Mary Parker Follett Quotes

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)

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Mary Parker Follett was called the "prophet of management" by Peter Drucker. She was a pioneer in management thinking. Her 1918 and 1924 books laid the groundwork for many later theorists who stressed human relations over the time-and-measurement approach of Taylor and the Gilbreths. Here are some of her words from these books and other writings:

Selected Mary Parker Follett Quotations

• To free the energies of the human spirit is the high potentiality of all human association.

• The group process contains the secret of collective life, it is the key to democracy, it is the master lesson for every individual to learn, it is our chief hope or the political, the social, the international life of the future.

• The study of human relations in business and the study of the technology of operating are bound up together.

• We can never wholly separate the human from the mechanical side.

• 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.

• Coercive power is the curse of the universe; coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul.

• I do not think we shall ever get rid of power-over; I do think we should try to reduce it.

• I do not think that power can be delegated because I believe that genuine power is capacity.

• 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?

• Power is not a pre-existing thing which can be handed out to someone, or wrenched from someone.

• In social relations power is a centripedial self-developing. Power is the legitimate, the inevitable, outcome of the life-process. We can always test the validity of power by asking whether it is integral to the process or outside the process.

• [T]he aim of every form of organization, should be not to share power, but to increase power, to seek the methods by which power can be increased in all.

• A genuine interweaving or interpenetrating by changing both sides creates new situations.

• We should never allow ourselves to be bullied by "either-or." There is often the possibility of something better than either of two given alternatives.

• Individuality is the capacity for union. The measure of individuality is the depth and breath of true relation. I am an individual not as far as I am apart, but as far as I am a part of other men. Evil is nonrelation.

• We cannot, however, mould our lives each by himself; but within every individual is the power of joining himself fundamentally and vitally to other lives, and out of this vital union comes the creative power. Revelation, if we want it to be continuous, must be through the community bond. No individual can change the disorder and iniquity of this world.

No chaotic mass of men and women can do it. Conscious group creation is to be the social and political force of the future.

• We do not need to swing forever between the individual and the group. We must devise some method of using both at the same time. Our present method is right so far as it is based on individuals, but we have not yet found the true individual. The groups are the indispensable means for the discovery of self by each man. The individual finds himself in a group; he has no power alone or in a crowd. One group creates me, another group brings into appearance the multiple sides of me.

• We find the true man only through group organization. The potentialities of the individual remain potentialities until they are released by group life. Man discovers his true nature, gains his true freedom only through the group.

• Responsibility is the great developer of men.

• The important thing about responsibility is not to whom you are responsible, but for what you are responsible.

• This is the problem in business administration: how can a business be so organized that workers, managers, owners feel a collective responsibility?

• I do not think that we have psychological and ethical and economic problems. We have human problems, with psychological, ethical and economical aspects, and as many others as you like.

Democracy is an infinitely including spirit. 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.

• [D]emocracy transcends time and space, it can never be understood except as a spiritual force. Majority rule rests on numbers; democracy rests on the well-grounded assumption that society is neither a collection of units nor an organism but a network of human relations. Democracy is not worked out at the polling-booths; it is the bringing forth of a genuine collective will, one to which every single being must contribute the whole of his complex life, as one which every single being must express the whole of at one point. Thus the essence of democracy is creating. The technique of democracy is group organization.

• To be a democrat is not to decide on a certain form of human association, it is to learn how to live with other men. The world has long been bumbling for democracy, but has not yet grasped its essential and basic idea.

• No one can give us democracy, we must learn democracy.

• The training for democracy can never cease while we exercise democracy. We older ones need it exactly as much as the younger ones. That education is a continuous process is a truism. It does not end with graduation day; it does not end when "life" begins. Life and education must never be separated. We must have more life in our universities, more education in our life.

• The training for the new democracy must be from the cradle - through nursery, school and play, and on and on through every activity of our life.

