It is a bright, windy autumn day and my boy and I are down by the water casting with a spinning rod that his grandfather bought for him. He’s only three and with the rod in hand, he whips the lure so rapidly, with an abbreviated arc, that the line becomes snarled in the tall grass that skirts both sides of the small sandy beach. Finally, the reel binds up, and his repeated tugs knot the line.
I open the reel and there is indeed a tangle, what a mess! He sits on the tackle box and watches as I approach the task. I’m thinking, “I guess this is what Dads are for.” I have no faith, no experience at untying knots, particularly when a little boy’s expectations idle next to me.
But I try. I really don’t have another choice, and I don’t want to disappoint him. I gather up the pieces of the reel, the rod with clumps of line and we relocate to a nearby bench. To my amazement, within 10 minutes, I clear the line. I reassemble the reel and he is casting, once again, into the tall grass. Catching a fish does not seem to be the point. I realize, today it is simply about a father and son, undoing knots, moment-to-moment, and moving on together.
As I look back on this and many other similar experiences, I think of the men and women I work with and wonder, “Did they have a parent to guide them?”
I also think of other leaders who we read about in the news and the problems they create in their businesses, the lives of their families, their associates, employees, and stockholders. And I ask myself, “Who stood beside them when they were young; when their messes were simple enough to unravel?” When they were children, teenagers, young adults, did they have anyone who could teach them or guide them? Or, did they simply evolve uninitiated into the demands of adulthood, arriving with the emotional and psychological tools of a child?
I consult with leaders, and through our dialogue, I become their trusted advisor and counsel: I trust in them just the way they are; I listen—and help untangle knots. Through a process of unraveling complex issues and challenging business decisions, I often encounter personal and professional lives so knotted that little light or air separates one thread from the next.
Ironically, I discover that there is a big investment in maintaining this mess because it fends off something deeper, feelings of isolation. Sadly, I realize that these powerful men and women experience themselves as being alone.
I imagine a sign, Gone Fishing that occasionally sits on the vacated desk of these men and women—letting everyone know they are busy spending time with someone who needs their attention or someone who loves them.
Can we, as adults, not solve our dilemma of isolation through the realization that we belong as much in the world of those who love us as we do in a world of our own making? Can we realize that “catching the fish” is no more important than welcoming the opportunity to untangle the knots, together, with someone we love?