Mary Parker Follett (1) LO29850

Date: 01/13/03

Dear LO dear Barry,

Most of what very little I have ever learned, done or accomplished is a
result of the advice of Ovid. I suspect MPF read Ovid or in another way
was partially Ovid. Rick, I will post the files of MPF in an ordered way
(as ordered as Ovid enables;-) on this occasion..this time around ;-) ;-)
(not often we have double smileys...Mmmmmm. Here is the introduction.
There seems to be about twenty such files.

Barry, for sure get a publisher to champion the work of McMaster...and let us
find outlets for the wisdom of MPF...because this woman has something to say
that needs attending to today and I have from Senge to Handy not met her
equal in range and perfection of ease.

All who seek to earn handsome profit from LO work, complexology take heed
of her opening wisdom selected by Albie M. Davies... for the world is full
to replete with experts who tell how to do and upon some inspection cannot
selves do. The message is as old, older than Confucius . That's my intro.
'penny-worth' and here is hers...

Albie M. Davis, Liquid Leadership: The Wisdom of Mary Parker Follett
(1868 - 1933) (August 1997)

Liquid Leadership: The Wisdom of Mary Parker Follett
(1868 - 1933) *
By Albie M. Davis

         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..
                        - Mary Parker Follett, The New State (p. 230).

Mary Parker Follett's words, written some seven decades ago, seize our
attention today as though she was speaking with us personally about our
most contemporary concerns. Sometimes they dangle tantalizingly ahead,
pointing toward a yet-to-be experienced tomorrow. "Who was Follett?"
first-time readers ask, "and why have I not heard of her earlier?" The
natural inclination is to find a professional tag to hang upon her. "Was
she a management consultant? A political scientist? A historian? A
philosopher?" and so forth. She was each of these, and more. She avoided
all such labels, however, and out of respect for the universal nature of
her thinking, I must as well.

For the purposes of this brief article examining her views through the
lens of leadership, I shall forgo a lengthy accounting of her personal
history and say only that she was a remarkably experienced and insightful
turn of the century American woman who did not let real or imagined
boundaries interfere with her desire to understand the ways people related
in groups. Born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1868, her natural talents
were sparked by a series of dedicated teachers who nurtured her promise.
Her pursuit of knowledge about "the laws of association" took her to many
venues including the Congress in her early twenties (Follett, 1896), the
heart of Boston's burgeoning immigrant fed communities in her thirties and
forties (Follett, 1918, 1924) and to the world of business and beyond in
her fifties and sixties (Follett, 1940, 1940/73). The last ten years of
her life she was a sought after advisor and speaker by business leaders in
the United States and England (Davis, 1989).

It is interesting to speculate about why Follett, who never managed a
for-profit business enterprise herself, held such strong appeal for
business leaders. Credit, of course, must go to the soundness of her
theories so firmly grounded in her own and other's experience. In making
a particular point, she would draw upon illustrations ranging from the
behavior of husband and wife across the breakfast table to the
interactions among leaders at international peace talks. She was
masterful at weaving the threads of her experience with that of her
readers or listeners. Still, Follett had another vital quality, one more
difficult to define, but one that shines throughout her writing--she had a
way with people and a way with words. Not long after Follett's death, her
companion, Dame Katharine Furse, summed up Follett's genius for
communication in a letter to a mutual friend, Ella Lyman Cabot. "What I
miss most now is Mary's power of expression," she reminisced. "She knew
how to find words for all that is finest and best, never elaborate
tiresome words, but the right words every time" (Furse, 1934).

