“Most teams aren’t teams at all but merely collections of individual relationships with the boss.  Each individual vying with the others for power, prestige and position.” – Douglas McGregor…………….

Management theory is not taught much these days so it is of little wonder that mentioning Theory X and Theory Y to Personal Trainers will elicit nothing but a shrug of the shoulders.

Douglas McGregor was a 1960’s psychologist who developed two contrasting theories to explain managers’ beliefs in motivating people.  They were labelled Theory X and Theory Y.  Today, we will take a brief look at each theory and see how they are relevant to your business, and if understanding these theories can give you an edge over competitors.

You are in the business of managing and motivating people.  Now, they may not be your employees but the correct management skills applied to both employees and clients result in the same outcome; productivity and profits.  Now do I have your attention?

For Theory X think Bootcamp.  A Theory X manager takes an authoritarian approach to employees and a Theory X Personal Trainer will take the same approach to their clients.  An X-Trainer will believe every client is naturally unmotivated.  In their eyes, clients dislike exercising and avoid taking responsibility for their health and fitness.  They continuously require direction and supervision at every step of the program.  In old terminology, they respond to the “carrot and stick” approach.  That is, you reward them when performance is good (“Excellent.  You’ve earned a one minute drink break.”); and punish them when performance is below par (“That sucked.  Drop and give me ten!”)

Theory Y management of people is at the other end of the swinging pendulum.  Y-managers have an optimistic view of their employees.  They believe they are happy at work, take initiative, want to be involved in the decision-making process and are self-motivated.  A Y-manager will give his employees more scope to be self-managing.  This type of Personal Trainer expects clients to turn up ten minutes before the training session to do laps of the oval so they are ready for the workout.

Now remember, we are talking about your management style and not the personalities of clients.  It is your expectation of your client that will govern whether you are a Theory X or Theory Y manager of people.  You can no doubt see that taking the wrong management style for the personality of the client will result in your client leaving, as happens in business with employees.  How do you know which management style to take for which client?

It is relatively easy to decide in business, even though Theory X management style has largely disappeared (we hope).  Theory X was applied to organisations with large numbers of employees performing low skilled, high repetitive tasks such as the process line of a factory or armed forces training.  Theory Y was used for fewer employees of a highly skilled nature and here we think of engineers and architects.

Let’s bring this back to personal training.  Bootcamp training suits some people because they like to be told, in a rather loud voice, what to do and when to do it during their training sessions.  If they don’t like it then they will leave.  Now you take this type of X-Training for a “Mum’s and Bubs” class and see how long your client base lasts.

The point is, clients have an expectation of the type of training personality they will be exposed to by the very nature of the exercise program.  You, as a motivator of people will have to learn to slide between the two styles of management depending upon client personality, exercise program and circumstances.

You may even have to slide between Theory X and Theory Y with the same client.  People require more supervision when they begin a new program and less supervision and motivation as they become fitter and their self-esteem rises.  And this brings us to another lesson of “What motivates an individual?”.  For this google Maslow and you will see that what motivates an individual is also in constant flux.

In closing, it is best not to have pre-conceived ideas about new clients and current clients.  Be prepared to change how you treat them depending upon their presenting mood.  Is it easy?  No way, but if you can learn how to do this you will have a competitive edge.

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