Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) 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.
Peter Drucker correctly named her the “prophet of management.” Warren Bennis called her a “swashbuckling advance scout of management thinking.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter noted that reading Follett was “like entering a realm of calm in a sea of chaos. Her work reminds us…there are truths about human behavior that stand the test of time. They persist despite superficial changes, like the deep and still ocean beneath the waves of management fad and fashion.”
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These are among her most valuable observations:
o Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.
o Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.
o There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.
o Management is the art of getting things done through people.
o That is always our problem, not how to get control of people, but how all together we can get control of a situation.
o The most successful leader of all is the one who sees another picture not yet actualized. He sees the things which are not yet there… Above all, he should make his co-workers see that it is not his purpose which is to be achieved, but a common purpose, born of the desires and the activities of the group.
o Part of the task of the leader is to make others participate in his leadership. The best leader knows how to make his followers actually feel power themselves, not merely acknowledge his power.
o Conflict is resolved not through compromise, but through invention.
o Give your difference, welcome my difference, unify all difference in the larger whole – such is the law of growth. The unifying of difference is the eternal process of life – the creative synthesis, the highest act of creation, the at-onement.
o It seems to me that whereas power usually means power-over, the power of some person or group over some other person or group, it is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.
o Leader and followers are both following the invisible leader – the common purpose. The best executives put this common purpose clearly before their group. While leadership depends on depth of conviction and the power coming therefrom there must also be the ability to share that conviction with others, the ability to make purpose articulate. And then that common purpose becomes the leader.
o We must face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature.
o The best leaders try to train their followers themselves to become leaders. … they wish to be leaders of leaders.
o The ignoring of differences is the most fatal mistake in politics or industry or international life: every difference that is swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society; every difference which is ignored feeds on society and eventually corrupts it.
o In crowds we have unison, in groups harmony. We want the single voice but not the single note; that is the secret of the group.
o Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim.
o Coercive power is the curse of the universe, coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul.
o We should never allow ourselves to be bullied by an either-or. There is often the possibility of something better than either of these two alternatives.
o What people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the utmost importance that these should not be considered the same.
o Many people tell me what I ought to do and just how I ought to do it, but few have made me want to do something.
o The best leader does not ask people to serve him, but the common end. The best leader has not followers, but men and women working with him.
o The divorce of our so-called spiritual life from our daily activities is a fatal dualism.
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To learn more about Mary Parker Follett‘s life and work, please click here.