One of Follett's most ardent admirers was Lyndal Urwick, who, along with
Henry C. Metcalf, first edited and published her talks before business
leaders (Follett, 1940). Urwick's account of his initial meeting with
Follett offers a rather humorous clue to her extraordinary charisma
(Urwick, 1963). The setting is York, England, circa 1926, where Urwick is
a high level manager for Seebohm Rountree, owner of a large international
candy company. At the insistence of his boss, Urwick reluctantly gives up
a long-planned trip to London with his beautiful new wife to attend
instead a conference where Follett will be speaking. In describing their
encounter at the conference, he freely admits to feeling grouchy. There
was rather a dull paper on the Friday evening. Mary Follett spoke in the
subsequent discussion. But I was feeling tired and rather fed up. I
wasn't particularly struck by her contribution. After the meeting was
over, Rountree grabbed me and introduced us. As I looked at her I
remember thinking, "What on earth is my dear Seebohm up to? He's always
most considerate of those working with him. And here he's practically
forced me to cancel a weekend to which I had greatly looked forward in
order to meet this gaunt Boston spinster. From what she said in the
discussion she's a pure academic. What in the world can we have in
common?' Then Mary started to talk with me. And in two minutes I was at
her feet, where I remained for the rest of her life" (Urwick, 1963).

Democracy as an infinitely including spirit

Why is it important for the readers of this journal to meet Follett?
Because A Leadership Journal proudly proclaims that its articles "are
embedded in a 'community-based leadership approach' that is facilitated by
and through relationships." (Reed, 1996). Follett was a pioneer of just
such an approach. In her 1896 look at the powers of the Speaker of the
House of Representatives, she chronicled the nature of leadership at the
top (Follett, 1896). By 1918, after twenty years of work at the grass
roots, she used The New State to spell out her ideas for bottom-up
democracy. "Democracy is an infinitely including spirit," she concluded.
"We have an instinct for democracy because we have an instinct for
wholeness; we get wholeness only through reciprocal relations, through
infinitely expanding reciprocal relations" (Follett, 1918, p 157).

It is a challenge to summarize Follett's philosophy for myself, let alone
the reader, something akin to summarizing Einstein's Law of Relativity;
E=mc2 is a stunningly simple quotation, but to fully understand it
requires abandoning old well-established ways of thinking and entering
less familiar terrain. So too with Follett. Her ideas are at once
extraordinarily simple and exasperatingly complex. Nevertheless, in order
to provide context for her views on leadership, I shall give it a try.

Follett believed that all people are linked together through evolving
relationships in which their differences, which are to be cherished since
they are essential to the whole, serve as fuel for the continuous creation
of the new--the vital--through the confrontation and integration of
desires, a process which in turn leads to the continuous growth of the
individual and the group. Her philosophy of interrelatedness led her to
develop such concepts as "circular response," "the law of the situation,"
and "power with, rather than power over." In the concluding chapter of
Creative Experience, titled "Experience as Evocation," she contrasts her
thinking with that of others. "What I have tried to show in this book is
that the social process may be conceived either as the opposing and battle
of desires with the victory of one over the other, or as the confronting
and integrating of desires. The former means non-freedom for both sides,
the defeated bound to the victor, the victor bound to the false situation
thus created--both bound. The latter means a freeing for both sides and
increased total power or increased capacity in the world" (Follett, 1924,
p. 301). This concept of social conflict as freeing is central for
Follett, who believed, "To free the energies of the human spirit is the
high potentiality of all human association" (p. 303).

Leadership flows where needed

By titling this introduction to Follett "Liquid Leadership" I mean to
capture the fluid nature of her thinking in general. She had an uncanny
ability to see the world as a moving picture rather than a still
photograph. Perhaps a three-dimensional interactive hologram would be
more to the point. "My response is not to a crystallized product of the
past, static for the moment of meeting; while I am behaving, the
environment is changing because of my behaving, and my behavior is a
response to the new situation, which I, in part, have created" (p. 63).
Her ability to think so fluidly was as disconcerting to some in her own
time as it is to many of us today. She pokes fun at herself by letting us
know that "a professor of philosophy told me that it made him dizzy to
talk with me because, he says, he wishes always to compare varying things
with something stationery." To the professor and those who desire such
static science, Follett offers a chiding response, perhaps anticipating
contemporary chaos theory, "You will have then to leave this universe; in
this one we so often have variations in relation to other variations that
we are obliged to learn to think in terms of those conditions" (p. 69).

