In the course of the project I have written many articles about agile leadership and the human image Y. In order to deepen and understand this information, I spoke to Ulf Brandes. He is, among other things, the author of the book Management Y: Agile, Scrum, Design Thinking & Co. As a founder and executive, Ulf Brandes has successfully integrated start-up cultures into established structures for 20 years and translates opportunities and trends into viable business models – for start-ups as well as for corporations. The summary of the dialogue with Mr Brandes is the summary below. In the course of the discussion, we repeatedly put a new thesis on agile companies into open dialogue and evaluated them together.


“Basically,sätzlich we don’t necessarily have to be agile,” Brandes said. However, he is sure that agile companies are more efficient in principle today. Ulf Brandes has been working as a manager for well-known companies since the 1990s and has experienced very different corporate cultures. Agility — that is, the ability to survive in an increasingly complex world — requires, in addition to team spirit and great discipline, according to Brandes, in particular, softer, “human” abilities such as empathy, to be able to forgive, to understand each other, to allow mistakes.

Making it easier for companies to get started with such ways of working was an opportunity for him to launch the book “Management Y” two years ago, which deals with the paradigm shift from the old world (man is machine and must function) to a new world (innovation, trust and collective power).


“Let’s be human at work instead of just machines,” says Brandes. He demands that a leader should not optimize people, but promote human skills such as those mentioned above. For the most part, a person’s potential lies in reducing our capabilities to numbers, data, facts, selfishness, and assertiveness. Brandes thus criticises a misunderstood professionalism and fixation on figures in companies which, in his view, leave little room for human qualities, in his words: human maturity.

Management in the company must be able to promote stability and agility in equal measure. Rigid hierarchies and a traditional understanding of professionalism make this difficult.


Douglas McGregor’s “Theory X” and “Theory Y” stand for two completely different images of people, Brandes quotes one of the pioneers of modern management. While Theory X assumes that an employee basically needs strong incentives and control, Theory Y stands for employees making good contributions to something big and wanting to create something. Thus Brandes asks the question: “Do we all serve the customer or is the employee at the bottom and serves the management?” It illustrates this with a upside down Pyramid, which consists of employees, management and customers. “So this pyramid can serve the management or the customer,” says Brandes.

The ‘Y’ in Ulf Brandes’ book “Management Y” stands for “Generation Y”, but also for “Theory Y”. Theory Y means that management serves employees and people are basically willing to make good contributions to something big.


When Ulf Brandes published the book “Management Y” at the end of 2014, this rethinking was not yet so strong. Recently, however, much has changed here: “No CEO who is not thinking intensively and very seriously with his management today about a profound reorientation of the working methods in the company. However, one problem often lies in the management of funds, which understandably sees itself as endangered in its positions and competences. Another is often the idea that culture can be prescribed fromabove.”

In his book and his cultural transformation programmes for companies, Ulf Brandes focuses on making critical topics in the company “tangible” and agility “experienceable”. He notes that many methods and processes have arrived in companies, but are not yet being used in a targeted manner. He cites as an example modern working methods, such as retrospectives or the “World Café”, which in many organizations currently miss the very goal of these methods, e.g. to learn together from mistakes and to promote open hierarchy-free exchange of ideas — because they are carried out with beliefs that counteract these goals: for example, with the conviction that mistakes must be punished in principle; or that as a manager you have to have a knowledge advantage.

Ulf Brandes wonders whether such beliefs are still helpful in areas where agility is to be promoted: good methods such as World Café, Retrospectives or scrum and design thinking are quickly “burned” in the company, especially if they are then not carried out openly and from the heart for fear of vulnerability , “from person to person”, but according to scheme F and too “technical”.

In this context, Ulf Brandes points to numerous approaches to create spaces, to compare one’s own convictions — New German “mindsets” — with one’s own honest desires as to how one actually

wants to live and work.


“Change starts with everyone,” Brandes said. It is not enough for a CEO to delegate a management approach or desired behavior to their managers. Employees can only initiate such requests for change into their daily work if their leadership actually shows them. Otherwise, the communicated culture of desire — such as becoming more innovative — is at odds with what the leadership actually rewards and expects at the end of the day (for example, not to make mistakes). To experience agility in person is usually harder than requiring others to do it, Brandes confirms, but no one has to be perfect; and rethinking is, of course, rarely easy, this cannot really be accelerated with pressure, but rather with courage, tolerance and courage for new ways.

He quotes a CEO who told his employees: “You know, I’m not that [wie ich mir unsere Kultur vorstelle]. But you should know that this culture is seriously close to my heart.” Ulf Brandes sees this as a good example of how leadership can lead and take people honestly with them. The training of many managers is strongly influenced by the human image “Theory X” and other traditional ideas. Brandes recommends that leaders invite change and promote open dialogue about it. “We all do it easier when we say goodbye to exaggerated perfectionism and learn to give more space to our own human sides in our daily work.”

At the same time, despite his enthusiasm for modern working methods, there is no dogma, i.e. not just “the one” right way: every way of working has its justification. “But not every way of working is suitable for every challenge. Many new challenges facing companies are therefore requiring new approaches, because the old ways simply do not lead to their goal.”

In his book “Management Y”, Ulf Brandes looks at cultural change on the basis of four specific core questions, which have been very important to him for many years. In line with these four perspectives on the entire company, he and his co-authors show numerous proven practical approaches with which managers and employees at all levels in successful companies start developing new ways of working and promote a corresponding rethink:

    • Really understand customers
    • Deliver what’s really needed
    • Revitalise organisations together
  • Inspire people honestly

In the book, readers will find numerous links to the accompanying website

with further information.

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