Mother of Management Theory's Words Ring True Today

Do you employ "coercive" or "co-active" leadership?
Do you employ "coercive" or "co-active" leadership? (iStock)

We are approaching the century mark of the writings and influence of the woman many believe to be the mother of management theory. Her influence spanned decades.

Mary Parker Follett was denied graduate education at Harvard University because she was a woman. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1898. For the next three decades from the platform of a social worker she developed many management principles that still ring true today. President Teddy Roosevelt retained Follett as his personal management consultant for voluntary organizations.

I've studied most of her writings, passed exams on her work and still quote many things I learned from her about leadership. I should quickly add that there are many thought leaders who discount much of her work as naive and primer material. In my observation of leadership today, perhaps most notably in nonprofits, I think we all could stand a dose of Follett naiveté.

Today, I will share one basic principle I first learned from Follett's work. Each day this week, I will add at least one thought of hers that I think is relevant for today's leaders.

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I think her most primary leadership theory is that genuine power should not be seen as "coercive." She taught "co-active." When we recall that Follett wrote during the dawn of the scientific management era—Frederick Taylor, et al.—we should be amazed that Follett could have proffered such an idea as "group power" versus "personal power." Taylor's bunch was all about threatening the security of the worker for better performance.

Mary Parker Follett taught "power with" versus "power over."

Do we need any other message? If we think about "with" versus "over" I suggest our outcomes will be highly improved.

If you consider the leader who had the greatest influence on you, I think you will agree, your model leader was "with you."

"Power with" thinking is a thought over 100 years old in management theory. But we only need to observe the life of Jesus to see theory in action.

"As Jesus was at supper in his house, many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples. For there were many, and they followed Him" (Mark 2:15).

Dr. Steve Greene is the publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His book, Love Leads: The Spiritual Connection Between Your Relationships and Productivity, is now available.

Leaders, Dr. Greene wants to help you understand the spiritual connection between relationships and productivity. Read his new blog, Love Leads.

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Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing stories, teachings, and conversations with guests who lead with love on Love Leads, a new podcast. Listen now.


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