In keeping with her fluid, holistic thinking, leadership, as such, does
not exist, certainly not as a static condition within a particular person.
Leaders and followers are in a relationship, and just as a relationship
does not reside in one or the other person, so too with leadership which
is a dynamic force acting between and among people. The role of leader
flows to where it is needed, to those who have the passion and perspective
to use its creative potential to bring about something new. When the
situation no longer requires leaders to be in a leading role and followers
to assist them, leadership flows on. Follett called this dynamic
interaction "reciprocal leadership" which she saw as "a partnership in
following, of following the invisible leader--the common purpose"
(Follett, 1940/1973, p. 303).

The partnership envisioned by Follett calls upon all involved in the
enterprise to play a crucial role in identifying concerns and creating
solutions. "We want worked out a relation between leaders and led which
will give to each the opportunity to make creative contributions to the
situation" (p. 255). To the extent that leaders emerge during any
situation, the role they must play is different than that recommended by
some leadership theories. "The best leader knows how to make his (her)
followers actually feel power themselves, not merely acknowledge his (her)
power." Along with leadership, Follett introduces the notion of
followship. "But if the followers must partake in leadership, it is also
true that we must have followship on the part of leaders. There must be a
partnership of following" (p. 255).

Ironically, in her own day, she was pleased to see a reduction of
leadership courses in college catalogues and even toyed with the idea of
giving up the word leader for she felt it a mistake to identify leadership
with ascendancy (p. 256). In the end she concluded, leadership "is far
too good a word to abandon; moreover, the leader in one way at least does
and should lead in that very sense. He should lead by force of example.
If those led obey the law of the situation, they must realize that he is
doing the same. If they are to follow the invisible leader, the common
purpose, so must he. If everyone must work overtime, the president should
be willing to do the same. In every way he must show that he is doing
what he urges upon others" (p. 256).

She offers an example of such egalitarian leading which seems fitting to
share in a journal housed in South Carolina. "One winter I went yachting
with some friends in the inland waterways of the South. On one occasion
our pilot led us astray and we found ourselves one night aground in a
Carolina swamp. Obviously the only thing to do was to try to push the
boat off, but the crew refused, saying that the swamps in that region were
infested with rattlesnakes. The owner of the yacht offered not a word of
remonstrance, but turned instantly and jumped overboard. Every member of
the crew followed" (p. 256).

Integrating leadership lessons

Being asked to write for the second volume of A Leadership Journal, I have
the good fortune to respond to those whose thinking appears in the first.
Follett would have liked the implicit "process" in such an opportunity.
It is my turn to serve as a temporary leader on the leadership discussion.
She has taught me to wonder, "What are others thinking? Where does my
thinking mesh with theirs? Where does it differ? How might we integrate
the thinking of all to give birth to new ideas?"

Gerri Perreault's article which focuses, in part, on "relational ethics,"
confronts directly the "great man" or "Lone Ranger" notion of leadership
and offers in its place one which recognizes the "self and others as
connected and interdependent" (Perreault, 34). Here, Follett could not
agree more strongly. "Individuality is the capacity for union" she notes.
She follows with a powerful notion which deserves a moment of silent
contemplation from the reader. "Evil is nonrelation." Then,
relentlessly, Follett continues to hammer home her theme, "The source of
our strength is the central supply. You may as well break a branch off
the tree and expect it to live. Non-relation is death" (Follett, 1918, p.

Teaching as leading

As mentioned earlier, a core value for Follett is the importance of every
individual's ideas to the creation of a constantly evolving whole. She
sees this "integration" occurring in the home, the community, the
workplace and in world affairs. She especially sees it in the schools with
teachers playing the challenging and exciting role of leader-learners.
One delightful story by which she captures this concept appears in the
last chapter of The New State (p. 364). Every pupil should be made to feel
that his point of view is slightly different from any one's else, and
that, therefore he has something to contribute. He is not to "recite"
something which the teacher knows already; he is to contribute not only to
the ideas of his fellow-pupils but also to those of his teacher. And this
is not impossible even for the youngest. Once when I was in Paris I made
the acquaintance of little Michael, a charming English boy of five, who
upon being taken to the Louvre by his mother and asked what he thought of
the Mona Lisa, replied, with a most pathetic expression, 'I don't think
she looks as if she liked little boys." That was certainly a contribution
to Mona Lisa criticism.

