Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Turning Bad Leaders into Good Leaders: Diminishing the Theory X Style

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Lindall Elaine Adams, Marion Williams and Ibrahim Al Zaabi

Submitted: 21 August 2021 Reviewed: 14 September 2021 Published: 11 May 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.100455

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Leadership - New Insights

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While not everyone is born with the talent to lead, many businesses have been plagued by accidental leaders. Such leaders have no prior experience managing others. A bad leader can do more harm than good to a company. They are frequently the cause why employees decide to leave a company. Controlling and manipulative leaders have a negative influence on employee morale and have the potential to damage the organization’s corporate culture. Furthermore, employees do not depart because they are unsatisfied with their jobs. They leave the company because they are unhappy with their leaders. This chapter explores micromanagement as a Theory X style and identifies indicators such as lack of trust and high-staff turnover as the primary reasons why leaders fail to “lead” the “ship.” The chapter concludes that effective leadership necessitates leadership skills and training.


  • Theory X
  • micromanagement
  • trust
  • staff turnover
  • disease

1. Introduction

This chapter begins with a quotation from President Theodore Roosevelt: “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it” [1].

Humans are born with an innate need to follow leaders. The earliest leaders are documented in historical and religious artifacts, from ancient civilization to modern-day leaders [2]. The ability to lead groups of people has been a highly valuable and highly sought-after skill from early times.

Good leadership forms an essential part of managing employees and directing the organizations’ objectives, directing individual and group goals, guiding employees effectively, and increasing employee productivity [3]. Effective leadership as noted by [4] resulted from desirable characteristics and qualities and the ability to influence employee performance. A good leader exhibits qualities such as providing employee support, two-way communication, knowledge of problem-solving, effective decision-making skills, interpersonal behaviors, empathy for subordinates, and providing solutions. Leadership is an essential feature of employee productivity as noted by Osundina and Owoeye [5] to direct employees to set and reach goals and objectives of the organization; therefore, it helps to develop teamwork and integrate individual goals and group productivity. However, management cannot develop leaders, as argued by Peter Drucker [6], it can only establish the environment necessary for the development of potential leadership traits.


2. Theory X and Theory Y

The term leadership was only coined in the 1970s [7], referring to the Theory X and Theory Y understanding of leadership effectiveness. These two theories, both developed by Douglas McGregor [4], used these insights to build two opposed managerial scenarios. Theory Y assumes that effective managerial leadership refers to the kind of direction a leader can give to a group of employees to enable the group to achieve goals [4]. Good leadership is measured by what qualities it possesses and how effective it is in the performance of the job. The measure of leadership effectiveness is the extent to which the group leader does the job and achieves the required goals and satisfaction achieved by employees [4]. Productivity is an overall measure of the ability to produce a good service [5]. However, Theory X leadership views the employees as “lazy,” unmotivated, and in need of an intimidating person to coerce them into working. Theory Y is perceiving the employer as highly driven and self-motivated. Theory X is a style of leadership in which the employee is subjected to strict control and monitoring [8]. This type of leadership is more prevalent in management, which is more representative of the current workforce [9], especially to those employees who do not want to take responsibility [7]. This style of leadership views the organization as a chain of demand, with employees either being punished or rewarded for their efforts. In this chapter, Theory X is evaluated from a micromanagement standpoint [10] to identify and investigate two essential indicators for “leader” and “ship”—trust and staff turnover, which is the ability to lead the ship. Or would poor leadership cause personnel to abandon ship? We determined that self-ethnographic case studies are appropriate for demonstrating the victim’s experience with micromanagement.


3. Micromanagement

Micromanagement is classified as a “disease” [10]. This leader is what Roosevelt would see as “meddling” [1]. This “disease” has been observed in the workplace, and several studies have examined its impact on the workforce. Symptoms include the following:

3.1 Emotional manipulation

Machiavellianism is a context-specific domain characterized by a belief in manipulation to achieve work-related goals when necessary. Managers who are comfortable manipulating others are known as Machiavellians. The primary premise of the organizational Machiavellian is that they will only use manipulative and dishonest practices when it benefits them. These managers are not necessarily vengeful or brutal, but they may be quite charming and sympathetic when their objectives are served [11].