Citizenship is not to be learned in good government classes or current events courses or lessons in civics. It is to be acquired only through those modes of living and acting which shall teach us how to grow the social consciousness. This should be the object of all day school education, of all night school education, of all our supervised recreation, of all our family life, of our club life, of our civic life.

• 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.

• We can never understand the total situation without taking into account the evolving situation. And when a situation changes we have not a new variation under the old fact, but a new fact.

• 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.

• We need education all the time and we all need education.

• We can test our group in this way: do we come together to register the results of individual thought, to compare the results of individual thought in order to make selections therefrom, or do we come together to create a common idea? Whenever we have a real group something new is actually created. We can now see therefore that the object of group life is not to find the best individual thought, but the collective thought. A committee meeting isn't like a prize show aimed at calling out the best each can possibly produce and then the prize (the vote) awarded to the best of all these individual opinions. The object of a conference is not to get a lot of different ideas, as is often thought, but just the opposite -- to get at one idea. There is nothing rigid or fixed about thoughts, they are entirely plastic, and ready to yield themselves completely to their master -- the group spirit.

• When the conditions for collective thinking are more or less fulfilled, then the expansion of life will begin. Through my group I learn the secret of wholeness.

• We can often measure our progress by watching the nature of our conflicts. Social progress is in this respect like individual progress; we become spiritually more and more developed as our conflicts rise to higher levels.

• Men descend to meet? This is not my experience. The laissez-aller which people allow themselves when alone disappears when they meet. Then they pull themselves together and give one another of their best. We see this again and again. Sometimes the idea of the group stands quite visibly before us as one which none of us is quite living up to by himself. We feel it there, an impalpable, substantial thing in our midst. It raises us to the nth power of action, it fires our minds and glows in our hearts and fulfils and actuates itself no less, but rather on this very account, because it has been generated only by our being together.

• The most successful leader of all is one who sees another picture not yet actualised.

• 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.

• We want worked out a relation between leaders and led which will give to each the opportunity to make creative contributions to the situation.

• The best leader knows how to make his followers actually feel power themselves, not merely acknowledge his power.

• The joint responsibility of management and labor is an interpenetrating responsibility, and is utterly different from responsibility divided into sections, management having some and labor some.

• Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, or absorbed.

• Instead of shutting out what is different, we should welcome it because it is different and through its difference will make a richer content of life.

• Every difference that is swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society; every difference which is ignored feeds on society and eventually corrupts it.

• 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.

• It is clear then that we do not go to our group -- trade-union, city council, college faculty -- to be passive and learn, and we do not go to push through something we have already decided we want. Each must discover and contribute that which distinguishes him from others, his difference. The only use for my difference is to join it with other differences. The unifying of opposites is the eternal process.

• 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.

• We integrate our experience, and then the richer human being that we are goes into the new experience; again we give ourself and always by giving rise above the old self.

• Experience may be hard, but we claim its gifts because they are real, even though our feet bleed on its stones.

• Law flows from our life, therefore it cannot be above it. The source of the binding power of law is not in the consent of the community, but in the fact that it has been produced by the community. This gives us a new conception of law.

• When we look upon law as a thing we think of it as a finished thing; the moment we look upon it as a process we think of it always in evolution. Our law must take account of our social and economic conditions, and it must do it again to-morrow and again day after to-morrow. We do not want a new legal system with every sunrise, but we do want a method by which our law shall be capable of assimilating from day to day what it needs to act upon that life from which it has drawn its existence and to which it must minister. The vital fluid of the community, its life's blood, must pass so continuously from the common will to the law and from the law to the common will that a perfect circulation will be established. We do not "discover" legal principles which it then behooves us to burn candles before forever, but legal principles are the outcome of our daily life. Our law therefore cannot be based on "fixed" principles: our law must be intrinsic in the social process.

• Some writers talk of social justice as if a definite idea of it existed, and that all we have to do to regenerate society is to direct our efforts towards the realization of this ideal. But the ideal of social justice is itself a collective and a progressive development, that is, it is produced through our associated life and it is produced anew from day to day.

More About Mary Parker Follett

About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.