May 11


Leadership Lessons from the Vineyards

By Sara Canaday

May 11, 2023

business leaders, leadership, leadership skills, professional success

Last month, I had the immense pleasure of taking my daughter to Napa Valley for her 21st birthday. What better place to celebrate than the heart of California’s wine country? As we sat on a patio and sipped a luscious Cabernet, I had an epiphany: Wine-making is a lot like leadership. (And no, that wasn’t just the wine talking!) I’ll explain.

During each of our tastings, the winemakers spoke extensively about the dedication and care that goes into creating their “liquid gold.” In fact, I was surprised at how many times the vineyards were touched and tended to before the harvest. They also described how each of their vineyards feature a unique blend of environmental factors that influence the flavor of their grapes. Think weather, soil type, slope, and altitude.

In the business world, every organization has a distinct corporate culture that defines its taste (figuratively, of course).  Leaders use various “touchpoints” to convey and affirm their organizations’ unique values and guiding principles. And just like identifying the proper terrain for a variety of grapes, effective leaders curate the right blend of people who embody the values that will sustain a thriving culture with admirable outcomes.

Long after my Cabernet glass was empty, I was convinced there are valuable lessons to be learned from the vineyards. So, let’s explore how the art of wine-making can inspire some effective leadership strategies:

1.     Position yourself as both the creator and caretaker of your corporate culture.

Winemakers don’t just grow the grapes. They harvest them, crush and press them, ferment them, clarify them, and allow them to age. Ensuring quality at every stage of the process is what leads to award-winning wines.

Leaders have the opportunity to function as “Mother Nature,” actively shaping their organizations’ cultures by defining core values, setting expectations, and modeling desired behaviors. But they must also be caretakers of the culture, continually messaging its purpose and nurturing it to ensure it remains healthy and robust.  For more on how leaders influence company culture check out my previous post here.

2.     Understand the unique characteristics of your team.

Just as each winemaker leverages the exclusive environment of their own vineyards (the “terroir”), you have an opportunity to rely on the strengths of your people. Look closely at the members of your team. Are there distinctive traits that can give your company or team an advantage? What is in the DNA of your people? Are they naturally action-oriented, enterprising, or data driven? When you have a clear picture of your human-centered “vineyard,” you can create a strong culture and a productive foundation for growth.

3.     Match the right people to the right roles.

Similar to how grape varieties thrive in specific environments, people perform best when their skills, passions, and strengths align with their roles. Leaders should strive to place employees in positions where they can shine and make the greatest impact. Finding those perfect matches will consistently contribute to a positive culture and the success of your organization.

I never would have guessed that wine-making could teach us lessons about leadership, but the parallels are fascinating. Let’s all raise a glass to cultivating a vibrant corporate culture where teams and employees can truly flourish.

Until next time,

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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