Little Boy Lost

None of us would be here without a dad (and a mom, but they already had their day…), however, many people grow up without a father. Father’s Day was founded in 1910 to celebrate fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. It didn’t become a national holiday until President Richard Nixon signed it into law on April 24, 1972.

Around 1791, William Blake, a British artist and poet, penned “Little Boy Lost” as part of a larger poetic children’s book named Songs of Innocence.

“Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost…”

Interestingly, the Greek word for father, patéras, carries with it the connotation of one who knows and speaks the truth. Fathers aren’t considered just the progenitor and provider; they are also the guide and teacher. This was certainly true in my life. My father (and both my grandfathers) took the time to teach me not only what they were doing but why.

There have been times in history when this concept of father as the source of truth has been lost. It is not enough for a father to put food on the table, clothes on one’s back, and a roof over one’s head. Fathers have an intrinsic responsibility to lead their children into truth and understanding.

Leaders have a similar responsibility. It is not leadership to simply provide someone a job with a wage and some benefits. That’s simply employment, and at that level you are simply an employer. Just as there are many men who are dads and not fathers, there are many places people work where they do not have leadership—just employment.

For us to be able to call ourselves leaders, we must go beyond simply providing; we must guide. While the people we lead are not children, the principles of good leadership apply equally well to leaders and fathers.

Actions speak louder than words. You can talk all you want, but people notice what you do. Not only are your actions more impactful than your words, but if your actions and your words do not match, both are discounted as hypocrisy. It is much more critical for you to live the truth than to say it.

Humility is a much better teacher than pride. My father always said, “Sharing our successes builds walls. Sharing our failures builds bridges.” Failing to acknowledge and own your mistakes is another form of hypocrisy. People know you aren’t perfect (they don’t need you to be). They need you to be open to learning and growing from your mistakes, just as you expect them to be.

Responsibility is not the same as control. As a leader, you are responsible for the people you lead. You have a duty to make a difference in their lives. You have a responsibility to give them a vision and help them grow in their ability to achieve your, and their, goals. However, you cannot control them.

My father is not perfect. I suspect yours isn’t either. He did show by his actions the character he consistently displayed throughout his life. He was, and is, a humble man who will readily share his failures if it will help someone else avoid the same mistake. He struggled, as we all do, with trying to control the outcome, but he always took responsibility, regardless. My dad is a good father.

I want to be the kind of father and leader who guides the people I am responsible for toward their best life. I don’t want them to be lost. Whether you are a leader or a father, or both, your actions will tell others who you really are. Your effectiveness will be limited by your level of pride and enhanced by your level of humility. You will not be able to control the outcome, but you must accept the responsibility just the same. If you do, you will be a good leader (or father), and that is the Bison Way.