The Teacher and the Student

What can the evolutionary nature of the relationship between Parent and Child teach us about becoming more progressive leaders?

For years, the relationship between a parent and a child embodies a definitive structure with a linear, top-to-bottom direction of authority, as between Teacher and Student.

However, as the youth grows into adulthood, the relationship between Parent and Child thus evolves into a more symbiotic one wherein both Parent and Child share the roles of teacher and student.

Similarly, with time, progressive leaders realize and embrace the natural development of a reciprocal relationship between Leader and Follower — as with superior and subordinate, and much like teacher and student — which ultimately benefits both parties for it nurtures creative problem solving and stronger development and implementation of ideas.

Parenthood: The Teacher and the Student

Whether we are parents, guardians or simply some form of role model, as adults we instinctively take up the mantle of “teacher” with children. Children naturally assume the roles of pupils. As teachers, our jobs are to instruct them and to educate them. The direction of the teacher’s authority is linear and only goes in one direction: from top to bottom. The pupil is thus obliged to respect the authority, instruction and direction of the teacher. The teacher-student relationship between parent and child will, in many ways, never cease, even as the youth grows into adulthood.

However, and at the very least, the lines that define the power structure between Teacher and Student become less rigid and less apparent as the teacher and student begin to ultimately embrace a relationship of symbiosis in mutual adulthood: the nature of between instructor and pupil evolves.

Although the literal, physical relationship between Parent and Child never changes, as a youth grows into adulthood the Parent ultimately concedes the sovereign authority that he or she once commanded over the Child. The concession is a sign of respect. The evolution of the Parent-Child relationship benefits both parties, too: when both the parent and the youth can share the roles of Teacher and Student, they both undoubtedly benefit by sharing and learning from each other. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one.”

Rethinking the Leader and the Follower

The conventional relationship between Leader and Follower mimics the power structure of Teacher and Pupil: it is linear, top-to-bottom, and rigid. Whereas the nature of the relationship between Parent and Child naturally evolves when the youth grows into adulthood thanks to the passing of time, time does not necessarily preclude conventional Leaders to embrace the notion of conceding his or her power.

However, they should. While the passing of time does not elevate the Follower to a level of shared authority and respect like it does to a Child, the passing of time will certainly age the Leader to his or her ultimate demise; in other words, no Leader can retain power forever, because, obviously, each of us is merely a mortal!

Thus, the passing of time will necessarily affect the nature of the relationship between Leader and Follower. As such, if leaders are truly invested in the longevity and ultimate success of their organization after they are gone, leaders should willfully embrace the evolutionary nature of the relationship between a parent and youth.

When the traditional role of leadership mimics the evolution of the relationship between Parent and Child, the leader, his or her followers, and the organization as a whole each benefit greatly. When the Leader and the Follower assume a shared, cooperative experience wherein they both embody the roles of Teacher and Pupil, one learns from the other and vice versa, and for the sake of the greater goals at hand. Conversely, leaders are merely striving to retain a fleeting sense of power that cannot ever be controlled, for the passing of time is forever beyond our control.

  • If you are a leader, do you embrace a mutual, co-beneficial relationship with your subordinates? Why or why not?
  • Can the evolutionary nature of the relationship between Parent and Child be applied to other facets of leadership?
  • In what specific ways can this alternative concept of leadership benefit the leader, the followers, and the organization as a whole?

I look forward to reading your thoughts and feedback!

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