Leaders may use manipulation methods to inspire trust and confidence in others. While it can be used for benign purposes, it can also be used to commit malicious acts. Managers intimidated by manipulative techniques abstain from modern and convincing techniques. All these rhetorical strategies such as “storytelling, scenario planning, or emotional appeals” can be used to benefit the organization [12]. However, manipulation of others is an unethical and unprofessional strategy to influence others, as in the findings by Auvinen et al. [13]. The authors gathered data for their qualitative study using thematic interviews, which featured anecdotes presented by managers to influence their employees. The authors identified four types of manipulative storytelling:

3.1.1 Humor

Humor has traditionally been related to a sense of superiority, rapid changes in situations, and the coexistence of opposites such as pleasantness and unpleasantness, joy and misery, power, and pointlessness. Additionally, humor typically combines the aspects of drama, as it is frequently associated with strong emotions. The humorous narrative has educational and moral implications. Through the story, employees are taught to cherish their working conditions. False information is the type of manipulation used in this case since the management exaggerates irrelevant and unfamiliar circumstances out of context [12].

3.1.2 Pseudo-participative manipulation

The management gives the false appearance that the subordinate shares their thoughts and concerns through pseudo-participative manipulation. As a result, participation is fictitious and unidirectional. The stories portray a predetermined strategy for meeting and guiding persons through the instillation of a misguided perception of free will.

3.1.3 Pseudo-empathetic

This idea is closely tied to power and the ability to manipulate other people’s emotions and is known as the capacity to sense and understand another person’s sentiments. Although Lidow [12] are discussing pseudo-empathy, they are not denying that genuine and sincere empathy can manifest as well. Pseudo-emphatic manipulation is frequently associated with consequence-based ethics, in which managers deceive employees to terminate them. Managers make a concerted effort to mitigate the repercussions of termination. Additionally, this strategy carries a cost, which includes pseudo-empathetic subordinate management. Managers are viewed as immoral by virtue ethics due to their seeming lack of empathy and self-interest. The actual reason leaders do not exercise control over their subordinates is to absolve themselves of culpability if something goes wrong. Additionally, it provides managers with a means of survival in the intensely unpleasant circumstance of dismissals [12].

3.1.4 Subjective manipulation

The phrase subjective manipulation describes the situation in which employees are encouraged to notice and report only the positive happenings in their workplace. The panoptic narrative is subjective manipulation since the story can only be perceived one way [12].

However, emotional manipulation techniques gone wrong might spark “gaslighting” [14]. Gaslighting is a form of control that uses authority to manipulate employees into feeling as though they are reliant on their manager for their employment [15]. Manipulative leaders are deceitful.

3.2 Obsessive control/overparenting

Control is the mechanism put in place to guarantee that employees act in the best interests of the organization, and a system of controls must be designed to guard against undesirable behavior and to encourage desirable activity. Control systems, on the other hand, may cause managers to treat their subordinates as if they were children [11]. The author asserts that this kind of management requires compliance and over-policing of personnel. Machiavellianism is a term that refers to this obsessive control [11]. According to the authors, Machiavellianism’s optimal strategy for exercising power is to “tell the people what they want to hear.”

3.3 Bullying

Bullying is one of the micromanagement practices in the workplace [16]. Bullying in the workplace has gained international attention as a relevant research topic [17, 18, 19]. Bullying creates a hostile working environment [20]. The author indicates that bullying consists of several activities such as mocking and criticism with the objective of producing anxiety or stress [20]. Bullying may also include giving unfair workloads, personal insults, and prohibiting professional development opportunities [21].

These micromanagement practices can be damaging to the organization and frequently contribute to high employee turnover. As is frequently the case, senior management is unaware of the reasons behind their companies’ high employee turnover, which is a result of ineffective line manager leadership styles [22]. The following symptoms should raise alarm, as they suggest that the employee is considering leaving the organization.

3.4 Lack of delegation

Micromanagers are unaccustomed to delegation [20], while Kivimäki et al. [21] assert that micromanagers struggle with delegation. Effective leaders understand that distributing work does not imply relinquishing control. This means they are allowing themselves more time to devote to tasks that require their focus and attention while also contributing to the organization’s professional development by diversifying the skill sets of others [23].

The following part outlines the methodology employed and gives actual evidence to support the theoretical assumptions made previously.


4. Methods

The study is qualitative in nature, with data acquired through interviews with “victims” of poor leadership. Ethnographic studies are the most effective method for correctly portraying bad leadership [24, 25], and the stories are typically delivered by someone who has personally experienced bad leadership.

