doctorate is in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology is from Union Institute University, Cincinnati Ohio.  His dissertation explored the languaging of four psychotherapies (NLP, RET, Reality Therapy, Logotherapy) using the formulations of General Semantics.  He addressed the Interdisciplinary International Conference (1995) presenting an integration of NLP and General Semantics.  His Masters degree was in Clinical Counseling and Psychology from Regis University in Denver Colorado and his Bachelors of Science was in Management of Human Resources.  Prior to that he took a Masters in Biblical Literature and Language.

As a prolific writer, Dr. Hall has written 58 books, another 30 serial books, over 100 published articles, and is recognized as a leading NLP Trainer and Developer.  Most notable of the models is the Meta-States Model, also The Matrix Model, Axes of Change, etc.   Michael co-founded, with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer, Neuro-Semantics® in 1996 as a field which focuses on meaning and performance.

As a modeler of expertise, Dr. Hall has completed 27 modeling projects which include modeling resilience, self-reflexive consciousness, “thinking,” communication excellence, sales, persuasion, accelerated learning, wealth creation, women in leadership, fitness and health, cultures, leadership, collaboration, and more.

Tamara Pickard

Tamara Pickard is an Executive Coach, Trainer and a Managing Director of Modo Coaching and Training, with many years of experience leading large organisations. Tamara is a certified Meta-Coach, Master NLP practitioner and experienced Enneagram facilitator, and her passion is to facilitate people to discover and actualise their highest potentials in their personal and professional lives.

Tamara Pickard

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