7 Tips for Bringing Leadership Wisdom To Life from Mary Parker Follett

"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." Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)


Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) was a brilliant intellectual ahead of her time. She was born in 1868 in Quincy, Massachusetts in the era of Progressivism (1900-1917) with contemporaries such as John Dewey and Jane Addams.


Follett was one of the first women invited to address the London School of Economics to speak about management. Since women were not accepted into the business world, Follett developed her organization leadership theories among the poor, working professionally as a social worker in Boston. She also worked in Boston public schools and became a strong advocate for the development of school and neighborhood-based community centers where people could gather. Follette understood the importance of personal relationships and collaboration within society, as well as the workplace.


How can we apply Follett’s ideas to educational leadership?

School leaders build community and culture that supports shared leadership practices, such as:

  1. Provide opportunities to build teacher leadership through leadership teams who meet regularly to coordinate school improvement efforts and internally- led professional development

  2. Introduce protocols and processes, such as School Reform Initiative protocols, to professionalize how school teams create mutual influence and shared accountability

  3. Encourage multiple team members to emerge as leaders, especially when they have the skills, knowledge, or expertise that the team needs to complete specific tasks and projects

  4. Recognize early successes. When team members feel recognized and supported, they are more willing to share responsibility, cooperate, and commit to the team's collective goals

  5. Introduce professional learning communities or communities of practice, to build horizontal leadership influence and support across your school

  6. Provide job-embedded coaching to teachers to support personalized professional learning. When teachers are supported as individual learners with a one-on-one instructional coaching relationship, teachers can engage in personalized, deliberate practice to deepen and enhance their professional practice in individual areas of growth

  7. Engage multiple stakeholders and recognize team efforts and team outcomes to a broader audience, such as parents, school board members, community partners, and the public at large

Follett believed in the power of the group to improve the life of the individual. It was the study of human interactions within the community that led her to create her theory of organizational management. Her holistic approach to organizational management included the following key principles of coordination:

  • Direct contact. Direct contact between employees and managers helps organizations manage conflict and avoid misunderstandings.

  1. Holding regular face-to-face meetings or discussing assignments in person is a simple way to practice this principle.

  • Early stages. Coordination should be learned and mastered straight away. No employee should feel less important than the next; each has a significant role that compliments the roles of others.

  1. Orienting and integrating new hires into essential organization functions should happen right from the beginning, with the presumption that each individual is bringing unique strengths that will emerge with high expectations of their individual contribution.

  • Reciprocal relationship. Every worker, regardless of their level in hierarchy, is responsible for pulling their weight and integrating with the rest of the organization.

  1. No one person should be trying less or more than another – it's a team effort.

  • Continuous process. Coordination and system adaptations must be maintained. Don't just learn it and forget about it.

  1. Everyone should be challenged to sustain engagement and energy to deepen critical reflection of how things can always be improved just a little bit more!

These ideas brought a humanizing factor to organization management by creating better health and well-being amongst employees. These are just a few of her ideas. Today, Follett is considered a rediscovered visionary and prophet in organizational behavior in management theory. Her progressive knowledge of a century ago is gaining speed in today's dynamic and complex environments.

How else would you apply Mary Parker Follett’s leadership wisdom to educational leadership practices today?

References

Follett, M. P., The Speaker of the House of Representatives. New York: Longmans Green, 1896.

Follett, M. P., The illusion of final authority. In E. M. Fox & L. Urwick (Eds.), Dynamic administration: The collected papers of Mary Parker Follett, 2nd ed. London: Pitman, 1973a, 117-131.

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