The following is a self-ethnographic narrative about the subjective manipulation, control, and bullying of four people. The participants were all employed by large corporations with between 5000 and 12,000 employees. The setting is fictious and we used pseudo-names to protect the identity of the participants.

“The mother” better known as the controller, bully or Pseudo-participative manipulator

Anna worked for a multinational corporation that had a positive global image and was frequently referred to as one of the most prominent organizations in terms of research output. Anna had joined the company shortly after graduating and was one of the company’s youngest employees at the time. Anna described Mary, her manager, as someone who cared about her and her well-being. She frequently informed them that her door was always open and that she believes in transparency. Anna was content to work under Mary’s supervision, whom she frequently addressed as “the mother” and her employees as “children.” She always asked Anna about her family and their health, showing an interest in the life of her staff. During her staff meetings, Mary routinely used the phrase “today I’m going to smack you on the wrists.” That day had come for Anna when she tried to get hold of Mary during a crisis at work. It was a Saturday, and Anna called Mary several times, but she did not respond to her call. Not finding Mary, Anna called another manager to seek advice on how to resolve the situation. This manager phoned Mary, who immediately responded to the other manager’s call, informing her about the lurking crisis. Mary was so upset with Anna phoned another manager to resolve the problem, claiming that she oversteps boundaries and had no right to call another manager. Never, did she acknowledge Anna’s calls to her. The now-friendly “mother” turned vengeful, making Anna’s life at work intolerable. Anna was compelled to resign because she was unable to deal with Mary’s mood swings, her disregard for Anna’s input, or her refusal to sign Anna’s leave request.

“You got fired” better known as the bully

Toni, Lily, Greg, Marvin, Dylan, Daisy, and Bobby were all managers in a well-known international organization, and their senior boss was “You got fired.” Toni dreaded Wednesday manager meetings because she never knew who his next victim would be. “You got fired” made a habit of picking out one manager based on their performance and weekly reviews and insulting them to the point of tears. Toni had seen adult men cry at those talks. “You’ve got fired,” threatened to fire managers. Toni could no longer manage the stress, as she developed bad leadership skills and the staff covertly referring to her as “Miranda Priestley,” a character from Lauren Weisberger’s novel The Devil Wears Prada. Toni’s staff, on the other hand, was unaware of the added pressure to perform that “You Got Fired” imposed on managers and that they may be fired at any time. Toni became emotional and held pointless staff meetings whenever she was in a foul mood, which was generally after the weekly manager meeting. She ceased smiling and being friendly and began sending emails to her staff at 3 a.m., becoming enraged when they did not instantly respond to her emails. She was rapidly establishing a hostile workplace climate. Not only did she strike out at her staff, but also at her family. Toni eventually resigned from her work due to the stress and verbal abuse associated with “You got fired.”

“The Selective responder” or the emotional manipulator

The selective responder, the line manager who ignores your emails. Even emails you submit with suggestions for improvement go unanswered. That was the situation with Dolly, a charming young woman in her late twenties. She consistently obtained the most favorable assessment comments from the “Selective responder,” yet her correspondence with the “Selective responder” was ignored. Dolly indicated that she wanted to speak with the “Selective responder” about her current duty, and she had summoned all her bravery to send an email requesting a meeting to address her position. She saw the “Selective responder” daily, either going by their office or the staff area, but she was never informed that they had received her email or intended to discuss the concern with her. Interestingly, when Dolly went around the office to see if anyone else was having trouble with “Selective responder” and if anyone else had gotten a response to their emails. At least three of her colleagues said that they never had to wait more than a few minutes for a response. This prompted Dolly to inquire as to what was wrong with her, as she was now suffering feelings of self-doubt, and whether the “Selective responder’s” nonresponse indicated that the “Selective responder” had a personal vendetta against her. Weeks passed into months, and she attempted one final time to send a follow-up email requesting a meeting. At the time, she felt as though she was merely a “worker” who added no value and that the “Selective responder” lacked the civility to acknowledge her email as a matter of ordinary courtesy. Dolly resigned a year later, and she never got the meeting she had worked up the courage to ask.

