“We find the true man only through 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.” Mary Parker Follett, The New State: Group Organization the Solution of Popular Government.
Dr. Carolan McLarney has explored the remarkable life of Mary Parker Follett since her doctoral days. 2018 is the 150th anniversary of Follett’s birth as well as the 100th anniversary of her book, The New State. This is her second interview that discuses Mary Parker’s thoughts on Group Membership.
Dr. Carolan McLarney:
Mary Parker Follett valued membership in a group almost more than leadership. She believed in the power of the neighbourhood group. She suggested that it is within these groups that the opportunity for real contribution is possible. In The New State (1918), Follett posits that when everyone is giving their full effort, then “leaders will arise among us” (p. 62). If each one of the members of the group has the potential to be a leader of that group, then it is important to look at Mary Parker Follett’s views on group membership. In her writing, she described the ideal group, where all were equal and had equal opportunities for contribution and leadership. The group members are not clones, there are differences, and difference is welcomed. But there does appear to be an underlying core of behaviours and traits. This could be described as the `true heart of a group member’. This `true heart’ has many dimensions and many obligations. Mary Parker Follett took membership very seriously, she did not believe it was for the faint-of-heart, but she did believe it was the forum for change and hope for her society.
Miss Follett believed group membership was a responsibility. These obligations include giving one’s total contribution, not holding anything back. She explicitly puts forth the minimum requirements; one cannot sit back and watch:
“No member of a group which is to create can be passive. All must be active and constructively active. It is not, however, to be constructively active merely to add a share: it must be a share which is related to and bound up with every other share. And it must be given in such a way that it fits in with what others are giving. Someone said to me the other day, “Don’t you think Mr. X talks better than anyone else in Boston?” Well the fact is that Mr. X talks so well that I can never talk with him. Everything he says has such a ring of finality, is such a rounding up of the whole question, that it leaves nothing more to be said on the subject. This is particularly the kind of thing to be avoided in a committee meeting or conference.” (1918, p.7)
You must not let go of your ideas, but at the same time, you must be open for other’s ideas. It is not a matter of one idea being relinquished and another being adopted, but rather “that there has been evolved a composite idea.”(1918, p. 6) Each member of the group must have a true a conviction to their ideas and they must be willing to recognize and respect a similar conviction in their fellow team-mates. It is within this type of group that we begin to create, and what we create is something that is better than anything we could have created alone and separately.
Each group member is different from his or her team-mates, and a group power comes from the integration of these differences, “the only use for my difference is to join it with other differences.”(1918, p. 8) It is this unification within the group that is the source of creation. A solid member of the group is one who has a strong belief in their ideas, willingness to share those ideas and experiences. Shared experience is shared wisdom and it is this shared wisdom that gives the group strength, solidarity and power. It is the leader who is able to integrate this shared wisdom and mould it to form a common purpose. In The Essentials of Leadership, Mary Parker Follett called this, “the invisible leader”. (1933, p. 287)
While she identified certain elements of leadership, Mary Parker Follett also wrote about the elements of group membership. She believed that each member had to be worthy of that membership. In Leader and Expert (1930), she suggests that for leaders to be completely effective and for the group to accomplish their goal, they must have “men whom it is worthwhile to lead.”(p.248) There is a need for competent leaders and a need for competent group members. If either element is missing then we do not have a team, and we cannot create anything.
The final element of group membership is the role members play to help keep the leader in control of a situation. As a member of the group, one has a part of the leadership role, and therefore a sense of responsibility to the group. All must work together, with the leader, to keep the group on the path to the common goal. In this sense, the entire group works as one. The wonder of working in a group is that no one works alone, all labour together. Emerging from all of this is a form of communion and of a “partnership of following”. (Some Discrepancies in Leadership Theory and Practice, 1930, p. 289)
Dr. Carolan McLarney,
Rowe School of Business
Prior to completing her doctorate, Dr. McLarney held management positions in various companies in the hospital, transportation, and consulting sectors. Her research interests include the interface between small businesses and international business strategy, and the use of strategic alliances to garner success. Dr. McLarney explores issues relating to board governance, particularly the use of outside directors.
Yvonne Thevenot says
It is fascinating in business to see the emergence of “Agile” implementation framed as a new concept for organizing structures. Or in change management the idea of “listening posts” or “Ask Me Anything” sessions… This discussion and highlighting key aspects of the work from such a prominent thinker as Mary Parker Follett through the practical today’s language of Dr. McLarney truly demonstrates to me how long it takes for societal change to truly evolve. Thank you for sharing!
I am delighted Cam is highlighting MPF’s work, especially in our current environment where diversity and inclusivity are compelling themes. I believe that Cam’s research and thoughtful approach to the discussion on leadership and, especially membership, will promote a deeper, life-affirming discussions.
Irena Stropnik says
Both MPF’s thoughts and Dr. McLarney’s added insight give so much food for thought in our current day. So many of MPF’s situations and ideas ring true in today’s world. We are in somewhat desperate need of ‘quality men/group members’ and effective leaders to navigate the complexities and challenges of today’s world.
In reading through this post, what struck me most was the importance of quality group members – not only willing to give their best, but the importance that those efforts build and add to the group as a whole. We have to be committed to our own ideas but humble enough to listen to others and see how together we can come up with an even better idea(s). This seems to contradict today’s individualistic society and norms. We are so busy looking out for ourselves and our own interests, that we fail to contribute to the larger society because we believe that if the whole is better, we may somehow have less. Also, judging others seems to be a regular pastime where people aren’t be to show any empathy and/or don’t try to really try to understand a situation from another person’s perspective.
Threaded throughout this blog post is the notion of diversity (of thought, skill, effort, role) and inclusion (that we all must contribute to a better whole). The current business environment seems to understand this importance but I believe, continues to struggle with how to really make his happen – how do we take into consideration everyone’s voice, their perspective, their thoughts – to me the role of the leader is to orchestrate and facilitate this for teams. Whether it’s a common vision or goal, or sometimes even stepping back to let others lead…we have to really consider how we want to function as a society and as business organizations.