My Mother always told me that the greatest gifts you can give your children are roots and wings – roots to remind you where you’re from and wings to show you what you can become. I believe these are the keys to unlocking what makes each of us unique and delivering what we have to offer. I also believe that roots and wings are the essence of leadership and that finding balance between them is what makes a truly great leader successful.
It’s appropriate that it’s Mother’s Day as I write this, and that I do so wrapped in the warmth of my just-15-year-old son’s hand-me-down hoodie. Leadership and parenting are not dissimilar; both being a complex juggling act between encouragement and guidance, driving and allowing, inspiring and supporting, providing both the fuel with which to adventure outwards and the safe, steady place of replenishment to return to when needed.
Leadership provides the basecamp from which to launch, the map with which to navigate, and an idea of the destination to aim at. Leadership must then allow those inspired to undertake the journey to spread their wings and navigate that journey as it comes, learning their own lessons and implementing their own decisions as they go – allowing trial and error as there is some knowledge that can only come from first-hand experience.
When we look at the need for both roots and wings, we can understand the importance of the foundation that leadership sets. This foundation is the solid, non-negotiable safe haven that doesn’t shake no matter what may be encountered along the way. It’s the go-to thing we know for certain in moments when everything else seems unclear.
How we set that foundation in business is no different to how we set it in a family. It requires us to first have self-determined what’s important to us. What we value, how we operate; what we will accept and what we will not. Effectively, to have determined who we are and what we stand for, and which guiding principles we are prepared to uphold and represent. Whether as a family, an individual, a business leader or a team – this foundation is set by understanding our value system and articulating it to those who need to operate within and from our basecamp and with our guidance. This is the importance of knowing what your personal value system looks like, and setting an agreed-upon baseline for yourself, your family and your team. This foundation cannot be strong if it is vague. It must be defined, articulated, discussed and walked around in.
Once determined, these guiding principles become our compass. They help us identify why one decision feels right and another doesn’t; why someone fits with our team and why someone may not; what principles we’d like to live loudly to attract others of a similar belief system who value what we value. These principles help us navigate the changing terrain we encounter as we venture outwards so that we can make consistent decisions with certainty regardless of what we might face. Knowing these things for sure gives us the confidence to spread our wings and adventure.
Setting this foundation from which to venture out, and the guiding principles with which to navigate is not the full picture. Leadership must also set an idea of what to aim at – a longer-sighted high-level view of the pinnacle or destination – and identify the checkpoints along the way. Without this, our team members may wander around aimlessly using up their precious energy without gaining the replenishing satisfaction that measured progression provides. This is commonly referred to as setting a vision or goal, allowing the energy we’ve gathered to be channeled towards an agreed outcome, regardless of how much the course may change along the way. Setting a clear high-level picture provides inspiration and direction whilst still giving license to however individuals may choose to travel towards that outcome. One of the hardest parts of leadership (and parenting in my experience so far) is then returning your focus to maintaining the basecamp with the faith that those who venture out will find their own way. Micromanaging their journey neither allows them to learn and grow, nor you to maintain the solid foundation to which they will need to return to regather themselves.
If this theory interests you, there are two things that must be remembered often. The first is that you can lead from any position. The second is that you must practice self-leadership first before you can lead others. You must know what your foundation and guiding principles look like before you can communicate them to others and offer them as a basecamp. Before we embark on anything worth undertaking, we must know first what our roots are. We must know what grounds us, and from where we draw our sustenance. Then, we must look up to be inspired by where our wings may take us, knowing always that we have built a solid foundation to return to, and that we have guiding principles with which to navigate. We must do these things for ourselves before we can provide a solid foundation from which others may spread their wings.
by Christen Killick
May 10th, 2021