Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follett (3 September 1868 – 18 December 1933) was an American social worker, management consultant, philosopher and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. Along with Lillian Gilbreth, she was one of two great women management experts in the early days of classical management theory. She has been called the “Mother of Modern Management”.[2] Instead of emphasizing industrial and mechanical components, she advocated for what she saw as the far more important human element, regarding people as the most valuable commodity present within any business. She was one of the first theorists to actively write about and explore the role people had on effective management, and discuss the importance of learning to deal with and promote positive human relations as a fundamental aspect of the industrial sector.[3]

Life

Follett was born in 1868 in Quincy, Massachusetts, to a wealthy Quaker family. Her family was composed of Charles Allen Follett, a machinist in a local shoe factory, and Elizabeth Curtis (née Baxter) Follett, respectively of English-Scottish and Welsh descent, and a younger brother. Follett attended Thayer Academy, a collegiate preparatory day school in Braintree, Massachusetts, and spent much of her free time caring for her disabled mother. In September 1885 she enrolled in Anna Ticknor‘s Society to Encourage Studies at Home.[4]

From 1890 to 91, she studied at the University of Cambridge and then moved to study at Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women in Cambridge (later known as Radcliffe College).[5] For the next six years, Follett attended the university on an irregular basis, eventually graduating summa cum laude in 1898. Her Radcliffe thesis, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, was published in 1896. She would go on to apply to Harvard but would be denied entrance to the university on the basis that she was a woman.[6]

Over the next three decades, she published many works. She was one of the first women ever invited to address the London School of Economics, where she spoke on cutting-edge management issues. She also distinguished herself in the field of management by being sought out by US President Theodore Roosevelt as his personal consultant on managing not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and voluntary organizations.[7]

Follett died in 1933 in BostonMassachusetts.

Ideas and influences

Mary Parker Follet defined management as “the art of getting things done through people“. Follett’s educational and work background would shape and influence her future theories and writings. One of her earliest career positions would see her working as a social worker in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston from 1900 to 1908. During this period her interactions with the Roxbury community would lead her to realize the importance of community spaces as areas to meet and socialize.[8]

Her experience in developing vocational guidance and evening programs in public schools, she would develop what would be her life’s work and her theories in group dynamics. “The New State,” her second writing published in 1918, would evolve from a report into her second published work. This publication would go on to lay the foundational theories for her most important theories and become a major center of attention of her career.[9]

By participating in local recreational, educational, and advocacy groups Parker developed her ideals of participatory democracy and her ideals of society as “integrative.” Observing people led Parker to believe that the boundaries of a person’s identities are porous, affected by the society around them, which, in turn, is affected by the identities of the people within it. Thus the self and the society, according to Parker, are in a cycle in which they constantly help to create one another.[10]

Organizational theory

In her capacity as a management theorist, Follett pioneered the understanding of lateral processes within hierarchical organizations (their recognition led directly to the formation of matrix-style organizations, the first of which was DuPont, in the 1920s), the importance of informal processes within organizations, and the idea of the “authority of expertise,” which really served to modify the typology of authority developed by her German contemporary, Max Weber, who broke authority down into three separate categories: rational-legal, traditional and charismatic.[11]

She recognized the holistic nature of community and advanced the idea of “reciprocal relationships” in understanding the dynamic aspects of the individual in relationship to others. Follett advocated the principle of what she termed “integration,” or noncoercive power-sharing based on the use of her concept of “power with” rather than “power over.”[12]

Follett contributed greatly to the win-win philosophy, coining the term in her work with groups. Her approach to conflict was to embrace it as a mechanism of diversity and an opportunity to develop integrated solutions rather than simply compromising.[13] She was also a pioneer in the establishment of community centers.

