Mary Parker Follett

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Mary Parker Follett
Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933).jpg
Born 3 September 1868
Quincy, Massachusetts
Died 18 December 1933 (65 years old)
Boston, Massachusetts[1]
Occupation Social worker turned management theorist and consultant and writer
Nationality American
Genre Non-fiction
Subject Management and Politics

Mary Parker Follett (3 September 1868 – 18 December 1933) was an American social worker, management consultant and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. Along with Lillian Gilbreth, Mary Parker Follett was one of two great women management gurus in the early days of classical management theory.


Follett was born in Massachusetts and spent much of her early life there. In September 1885 she enrolled in Anna Ticknor's Society to Encourage Studies at Home.[2] In 1898 she graduated from Radcliffe College, but was denied a doctorate at Harvard on the grounds that she was a woman.[citation needed]

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 President Theodore Roosevelt as his personal consultant on managing not-for-profit, non-governmental, and voluntary organizations.


Along with Lillian Gilbreth, Mary Parker Follett was one of two great women management gurus in the early days of classical management theory, and she is regarded by some writers as the “mother” of Modern Management.

Her ideas on negotiation, power, and employee participation were highly influential in the development of the fields of organizational studies, alternative dispute resolution, and the Human Relations Movement.[citation needed]

Organizational theory[edit]

In her capacity as a management theorist, Mary Parker Follett pioneered the understanding of lateral processes within hierarchical organizations (which 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.[3]

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."

She admonished overmanaging employees, a process now known as micromanaging, as “bossism”.

Follett also 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.[4] She was also a pioneer in the establishment of community centers.

Follett's writings[edit]

Follett's writings span the decades. In The New State, Follett ponders many of the social issues at hand today.

"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." [5]

Transformational Leadership[edit]

Pawelec, (1998) (now Ann Deschenes) found obscure reference pointing to Mary Parker Follet having coined the term "Transformational Leadership". She quote: Rusch, Edith A. (1991) in "The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis" discovered that

... writings and lectures by Mary Parker Follet 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 Mary Parker Follet in Leadership, Nonetheless Rusch was able to trace what appear to be parallel themes in the works of Burns and Follet." Rusch presents direct references in Appendix A. Pawelec (Deschenes) found further parallels of transformational discourse between Follet's ( 1947,1987) work and Burns(1978).


Even though most of Mary Parker Follett's writings remained known in very limited circles until republished at the beginning of this decade (beginning with Pauline C. Graham's first-rate work), 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.[6]

Barnard's work, which stressed the critical role of "soft" factors such as "communication" and "informal processes" in organizations, owed a telling yet undisclosed debt to Follett's thought and writings. In addition, 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, Dick Beckhard and other breakthrough contributors to the field of Organizational Development or "OD".[7]

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.[8] Thus, Mary 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—quantum leaps in productivity effected through the humanization of the workplace.[9]


She also authored a number of books and numerous essays, articles and speeches on democracy, human relations, political philosophy, psychology, organizational behavior and conflict resolution.

  • The Speaker of the House of Representatives (1896)
  • The New State (1918)
  • Creative Experience (1924)
  • The Giving of Orders (1926)
  • Dynamic Administration (1942) (this collection of speeches and short articles was published posthumously)


  1. ^ Morgen Witzel, The Encyclopedia of the History of American Management, p. 167
  2. ^ Mary P. Follett : Creating Democracy, Transforming Management, Tonn, Joan C., New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. p. 34
  3. ^ "The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations"; Talcott Parsons, transl., 1947; distilled from Weber's multi-volume work, "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft" (Economy and Society).
  4. ^ "Mary Parker Follett: A Public Scholar “Far Ahead of Her Time”", Bassett, D. (Retrieved Dec. 6, 2011). Mary Parker Follett: A Public Scholar "Far Ahead of her Time"
  5. ^ Follett, M.P. (1918). The New State, Chapter XIV: The Group Principle at Work
  6. ^ 1938
  7. ^ Art Kleiner, "The Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change." New York: Doubleday, 1996.
  8. ^ Kleiner, 1996, pp. 31-59 and photos, pp. 190-91.
  9. ^ Douglas McGregor, "The Human Side of Enterprise". 1961.

Further reading[edit]

  • Metcalf, Henry C; Urwick, Lyndall (2004). The early sociology of management and organizations (edited by Kenneth Thompson): volume 3 dynamic administration - the collected papers of Mary Parker Follett. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library. ISBN 9780415279857. 
  • Graham, Pauline (ed) (2003). Mary Parker Follett - prophet of management: a celebration of writings from the 1920s. District of Columbia: Beard Books. ISBN 9781587982132. 
  • Montana, Patrick J; Charnov, Bruce H (2008). Management. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series. ISBN 9780764139314. 
  • Follett, Mary (1998). The new state: group organization the solution of popular government - Mary Parker Follett. University Park, Penn: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 9780271018256. 
  • Pawelec, A. D. (1998- Now Ann Deschenes) Towards An Understanding Of Transformational Leadership in Education. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education, University of Western Ontario. (Online Library Canada)
  • Follett, M. P. (1949). Freedom and Co-ordination: Lectures in business organization. (Reprint 1987). New York: Management Publications Trust Limited.
  • Follett, M. P. (1927). Dvnamic administration. (Reprint 1942). New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
  • Follett, M. P. (1924). Creative experience.(Reprint 1951.) New York: Peter Smith.
  • Follett, M. P. (1920). The new state: group organization the solution of popular government. New York: Longrnans, Green & Co.
  • Rusch, Edith A. (1991) entitled "The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis".
  • Héon, F., Davis A., Jones-Patulli J., Damart S. (2014). The essential Mary Parker Follett: ideas we need today, Amazon Self-publishing, ISBN 9780993955303

External links[edit]