It felt like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s move The Birds. We had spent the night at Michel Schlumberger and were enjoying our morning coffee as we strolled through the vineyard behind the winery, when a sudden rush of wings startled me, making me spill my coffee. We had scared a group of black birds that were hidden among the vines. Once they were airborne, they alternately swooped overhead and dive-bombed the grapes, stopping occasionally to sit on the end posts to observe us as we stood watching them. My favorite pet growing up was a little bird, and I generally love birds. But this was different. “Predators!” I thought. These birds were eating the grapes meant for wine!
As the grapes get heavy with sweet juice just before harvest, danger lurks in the vineyard. It’s practically impossible to completely protect the grapes from birds, but winegrowers use a variety of methods to care for their grapes during this very vulnerable time. Some winegrowers choose the shiny streamer method. This works on the premise that birds are somewhat startled by shiny things that move, so they stay away from the grapes. During summer and leading up to harvest, it’s common to see vineyards that look like they’ve gotten a sprinkling of glitter as their shiny streamers wave in the wind. Other winegrowers choose to “net” the grapes, which is effective but quite labor-intensive. Netting the grapes involves covering the rows and rows of grapes with a green netting that frustrates the birds from landing on and pecking at the grapes. Still other winegrowers prefer to attract natural predators of the birds, thus keeping the birds away altogether! Whatever the method, protecting the grapes is important. Without grapes, there is no harvest, and without harvest, there is no wine – which is, of course, the ultimate goal.
Protecting the grapes is all about preserving the
potential of the harvest.
In our lives and leadership, we must also learn and practice different ways to care for our most valuable resource – people. As leaders, we are responsible to protect those in our care so they can develop to their full potential.
As parents, this is obvious. Especially, when the kids are very young, we protect them from harm and help them grow on so many levels! “Hold my hand when we cross the parking lot... Look both ways before crossing the street.” As they grow, we give increasingly challenging and responsible assignments, such as driving their sister to gymnastics, while continuing to provide a supportive environment such as driver’s training, extra driving practice, encouragement, and trust, so they can succeed and even flourish in the duties assigned to them. This protection helps them arrive at their own full potential as adults.
In the workplace, a good leader is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Knowing these will provide the tools to care well for each team member, and will help create an environment where everyone can flourish and the goals will be accomplished. For example, an introverted team member is required to deliver a presentation to a large group of senior leaders. In order for her to arrive at her full potential, she will need some protection along the way. A leader who is aware of her strengths and weaknesses would know to allow her extra time, training, and even, perhaps, a partner to help her be successful. In this way, the leader has protected and encouraged her to her full ability… and the whole team benefits.
In the vineyard, protecting the grapes from danger allows the grapes to grow to their fullest potential. Extraordinary wine comes from grapes and vines that are carefully tended and nurtured by the wise winemaker. The same can be said of thriving relationships and organizations...the people in them flourish because they are protected and cultivated by a wise leader.
Post script: Sadly, even the wisest of wine growers are impotent against the ravages of fire. In these days, we mourn the loss of so much of the beauty and bounty of wine country.
Interested in more? Inquire about wine-country retreats for leaders where we experience the vineyard and have conversations about principles of leadership that arise from the metaphor.