Whose Ideas Influence Organisational Work
Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933):
the 1920's Mary Parker Follett's comments and writing on leadership, power, law
of the situation, conflict integration and circular behaviour, empowerment,
teams, and networked organisations, importance of relationships within and
among organisations, authority, control, etc. were way ahead of her time. She
examined the creative group process, crowd psychology, neighbourhood and work,
governance, the self in relation to the whole, and ideals of integration,
synthesis, and unifying differences. Many management writers of today have
pointed out the importance and relevance of her work.
New Biography available
MARY P. FOLLETT: Creating Democracy,
Transforming Management by Joan C. Tonn. Yale University Press
The culmination of fifteen years of research, this long-awaited biography of
Mary P. Follett (1868–1933) brings to life one of America’s preeminent
intellectuals. An activist in Boston’s immigrant neighborhoods and the national
community centers movement, Follett developed a vision of democracy as a
vibrant, participatory process based on the continual integration of
differences in groups. When her books The New State (1918) and Creative
Experience (1924) were published, progressive business leaders invited Follett
to apply her ideas about power, leadership, and the constructive resolution of
conflict to the problems of business management. She delivered a series of
influential lectures to academics and business leaders at Oxford University,
the London School of Economics, and the nation’s first executive development
seminars in New York. These original, penetrating analyses form the basis of
our contemporary discourse about collaborative leadership, conflict resolution,
worker empowerment, self-managed teams, the value of inclusivity and diversity,
and corporate social responsibility.
Mary Follett’s work is currently the subject of scholarly inquiry and
application in countries around the globe—and in fields such as government,
political theory, history, organizational theory and behavior, conflict and
negotiation, women’s studies, sociology, psychology, communication, and social
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Joan C. Tonn is an organizational psychologist and associate professor in the
College of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Management.
Pauline Graham, Ed. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1995. ISBN:
There are also examples from her in the Harvard
Business School Classics series. E.g. "Dynamic Administration: The
collected papers of Mary Parker Follett," edited by Henry Metcalf and
Lionel Urwick. Mary Parker Follett also worked to relate individual/social
parts to an evolving individual/social whole. She applied her ideas in everyday
life, with neighbourhood and vocational activities. She helped individuals,
groups, and communities lead themselves through what she called the
"community process" of "unifying differences," or creating
an integrated or unifying whole. (See below for
excerpts from her work)
Follett's Ghost, Mary
Parker Follett So-Called Admirers . A draft essay on Mary Parker Follett
and her so-called admirers, on how some overconfident academics divert students
away from a truer understanding of Mary Parker Follett
NEW STATE By Mary Parker Follett complete text
of Mary Parker Follett - Prophet of Management:
Follet From community organizer to the "prophet of
Parker Follett and informal education This page explores the
contribution that has made to the development of educational thinking -
especially with regard to informal education and lifelong learning.
Excerpts (taken from contributions to
learning-org mailing list thread) Power
(1) control is coming more and more to mean fact-control rather than
(2) central control is coming more and more to mean the correlation of many
controls rather than a superimposed control.
From papers presented to the London School of Economics in 1933
in which she set out her reasons for studying business management
" First of all, it is among business men (not all, but a few) that I find
the greatest vitality of thinking today, and I like to do my thinking where it
is most alive.
Another reason is because industry is the most important field of human
activity, and management is the fundamental element in industry.
The third reason why I am working at business management is because I believe
in control, and so do our most progressive business men"
" I believe in the individual not trusting to face or chance or
inheritance or environment, but learning how to control his own life. And
nowhere do I see such a complete acceptance of this as in business thinking,
the thinking of more progressive business men. They are taking the mysticism
out of business. They do not believe that there is anything fatalistic about
the business cycle that is wholly beyond the comprehension of men; they believe
that it can be studied and to some extent controlled"
"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. (...) Every demand for power should be analysed to see if the
object is 'independent' power or joining power. That should be one of the tests
of any plan of employee representation -- is it developing joint power?"
"Circular behavior is the basis for integration. If your business is so
organized that you can influence a co-manager while he is influencing you, so
organized that a workman has an opportunity of influencing you as you have of
influencing him; if there is an interactive influence going on all through the
time between you, power may be built up. Throughout history we see that control
brings disastrous consequences whenever it outruns integration."
"Do we not see now that while there are many ways of gaining an external,
an arbitrary power -- through brute strength, through manipulation, through
diplomacy -- genuine power is always that which inheres in the situation?"
"I do not think that power can be delegated because I believe that genuine
power is capacity. To confer power on the workers may be an empty gesture.
(...) [The workers'] problem is how much power they can themselves grow. (...)
Where the manages come in is that they should give the workers a chance to grow
capacity or power for themselves "
" These expressions [dividing power, transferring power, conferring power,
sharing power], while containing indeed a partial truth, nevertheless at the
same time *hide* an important truth, namely, that power is self-developing
capacity. (...) The division of power is not the thing to be considered, but
that method of organization which will generate power."
"The manager cannot share *his* power with division superintendent or
foreman or workmen, but he can give them opportunities for developing *their*