Follett's appreciation of a five-year old boy's response to the Mona Lisa
highlights her notion of the teacher as a life-long learner alongside her
students. In a 1928 address delivered to a Boston University audience, she
spells out her philosophy quite explicitly. "The teacher is not one who
has lived and the student one who is going to live, but that both are
living now, in the present, that it should be fresh life meeting fresh
life" (Follett, 1940/1973, p. 306). She expands upon her advice saying,
"If leadership does not mean coercion in any form, if it does not mean
controlling, protecting or exploiting, what does it mean? It means, I
think, freeing. The greatest service the teacher can render the student
is to increase his freedom--his free range of activity and thought and his
power of control (p. 304).

To forestall misinterpretation, she asks her teacher-audience not to
confuse her philosophy with those who promote "the pupil expressing
himself." Some years ago a teacher told a class of little boys who were
beginning clay modeling that they were to express themselves in clay.
They of course began throwing the clay at each other, which was perfectly
proper; that is the natural way for little boys to express themselves in
clay (p. 304). She was mindful of the responsibility of teachers to
encourage freedom on thought "within method, within the laws of group
activity and group control" (p. 304).

Leaders are born in neighborhoods

Leadership is also the birth right of every community member, of this,
Follett felt certain. She had seen this capacity express itself
first-hand in her work to turn local schools into community centers.
Here neighbors worked together to organize clubs around common interests,
design courses of study and plan community events. "In neighborhood
groups where we have different alignments on different questions, there
will be a tendency for those to lead at any particular moment who are most
competent to lead in the particular matter in hand," she observed. "Thus
a mechanical leadership will give place to a vital leadership. Here in the
neighborhood group leaders are born" (Follett, 1918, p. 223).

Interestingly, her description of the community leader reads much like the
job description for someone in my field of mediation, which, from my
experience, is also at its most vital in the school and community setting.
"The leader of our neighborhood group must interpret our experience to us,
must see all the different points of view which underlie our daily
activities and also their connections, must adjust the varying and often
conflicting needs, must lead the group to an understanding of its needs
and to a unification of its purpose. He (or she) must give form to things
vague, things latent, to mere tendencies. He must be able to lead us to
wise decisions, not to impose his own wise decisions upon us" (p. 229).
Follett was not naive about community life. She knew from bitter
experience that before a leader could help people reach agreement, he or
she must elicit engagement. "We must remember that most people are not
for or against anything; the first object of getting people together is to
make them respond somehow, to overcome inertia. To disagree, as well as
to agree, with people brings you closer to them." She was aware of just
how volatile community relations could become, how quickly people form
"enemy camps." But, she did not despair; instead she observed, "We could
not have an enemy unless there was much in common between us.
Differences are always grounded in an underlying similarity." She
continues this thought with an insightful observation I find deeply moving
and in concert with my own experience. "I always feel intimate with my
enemies. It is not opposition but indifference which separates [humans]"
(p. 212).

Constructive caring

The metaphor of leadership as a mature friendship would also appeal to
Follett (Perreault, 36-37). Follett sought out friends who would
challenge her thinking, not confirm her thoughts. "A friendship based on
likenesses and agreements alone is a superficial matter enough. The deep
and lasting friendship is one capable of recognizing and dealing with all
the fundamental differences that must exist between any two individuals,
one capable therefore of such an enrichment of our personalities that
together we shall mount to new heights of understanding and endeavor"
(Follett, 1918, p. 41). Always a believer in action over academia, she
noted, "I learn my duty to my friends not by reading essays on friendship,
but by living my life with my friends and learning by experience the
obligations friendship demands" (p. 198).