Writings

Follett’s unique background often led her to take positions on major issues that mediated between the conventional viewpoints. In The New State, she took the position on societal change that:

It is a mistake to think that social progress is to depend upon anything happening to the working people: some say that they are to be given more material goods and all will be well; some think they are to be given more “education” and the world will be saved. It is equally a mistake to think that what we need is the conversion to “unselfishness” of the capitalist class.[14]

Likewise, her position on the labor movement was as follows:

Neither working for someone nor paying someone’s wages ought to give you power over them.[15]

Transformational leadership

Ann Pawelec Deschenes (1998) found obscure reference pointing to Mary Parker Follett having coined the term “transformational leadership“. She quotes from Edith A. Rusch’s The Social Construction of Leadership: From Theory to Praxis (1991):

…writings and lectures by Mary Parker Follett from as early as 1927 contained references to transformational leadership, the interrelationship of leadership and followership, and the power of collective goals of leaders and followers (p. 8).

Burns makes no reference to Follett in Leadership. However, Rusch was able to trace what appear to be parallel themes in the works of Burns and Follett. Rusch presents direct references in Appendix A. Pawelec (Deschenes) found further parallels of transformational discourse between Follett’s (1947, 1987) work and Burns (1978).[citation needed]

From The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett (p. 247): “Moreover, we have now to lay somewhat less stress than formerly on this matter of the leader influencing his group because we now think of the leader as also being influenced by his group.”[12]

Influence

Although most of Follett’s writings remained known in very limited circles until republished at the beginning of this[which?] decade, her ideas gained great influence after Chester Barnard, a New Jersey Bell executive and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, published his seminal treatment of executive management, The Functions of the Executive. Barnard’s work, which stressed the critical role of “soft” factors such as “communication” and “informal processes” in organizations, owed a telling but undisclosed debt to Follett’s thought and writings. Her emphasis on such soft factors paralleled the work of Elton Mayo at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Plant, and presaged the rise of the Human Relations Movement, as developed through the work of such figures as Abraham MaslowKurt LewinDouglas McGregorChris Argyris and other breakthrough contributors to the field of Organizational Development or “OD”.[16]

Her influence can also be seen indirectly perhaps in the work of Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, Lee Bradford, Edie Seashore and others at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine, where T-Group methodology was first theorized and developed.[17] Follett’s work set the stage for a generation of effective, progressive changes in management philosophy, style, and practice, revolutionizing and humanizing the American workplace and allowing the fulfillment of Douglas McGregor’s management vision of quantum leaps in productivity. effected through the humanization of the workplace.[18]

Legacy

After her death, her work and ideas would disappear from American organizational and management circles of the time but continue to gain followership in Great Britain. In the last decades, her work has been rediscovered. During the 1960s, her ideas would re-emerge in Japan, where management thinkers would apply her theories to business.[citation needed]

Management theorist Warren Bennis said of Follett’s work, “Just about everything written today about leadership and organizations comes from Mary Parker Follett’s writings and lectures.”[19]

Her texts outline modern ideas under participatory management: decentralized decisions, integrating role of groups, and competition authority. Follett managed to reduce the gap between the mechanistic approach and contemporary approach that emphasizes human behavior.[20]

Her advocacy for schools to be used after hours for recreational and vocational use affected the Boston area, where schools opened their doors after hours for such uses, and community centers were built where schools were not located, which was a revolutionary concept during the 20th century. Her experience working in that area taught her a lot about notions of democracy and led her to write more for a wider audience, particularly the business world. She believed that good practice in business would have a significant impact on other institutions.[18]

Follett’s legacy has been recognized by the establishment, in 1992, of the annual Mary Parker Follett Award for the outstanding paper to appear each year in Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal. The award citation states that it is named “in memory of a pioneering woman in the field of management and accountability literature who was international and interdisciplinary in her approach.”[21]

Bismarck: A Life (New Books Network Inteview)

By JONATHAN STEINBERG

What is the role of personality in shaping history? Shortly before the beginning of the First World War, the German sociologist Max Weber puzzled over this question. He was sure that there was a kind of authority that drew strength from character itself. He called this authority “charismatic,” a type of legitimate political power that rested “on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” The charismatic leader is not like us. In fact, he is not like anyone. He is sui generis, a mysterious force of nature, a sort of political demiurge.

