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]


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.


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]


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]


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]

Life Beyond the Mind: Eckhart Tolle (

Millions of people around the world have found pragmatic tools in his vision that fundamentally complicates the notion, “I think, therefore I am.”

I thought, “My God. Her voice — she never stops talking.” And I suddenly realized, well, I do that, too, except that I don’t do it out loud. And then I thought, I hope I don’t end up like her. And somebody next to me looked at me, and I suddenly realized in shock that I had actually said these words aloud, just like her. I said, “I hope I don’t end up like her.” [laughs]

So I realized my mind was as incessantly active as hers. Our only difference was that my thought was mostly based on feeling sorry for myself. It was depressed kind of thinking. Her patterns were fueled by anger. It took years before I finally was able to really step out of the stream of thinking and realize, there is a place inside me that is far more powerful than the continuous mental noise with which for many, many years I had been completely identified, just like that woman.

The Unconscious (Richard Rohr, Meditation)

Jesus uses yeast in both a positive way, to describe a growth-inducing “yeast which is hidden inside the dough” (see Matthew 13:33), and in a very negative way, when he warns the disciples against “the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (see Mark 8:15).

I would like to suggest these passages tell us that leaven or yeast is a metaphor for things hidden in the unconsciouswhich will have a lasting effect on us if we do not bring them to consciousness. Carl Jung seemed to think that ninety percent of our energy—good and bad—resides in the unconscious, over which we have little direct control or accountability.

If we do not discover a prayer practice that “invades” our unconscious and reveals what is hidden, we will actually change very little over our lifetime. This was much of the genius of John of the Cross (15421591) who, in a highly externalized Spanish Catholicism, spoke from personal experience of darkness, inner journeys, and the shadow self. He was centuries ahead of the modern discovery of the unconscious, and thus many of his fellow Carmelites considered him heretical and dangerous.

Prayer should not be too rational, social, verbal, linear, or transactional. It must be more mysterious, inner, dialogical, receptive, and pervasive. Silence, symbol, poetry, music, movement, and sacrament are much more helpful than mere words.

When you meditate consistently, a sense of your autonomy and private self-importance—what you think of as your “self”—falls away, little by little, as unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that you likely think of as your only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of your mind.

Through regular access to contemplation, you become less and less interested in protecting this self-created, relative identity. You don’t have to attack it; it calmly falls away of its own accord and you experience a kind of natural humility.

If your prayer goes deep, “invading” your unconscious, as it were, your whole view of the world will change from fear to connection, because you don’t live inside your fragile and encapsulated self anymore.

In meditation, you move from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being fear-driven to being love-drawnThat’s it in a few words!

Of course, you can only do this if Someone Else is holding you, taking away your fear, doing the knowing, and satisfying your desire for a Great Lover. If you can allow that Someone Else to have their way with you, you will live with a new vitality, a natural gracefulness, and inside of a Flow that you did not create. It is actually the Life of the Trinity, spinning and flowing through you.

Richard Rohr: The Perennial Tradition: Oneness

On that day, you will know that you are in me and I am in you. —John 14:20

.. My experience with [perennial wisdom] convinces me that all diversity is part of a greater unity; that my sense of a separate self is a functional necessity rather than an absolute reality; that all my suffering is rooted in mistaking my limited and labeled self (male, Jewish, white, American) as my truest Self; and that I can, with practice, shift my awareness from that limited egoic self to the infinite divine Self that is all Reality. [1]