Winemaker FocusFirst

It’s January and for winemakers that means pruning time. This is the moment when the scissors are taken in hand and the vine is pruned in the freezing cold in the vineyard. Pruning the vine is a science in itself. Over the year, the individual shoots grow and are then cut back in January so that it is economical. I learn all this from Corinna. She is a fourth-generation vintner in the Rheingau area, Germany. At the moment, out of sheer curiosity, I’m doing a short apprenticeship with her to become a winemaker.

I’m particularly interested in pruning. Why? Because it teaches more about leadership than many leadership courses (yes, and wine tastes good, too).

So what does all this have to do with leadership? Let’s start from the goal backward. The goal of the winemaker is to obtain a good, economical, controllable wine quality. The goal of the process step “pruning” is to cut off as many shoots as possible and to leave only 1-2 shoots. Preferably, these 1-2 shoots are already pointing upwards, because the vine naturally strives towards the light. These 1-2 shoots should be close to the trunk so that the nutrients get into these shoots the fastest, and later into the grapes. This also makes sense: the soil gives a certain amount of nutrients to the vine and eventually to the 1-2 shoots. The remaining cut shoots are chopped and spread on the ground to give more nutrients to those 1-2 selected shoots. Result: quality wine. Above all: controlled quality.

What pruning is in wine, focus is in management. In the end, we get better, controlled quality. Here are the three points I learned from winemakers about pruning.

  1. Focus on 1-2 shoots
    Pruning cuts off everything except 1-2 shoots. How many projects, goals, issues are we juggling simultaneously as leaders? How many of our projects really pay off on the one goal? Do we even have that one goal? Because if not, how will we know which projects are helping us succeed? So step one is to be crystal clear about the one goal we want to achieve. Now let’s assume that this is already the case for us. In the next step, we then take a look at which of our topics really contribute to this one goal. What happens to the other topics? Pruning. The cut topics, however, give again new, stronger energy for the selected, focused topics. We succeed above all with transparent, clear communication in our organization.
  2. Close to the trunk
    The 1-2 shoots should be close to the trunk. Why? So that the nutrients get into these 1-2 shoots faster. Without detour, without wasting nutrients. Transferred to the leadership world: How close are the most important projects to us leaders? We don’t need to lead the projects ourselves, but we must make sure to give enough attention to them; to steer the overall journey. Close, frequent coordination is crucial for success. As leaders, we know that everything we do has an impact. And it has a strong effect as soon as we take a lot of time for the most important 1-2 topics. What quick access to nutrients is for the 1-2 shoots, is our time in the business world. Let’s choose it consciously.
  3. Nutrients and striving to the light
    One thing is essential in the vineyard. The quality of the soil largely determines the quality of the wine. If I spread toxic ingredients on the soil, the vines will die. Ergo, no wine. If I do not care for the soil, then there are too few nutrients in the soil to be passed on to the vines. Ergo no wine or bad wine. Now, however, we have learned that the vine by nature always strives towards the light. Transferred to the leadership world: What can we do so that the culture is not toxic, but gives the energy that we ourselves and our team members need? Because we are all by nature always striving towards the light. I firmly believe that there is not a person in the world who thinks to themselves, “Great, today is Monday – today I want to feel extra bad.” So what can we do as leaders to ensure that our teams have the energy they need to strive toward the light AND that in doing so, we ensure that it reaches a good, economical, manageable quality? With inspiration and a healthy, purposeful culture. Inspiration drives us humans to expend energy on a topic, and if, in addition, the goal is clear: that accelerates the achievement of the goal, and along the way it also brings joy. Joy, is our nutrient to stick with big goals.

However, there is one thing that still needs to be clarified: What would happen if there was no pruning? Well, then these nutrients would go into all the existing and daily new shoots. Result? Uncontrolled growth, much more resources (e.g. water) are needed. The berries become smaller, the skin becomes harder and they taste bitter. It’s quantity rather than quality. Sound familiar? Then you know what to do: Prune. Focus.

Good luck with that and if you need support defining the goal, aligning all the issues, and inspiring the teams, feel free to get in touch at – because that’s what we are specialized in. That’s what we’re good at. That’s what we love.

It’s possible. Stay focused.

Your René Esteban
Founder, CEO of FocusFirst®
Transformation and Change Management Consulting

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