Yet, she might want to explore further the concept of "care ethics," which
Perreault describes as placing "primacy on care and responsibility for
others" (Perreault, 34). For many years Follett worked in Boston's teeming
neighborhoods, fed daily by streams of immigrants leaving Europe and
Canada to seek the "good life" in America. After two decades, much of
which she devoted to turning quiescent neighborhood schools into active
round-the-clock community centers, she was able to step back from her own
work, and the work of other Boston reformers, to examine their
accomplishments and engage in self-criticism.

At present nearly all our needs are satisfied by external agencies,
government or institutional. Health societies offer health to us,
recreation associations teach us how to play, civic art leagues give us
more beautiful surroundings, associated charities give us poor relief. A
kind lady leads my girl to the dentist, a kind young man finds employment
for my boy, a stern officer of the city sees that my children are in their
places at school. I am constantly being acted upon, no one is encouraging
me to act. Thus am I robbed of my most precious possession--my
responsibilities--for only the active process of participation can shape
me for the social purpose" (p. 235).

Presaging President Kennedy's famous inaugural address, "Ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," Follett
concluded that "The question which the state must always be trying to
answer is how it can do more for its members at the same time that it is
stimulating them to do more for themselves." Midstream she corrects
herself, adding, "No, more than this, its doing more for them must take
the form of their doing more for themselves" (p. 237).


Ever the social anthropologist, Follett drew her inspiration and examples
from wherever they presented themselves. Richard C. Cabot, friend and
professor of medical ethics, wrote a tribute to Follett after her death in
which he remarked that she was "a creative listener and a creative
questioner. She took an intense interest in the ideas of philosophers,
economists, psychologists and businessmen with whom she talked" (Cabot,
1934). He might have added that she did the same with "salesgirls" in
Filenes Department store, longshoremen on Boston's wharves, elevator
operators, ambassadors, nurses, Supreme Court justices, maids,
friends--all who touched her life.

Undoubtedly she was influenced by the many remarkable women with whom she
worked side-by-side for so many years. In reflecting upon the power of
leadership as the power of integrating, and thus the power which creates
community, she uses the distinctly feminine imagery of a hostess at a
dinner party. Most women and some men will recognize the myriad of
interactive skills she is attempting to honor by her use of this
overlooked commonplace illustration.

With some hostesses you all talk across at one another as entirely
separate individuals, pleasantly and friendly to be sure, but still across
unbridged chasms. While other hostesses have the power of making you all
feel for the moment related, as if you were one little community for the
time being. This is a subtle as well as a valuable gift. It is one that
leaders of men must possess. It is thus that the collective will is
evolved from out of the chaos of varied personality and complex
circumstances (Follett, 1918, p. 230).

If Follett were alive today, she would undoubtedly find a way to invite
all the authors contributing to the first volume of A Leadership Journal
to a face-to-face gathering at her townhouse at the base of Boston's
Beacon Hill or her summer retreat in Putney, Vermont. There over sherry
or tea, a conversation about leadership would flow among the participants,
building, growing, ever expanding individual and group thinking. The
sparks might fly, but all the better for she loved the energy of
difference. She felt confident that "all polishing is done by friction"
(Follett, 1940/1973, p. 2).

Eduard C. Lindeman, Follett's friend and colleague and author of several
books on community leadership, captured the exhilarating nature of Follett
as hostess in a testimonial to her published shortly after her death. He
begins by observing that "Mary Follett was the most highly sensitized
person I have ever known," He then traces her New England intellectual
roots and the timeless nature of her thinking. "She was preoccupied with
questions of quality rather than quantity, wholeness rather than parts,
synthesis rather than dissection." He comments that her written reveals a
mind "constantly growing in richness of content and fineness of

He ends on a more personal note, however, by recognizing "namely her great
gift to me," which was time spent together in animated conversation. As a
prelude to collaborating on common interests, Follett invited Lindeman,
Herbert Crowley and Professor Albert Dwight Sheffield (and undoubtedly Ada
Eliot Sheffield, Albert's wife and T.S. Eliot's sister, but more
importantly, an experienced probation officer) to stay a week with her and
Isobel Briggs, her companion of 30 years, at their summer home in Putney,
Vermont. Upon reflection, Lindeman said, "It seems to me now that this
was the most exciting intellectual event of my total experience"
(Lindeman, 1934).

