Peter Drucker is revered by many as the father of modern management. Towards the end of his life, as a prominent guru of organizational and leadership development, Drucker was asked, who were his gurus?
He replied: “There is only one. Mary Parker Follet.” Most people were surprised because they had never heard of her.
Drucker called her the Prophet of Management. The strange thing was that over the past 100 years none of the Business Schools, major consulting firms, leadership articles or books had made any reference to her.
Mary Parker Follet laid the foundation of the modern work systems we call “Lean” and “Agile”.
Mary Parker was not recognised because as a female thought-leader in the 1920’s, she was ahead of her time, her thinking was considered too radical and she was dismissed due to her gender. This was a time when even the tellers in the banks could only be men. Women were only allowed to work in the “back office” – out of sight and sound. And here was a woman who was providing a viable alternative to patriarchal organizations and institutions.
The sad irony is that all of her pioneering work on situational leadership, win-win negotiations, self-directed work teams, servant leadership, true agility, lean thinking, followership and the humanization of work has been published by over the years by men who built their reputations and fortunes by taking credit for her thinking, with no acknowledgement of her contribution.
Here is Mary Parker’s fundamental question: How do you define leadership?.
Everything we do, think and decide follows the answer of this crucial question.
Before you read further, take a minute. What is your answer to this important question?
Your answer to this question defines the kind of leader you are or can be.
Here is how Mary Parker defined Leadership:
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 leaders.
Mary Parker Follet
Mary Parker distinguished coactive leadership from coercive leadership.
Coercive Leadership is about taking control OVER people and doing things TO people.
Coercive Leadership is caught up in top-down and bottom up thinking . Coercive Leadership is consumed with who is “above” you and who is “below” you?
Coercive Leadership is about dominance and subservience. It reduces people and the organization into machines and parts that can be programmed and controlled. Culture is reduced to artifacts.
Change Management is all about running “programs”.
Having the best talent in the market is not enough if the system is coercive.
Coactive Leadership is about being WITH people and working THROUGH others.
Coactive Leadership is engaged in reciprocal relationships.
Coactive Leaders create conscious organizations.
Coactive Leaders apply the belief: “Always With, Never To”.
Coactive Leadership is the essence of lean thinking, true agility, digital transformation and sustainable culture change.
Organizations are living systems. Like the organs in our body, organizations are organisms, they are nurtured in a positive environment. They are not machines to be programmed and controlled.
There are seven principles that distinguish a humane organization from a patriarchal industrial organisation.
1. DISRUPTION – In Conscious Organisations, disruption is not an accident or a punishment. Disruption is the Way of Nature, an opportunity to listen, learn, adapt continuously. They do not get hung up on past successes. They continuously co-create the future with each other, by moving into the beyond, through uncertainty and ambiguity.
2. SYNCHRONOUS – Conscious Organisations are defined by the depth of their alignment and collaboration. They align all processes and systems, upstream, downstream and across all disciplines through the voice of the customer or communities being served.
3. VALUES – A Conscious Organisation is crystal clear about what matters. What it stands for. Why it exists. Its ethos. Values are not statements on the wall. Values are the operating system. Values are a call to action.
4. FOCUS – Conscious Organisations is clear about who needs to do what, by when. The organization has a clear and compelling shared vision. Goals are renewed through Sprints. Metrics are visual. Everyone knows how they contribute to the success of others and what the need from others to succeed.
5. DIVERSITY – Conscious Organisations draw strength from differences and creative conflicts. They see beyond their own assumptions and beliefs. They co-create the future by being coactive, working through each others strengths and supporting each other through each others failures and vulnerabilities.
6. SCALE – Conscious Organisations align what needs to be achieved by the whole with the work that takes place in the parts. The organization is an intelligent living system of continuous, constructive feedback loops. We call this the leadership capacity of: “zooming in and zooming out”.
7. TRANSPARENCY – Conscious Organisations hold authentic conversations. They are defined by radical care. There are no secrets or personal agendas. There is a bond of trust and respect within and across every group.