‘Roots and Wings’ is a popular phrase, yet one I only discovered recently. While driving along a country road in the Bruce Peninsula, I saw the phrase on a mailbox sign, and it resonated with me immediately. Two simple yet powerful words that created a flood of thoughts and feelings.
As a parent, I wondered: did I give my children deep roots and broad wings? As a leader, have I fostered both connection and development? As a coach, do I create a safe environment for self-discovery and growth?
While I believe (and hope) I have, I also recognized an opportunity for curiosity, exploration, and reflection. So today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned, and my perspectives on the value of cultivating roots and wings, in others and in ourselves.
From what I can tell, the exact origins of the phrase can’t be traced with certainty. However, it’s clear that the concept has had an impact on many people - some of whom have taken these words and made them their own. One popular version credits a ‘wise woman’ who said “Roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught.”
From my perspective, roots and wings are the greatest gifts we can give to those we’ve been entrusted to lead. Roots provide a deep sense of belonging: an environment where we feel safe, understood and appreciated; a place where we can learn, grow, and try new things. Roots are the building blocks from which we begin to develop and discover our values. Wings are equally important: they are our freedom, and our chance to stretch, explore, and to expand our world (and world views). When we have both of these things, we’re able to experience life more fully, secure in the knowledge that we have what we need within ourselves, as well as a safe landing place.
“Roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught.”
It’s all too easy to focus on the roots and forget about the wings. Helping build roots makes us feel good. It’s comfortable, and safe. It seems tangible, and it’s an active process. Offering wings is riskier. In allowing them to fly, we must step back and confront all the dangers that could arise.
As parents and as leaders, we need to become comfortable with allowing others to fail. We have the best intentions: we want to spare them the pain we’ve experienced in our own lives, so we step in to help. And, truthfully, sometimes we’re trying to spare ourselves the pain of watching them suffer. Yet In doing so, we rob them of the opportunity to learn, thereby preventing them from building resilience. And resilience is an essential skill within our society! Let’s be clear - it’s not about setting people up to fail. It’s about creating a safe environment for exploration and discovery, and letting people find their own way of doing things. It’s about providing right-sized opportunities, so they can figure out how to bounce back from failure before the stakes become too high. I believe that our greatest successes are built on a foundation of all our prior failures, and the lessons we learned from them.
In a corporate setting, fostering a ‘roots and wings’ culture can be about offering professional development, as well as chances to explore new concepts and ideas. It can show up in collaborative work environments, creative brainstorming sessions, and in the distribution of responsibilities and opportunities.
Remember that while some ideas may flop, that’s an important part of figuring out how to soar to new heights.
And what can we do as individuals? Can we grow our own ‘roots and wings’?
Absolutely. In fact, I think taking ownership of our own roots and wings can be incredibly empowering!
Here are some steps you can consider exploring:
To start, build yourself a strong foundation based on self-awareness. Become better acquainted with your internal values system, and notice how you feel when you act in accordance with - or in opposition to - your values. In doing so, you’ll learn to trust yourself, which can help you to grow more resilient! And don’t forget the importance of both self-care, and self compassion.
At the same time, I encourage you to consciously cultivate a strong network. If you don’t have one in place, join a professional group, find a mentor, or take on a mentorship role yourself. Try a new activity, or volunteer for a cause you believe in. These can be great jumping off points for building a support system where you can turn for help, as well as being of assistance to others. In doing so, you’ll have created roots within yourself, and within your community.
From there, ask yourself: where do you feel called to spread your wings? Are there opportunities you’ve always dreamed of pursuing, or new ideas you’d like to explore? Think about what’s important to you - what you value - and fly in that direction. There might be the occasional tumble or bout of turbulence, but hopefully you’ll be able to navigate that more easily, having developed a foundation of confidence and self-awareness.
Whether you’re helping foster the development of roots and wings for others, or for yourself, remember that this is an ongoing, ever-evolving process. Celebrate that there is always room for growth; for deeper roots and broader wings.