That was her way--engaging all she met in an exploration of ideas, always
grounded in experience, but never tied to the old, always instead seeking
to create the new. "Experience may be hard," she believed, "but we claim
its gifts because they are real, even though our feet bleed on its stones"
(Follett, 1924, p. 302).

At present there is no full biography about Follett. A brief biographical
sketch can be found in "An Interview with Mary Parker Follett by Albie M.
Davis," which is cited in the reference section. Additional biographical
information and selected writings by Follett can be found in MARY PARKER
FOLLETT: PROPHET OF MANAGEMENT (1995) edited by Pauline Graham and
published by Harvard Business School Press, Boston. Over the course of
the next three years I will be working on a book about Follett's practical
philosophy titled

Liquid Logic. Information about Ada Eliot Sheffield was obtained from a
1971 PhD thesis by Avrum Isaac Cohen. See References section for more


* The article is pending publication in print format in, "A Leadership
Journal: Women in Leadership--Sharing the Vision," Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer
1997). (A Journal of Research, Theory, and Practical Applications in
Leadership Studies.) Published by, The Leadership Institute, Columbia
College of South Carolina, PO box 3815, Columbia, SC 29230-3815, Phone:
(803) 786-3729, Fax: (803) 786-3806. Republished in electronic format by
FINS with the permission of the author and publisher.

** Albie M. Davis, has served as a volunteer mediator with Urban Community
Mediators in Dorchester since 1980. Currently she is Director of
Mediation, District Court, Trial Court of the Commonwealth of

Cabot, R. C. (1934, April). Mary Parker Follett, An Appreciation. Radcliffe
Quarterly. 80-82.
Cohen, A.I. (1971, January). Mary Parker Follett: Spokesman for Democracy,
Philosopher for Social Group Work, 1918-1933, Tulane University School of
Social Work, D.S.W. (71-28,507).
Davis, A.M. (1989, July). An Interview with Mary Parker Follett. Negotiation
Journal, 17-24.
Follett, M.P. (1896/1974). The Speaker of the House of Representatives, New
York: Burt Franklin Reprints.
Follett, M. P. (1918). The New State: Group Organization the Solution of
Popular Government, New York: Longmans, Green and Co.
Follett, M. P. (1924). Creative Experience, New York: Peter Smith, 1951
reprint with permission by Longmans, Green and Co..
Follett, M.P. (1940). Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary
Parker Follett, ed. H. C. Metcalf and L. Urwick. New York: Harper &
Brothers Publishers.
Follett, M.P. (1940/1973). Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of
Mary Parker Follett, ed E. M. Fox and L. Urwick. London: Pitman Publishing.
Follett, M. P. (1949/1987). Freedom and Coordination: Lectures in Business
Organization, London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Furse, K. (1934). Letter to Ella Lyman Cabot, Schlesinger Library. Radcliffe
College. Cambridge, Mass.
Lindeman, E. C. (1934, Feb). Mary Parker Follett. Survey Graphic. 86-87.
Perreault, G. (1996). Sharing the Vision: Leadership as Friendship and
Feminist Care Ethics. A Leadership Journal: women in Leadership -- Sharing
the Vision, 1(1), 33-49.
Reed, T. K. (1996). Editorial Comments. A Leadership Journal: women in
Leadership -- Sharing the Vision, 1(1), 1.
Urwick, L. (circa 1963). Mary Parker Follett 1868 - 1933. Unpublished notes
for a management class at the University of New South Wales, Australia, p. 1.


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