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Courage changes organizations

Culture and organizational behavior changes seem to mostly occur when individuals take the lead to break the vicious cycle of old habits.

Published : 17.03.2021

Courage is popularly understood as being brave; having the ability to do something that scares oneself; building enough strength to break a trend or a pattern.

Such bravery has been observed in the corporate world from its early creation, shaping the evolution of some of the most interesting organizational behavior theories. Let us go back to one of the moments where mass manufacturing was seeing its pinnacle in the horizons.

During the 1960s, we saw the rise of what is known as “Theory X”. According to McGregor (1960), this theory assumes that average workers have almost no motivation or ambition and attempt to escape from work and its responsibilities. It also states that the employee is individually goal-oriented (almost hinting that they focus on their own goals, rather than the corporate ones).

However, nearly 60 years later, it has been widely discussed that most of the organizations that observed the Theory X phenomena, were more related to lack of leadership or to excessively coercive leadership than to the motivation of the employees. This type of management is common in organizations where promotions are unlikely and workers have to perform repetitive tasks that lead to lack of motivation. A good example of such cases are big manufacturing-chains with a vertical type of organization.

The crucial question is “how do we change into a better organizational culture”?

One of the key aspects to consider when discussing change, is the approach that the members have within the organizations. The two possible attitudes to be adopted are the proactive (anticipating events, initiating change, and taking control of the organization’s destiny) or the reactive (responding to events, adapting to change, and tempering the consequences of change).

In this specific case, both change possibilities could be considered, as it can either be proactive on both sides (both management and employees try for a better understanding and agree to change), or proactive-reactive, in which one of the parts proposes the change and the other agrees to it (Newstrom, 2015).

In cases where there is an inequality, and especially a lack of agreement that the culture and organizational behavior need to change, a situation can easily end up in parochialism: the assumption that one’s own culture is the right one and its ways are the only correct ones (Schermerhorn &al, 2008). According to Cameron & McNaughtan (2014), positive organizational change has emerged in an attempt to rebalance organizational changes as well as previously ignored variables and relationships.

As a summary, culture and organizational behavior changes seem to mostly occur when individuals take the lead to break the vicious cycle of old habits. Adding to it:

  • the objective of generating a change that helps to implement a new vision, a shared vision that inspires,
  • the communication of future possibilities, hopes and dreams so that everyone can clearly understand,
  • the crafting of a unique image of the future that serves the common good, whether this is led by the management or the employees.

Going back to the beginning, how can we break free from a Theory X approach? Through Courage.


  • Cameron, K., & McNaughtan, J. 2014, December. Positive organizational change. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50(4), 445-462.
  • McGregor, D. 1960. The Human Side of Enterprise, New York, McGrawHill.
  • Newstrom, J. 2015. Organizational behavior: Human behavior at Work (14th Ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Schermerhorn, J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. 2008. Organizational behavior. Hoboken, N. J.:Wiley.