“You cannot take initiative” better known as a controller and bully

Barry was continually told how to conduct his job by his manager. Even though this manager had no prior knowledge of the job, he received daily guidance on how he should do his duties. Barry was so frustrated with his manager that he felt compelled to agree with whatever this manager advised him, even if it made no practical sense. Additionally, the manager used to speak to Barry in a childlike manner, with slow tones and plenty of emphases. While his line manager was the cause of Barry’s anxiety, another manager would approach him and request that he create online content for her, even though she never acknowledged Barry’s presence at work. She would only greet him when she needs a workplace favor. Barry is still employed by the company, but he maintains an unusually low profile.


5. Discussion

Self-ethnographic narratives about micromanagement in the workplace revealed a tendency for viable control, bullying, and manipulation as fear tactics. Anna’s workplace “mother” became angry and vindictive after Anna attempted to contact another manager during a crisis. She accuses Anna of crossing her limits, but she never recognizes the phone calls on the Saturday following the incident. Rather than praising Anna for being proactive in averting a potential crisis and contacting another manager on her level, she treated her as an adversary. Simultaneously, Anna became depressed and terrified that the incident would result in her termination. Although Anna spent another year in the same department, she resigned because she knew the bullying would continue if she stayed another year at the company.

Toni and her coworkers were bullied at work and were terrified that their names would be announced as the person with the lowest performance during the weekly staff meeting. Additionally, “You got fired” implied that he may terminate the managers’ employment at any time. Toni had treated her department’s workers similarly harshly because of this tension, but she recognized that she was beginning to change and decided to step away from this stressful work environment.

Dolly was sure that her manager is pleased with her work since she had received good scores on her performance appraisals. However, Dolly that always had a positive impression of her manager slowly turned to self-doubt and negative feelings against her colleagues.

Barry was not only manipulated but also controlled by another manager. He was asked to do work favors even though the other manager never noticed his existence.

The damaging actions created by the micromanagement disease drove educated and experienced employees to reconsider their position in the organization and depart. Three of the participants, except Barry, did not leave the company; instead, they left their manager. The findings indicate that the leaders were unable to “lead” the “ship.”


6. Connecting micromanagement to trust and high staff turnover

Micromanagers often display a lack of trust in their coworkers [26]. The reason for this is that they want to control the situation alone. However, failure to delegate also means that there is no mutual trust between the supervisor and the subordinates. According to Mineo [27], trust acts as the binding agent for leaders to their followers, and this promotes leadership and organizational success. The author argues that true success is not reached through a single event, but rather as the cumulative outcome of numerous investments made over time. Managers must reciprocate trust, and delegating is one approach micromanagers can use to demonstrate their confidence in the staff [28].

High staff turnover is the result of bad leadership. Managers that act as bullies and refuse to accept the viewpoints of their subordinates are the reason why good employees jump the ship. Employees might exhibit signs that they are preparing to abandon ship. They would become withdrawn, would still do their job, but will become disengaged [29].

Micromanagement presents itself in several ways, including manipulation, control, bullying, and a lack of delegation, as demonstrated in this chapter. Additionally, each of these symptoms is associated with two indicators: The manager lacks trust in their subordinate, and micromanagement might result in high employee turnover. On the other side, micromanagement does have a cost. Investments in recruiting new staff, compensating them reasonably, and training them may prove to be costly in the long run if the issue of micromanagement is not addressed. While micromanagers can be advantageous in that they exhibit a manager’s dedication to their job and organization, they must be controlled properly to avoid being viewed as a disease. Managers who receive enough training will be able to switch easily between manager and subordinate.


7. Conclusion

Organizations exist within unique environments that seek good leadership styles in order to build and uplift employees and company goals. To achieve this, organizations should ensure that suitable leadership training is provided. Theory X and Theory Y are contrasting theories in view of employee performance, and the relevance of Theory Y is based on technological innovation and changes affected in a modern organization where leaders following the Theory Y leadership style value their contributions and commitments to the organization and view these as a positive impact on work performance and organizational performance. It is evident that within an organization that McGregor’s Theory Y, which is an open management system as well as changing leadership, is used within an organizational setting to ensure success for employees and the organization.

Instead of abandoning Theory X with its limited assumptions, it is important for leaders to consider the needs of employees, develop teamwork, encourage a spirit of participation, consider multidisciplinary teams [30], and change low morale to high morale as suggested by Theory Y according to McGregor [31].



Dain Luke Adams is acknowledged for his assistance with the literature search.


Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Written By

Lindall Elaine Adams, Marion Williams and Ibrahim Al Zaabi

Submitted: 21 August 2021 Reviewed: 14 September 2021 Published: 11 May 2022