Does the name Mary Parker Follett ring a bell? Probably not. While she may not be a household name in the business world, she should be. Nicknamed the “mother of modern management,” Follett deserves just as much recognition as other progressive thought-leaders whose names are more familiar, perhaps Simon Sinek or Steven Covey, to name a couple.
Follett began her career studying and pursuing social work and democratic organization, giving her an interesting perspective when she began applying her knowledge to the workplace in the early-mid 1920s, which was male-dominated at the time. Follett’s ideas were largely applauded in her day but were abandoned for a couple decades following her death. Her popularity resurfaced in the 1950s and influenced many business trailblazers for years to come, specifically Peter Drucker (perhaps another household name), who is rumored to have referred to Follett as his “guru.”
Follett’s ideas were considered progressive when she first theorized them, and even years later when people rediscovered her work. Today, her wisdom continues to be advanced and relevant to our diverse and evolving workplace. Take a moment to lend an ear to some of the main lessons we can all learn from Mary Parker Follett…
While businesses need some structure and hierarchy in order to survive and keep organized, Follett believed that people in power should not use their position to power over those seemingly underneath. Instead, powering with everyone in the workplace is more impactful and will benefit the business more.
Every position in a hierarchy holds power, and participating in co-active power allows everyone to feel equally valuable, as they all share responsibilities and rewards. Every person is just as useful in their position as the next. Workers will be happier and more invested if they are given autonomy within their role.
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. – Mary Parker Follett
Some say that Follett coined the term “win-win” as it relates to her philosophy on group dynamics. When conflict arises in the workplace, finding a compromise that appeases all parties is the typical resolution route taken. Follett suggests that conflict is actually a tool that can be used to understand diverse people and perspectives and to use it to develop integrated solutions.
According to Follett, compromise can resolve a conflict, but at the expense of every party making a sacrifice to their desire. Integration is different than compromise because every party achieves their desired outcome without making any sacrifices. Differences and diversity spark creativity and invention.
Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed. – Mary Parker Follett
Follett studied the relationship between the leader and the follower, which in the business world, becomes the boss and the employee. She denounced traditional thinking that bosses and managers were simply meant to give orders to the employees, and employees were meant to obey such orders.
According to Follett, leaders are not only leading their followers, but they are leading a purpose. Leaders must have the ability to see the “total solution” and be ability to unify everyone’s desires as well as the overall purpose. In this way, Follett makes leaders and followers out to be quite similar in the fact that they are all working together to achieve the same outcome, or purpose.
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. – Mary Parker Follett
Mary Parker Follett’s teachings guide many of the modern-day philosophies on management, organization, and leadership. Her holistic and communal approach to the workplace is something that is proudly reflected in iGenCo’s coaching and training services. Take a look here to see how iGenCo aims to rehumanize the workplace through our different products.