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Mary Follett's nowhere man: the leadership of "Everyman"

By Nanette Monin and Ralph Bathurst


Paper presented at the Conference of Practical Criticism in the Managerial Social Sciences, Leicester University Management School, January 15th-17th, 2008.Mary Parker Follett wrote on business administration almost a century ago. Leading\ud management scholars today generally agree that although often invoked and lauded her work has never been widely read or discussed. Our paper argues that it should be. Our close reading of ‘The Essentials of Leadership’ demonstrates that Follett’s ideas about leadership are not only seminal to current leadership theory, but are also more complex than readings to date have acknowledged.\ud Follett argues that the primary responsibility of leadership is to discover the sense-making thread that structures understanding of the ‘total situation’, establish the ‘common purpose’ that emerges from this, and by leading, ‘anticipating’, make the next situation. But paradoxically, because time ensures that the situation is always transitory, it is always finally\ud unknowable to the sense-maker. Leadership entails working with limited understandings.\ud Reworking these abstractions, Follett also argues that leading and following are not\ud antithetical because both should be lead by common purpose. Her arguments subvert the word ‘leader’, for her text ultimately suggests that a leader is ‘Everyman’

Year: 2008
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