According to Jonathan Steinberg, Weber may well have had Otto von Bismarck in mind when he defined charismatic authority. In his wonderful Bismarck: A Life (Oxford UP, 2011), Steinberg argues that Bismarck’s successes (and some of his failures) can be largely attributed to the awesome force of his personality. Not “social structures.” Not “historical patterns.” Not “underlying forces.” But charisma pure and simple. Time and again Steinberg finds those around Bismarck attesting to the fact that he just wasn’t like everyone else. He was smarter, wittier, stronger, more willful, more cunning, more temperamental, and in most ways larger than life. And this was the nearly uniform (though not always positive) assessment of the some of the most impressive figures of his day. It’s a compelling case.

And it provokes a question about German political culture, for Bismarck was not the first or the last “genius” to rule some or all of the Reich. Fredrick the Great preceded him, and Hitler followed. What are we to make of that? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Audio Player

Quotes to find:

  1. Bismark planned to engage in 2 wars with the goal of uniting the country.
  2. Bismark found antisemitism useful against his Liberal opponents.

Robert Caro, The Art of Biography No. 5

Power doesn’t ­always corrupt ..  But what power always does is reveal, because when you’re climbing, you have to conceal from people what it is you’re really willing to do, what it is you want to do. But once you get enough power, once you’re there, where you wanted to be all along, then you can see what the protagonist wanted to do all along, because now he’s doing it.

Internet Pioneers: Ted Nelson

His biggest project, Xanadu, was to be a world-wide electronic publishing system that would have created a sort universal libary for the people.He is known for coining the term “hypertext.” He is also seen as something of a radical figure, opposing authority and tradition. He has been called “one of the most influential contrarians in the history of the information age.”

.. He was lonely as a child and had problems caused by his Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

In 1960, he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard. During his first year he attempted a term project creating a writing system similar to a word processor, but that would allow different versions and documents to be linked together nonlinearly, by association. This was, in part, an attempt to keep track of his own sometimes frantic associations and daydreamings brought about by his ADD.

Fortune: Inside the deal that made Bill Gates $350,000,000

Money has never been paramount to this unmarried scion of a leading Seattle family, whose father is a partner in a top Seattle law firm and whose mother is a regent of the University of Washington and a director of Pacific Northwest Bell. Gates, a gawky, washed-out blond, confesses to being a ’’wonk,’’ a bookish nerd, who focuses single mindedly on the computer business though he masters all sorts of knowledge with astounding facility. Oddly, Gates is something of a ladies’ man and a fiendishly fast driver who has racked up speeding tickets even in the sluggish Mercedes diesel he bought to restrain himself.

.. the sole venture capitalist in Microsoft (he and his firm had 6.2% of the stock), resolved to look into an offering. But Gates fretted. To forestall sticky questions from potential investors, he first wanted to launch two important products, one of them delayed over a year, and to sign a pending agreement with IBM for developing programs. He also wanted time to sound out key employees who owned stock or options and might leave once their holdings became salable on the public market. ’’I’m reserving the right to say no until October,’’ Gates warned. ’’Don’t be surprised if I call it off.’’

.. Gaudette loved it. ’’They’re in pain!’’ he crowed to Shirley. ’’They’re used to dictating, but they’re not running the show now and they can’t stand it.’’ Getting back on the phone, Gaudette crooned: ’’Eric, I don’t mean to upset you, but I can’t deny what’s in my head. I keep thinking of all that pent-up demand from individual investors, which you haven’t factored in. And I keep thinking we may never see you again, but you go back to the institutional investors all the time. They’re your customers. I don’t know whose interests you’re trying to serve, but if you’re playing both sides of the street, then we’ve just become adversaries.’’