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”. 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.
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.
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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. 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.“
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.“
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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).
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.”
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 Maslow, Kurt Lewin, Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris and other breakthrough contributors to the field of Organizational Development or “OD”.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Certain leaders’ short-term interests, often presented as “national interests,” are one of the factors roiling international relations more than any time since the end of the Cold War. But the rise of nationalist populism is less the cause than the result of rifts that have been forming for some time.
.. The center of the Western political spectrum has tended to underestimate the impact of rising inequality within countries, focusing instead on the benefits of market opening and integration, such as the unprecedentedly rapid reduction in global poverty. Understandably, however, not everyone is consoled by such outcomes.
.. It is not only goods, services, and capital that circulate through the global economy. Ideas circulate, too. So globalization, like democracy, is vulnerable to itself, because it puts at its opponents’ disposal a set of tools that they can use to sabotage it. Aware of this, the “nationalist international” driven by US President Donald Trump and his ideological fellow travelers has mobilized anxiety and alienation to launch a (somewhat paradoxical) crusade to globalize their particular anti-globalization discourse.
.. Yet globalism and patriotism are not incompatible concepts. Trump’s invocation of patriotism has no aim other than to whitewash his nationalist and nativist tendencies. Rhetorical traps of this type can catch us with our guard down, above all when the person who resorts to them is a leader who is known for serving his ideas raw. But it is evident that the Trump administration, too, worries about keeping up appearances... At the UN, Trump sought to give his foreign policy a patina of coherence by calling it “principled realism.” In international relations, realism is a theory that regards states as the central actors and units of analysis, relegating international institutions and law to an ancillary status. Principles such as human rights are usually set aside, though countries may deploy them selectively to advance their interests... This is precisely what Trump does when he criticizes the repression of the Iranian regime, while failing to denounce similar practices in other countries. But no self-respecting realist would exaggerate the threat posed by Iran, or allow a flurry of compliments from Kim Jong-un to cloud their vision regarding North Korea... “America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination,” Trump told the UN. In theory, cooperation is not incompatible with the realist paradigm. For example, realists could conceive of the US trying to offset China’s geopolitical rise by bolstering its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, especially with Japan and South Korea... This disconcerting behavior has extended to other traditional US allies, such as the European Union, revealing that Trump is extraordinarily reluctant to cooperate. When he does, he seldom favors the alliances that most fit his country’s strategic interests... It is clear that China does not always adhere to international norms, but the right response is to uphold these norms, not to bulldoze them. Unfortunately, the US is opting for the latter course in many areas, such as commercial relations... In his General Assembly speech, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, did not stress the realpolitik that his country often promotes; instead, he mentioned the concept of “win-win” no less than five times. If Trump – together with the rest of the nationalist international – continues to reject this notion of mutual benefits, he will likely manage to slow down not only China’s growth, but also that of the US.