For the last three years, I have been coaching a wicked-smart, millennial winemaker and G2 winery owner – let’s call him Mark to give him a face. Lately, Mark and I have been working on how to build effective teams during high-stress, high-change periods, such as this super challenging 2019 harvest.  

His story is relatable because so many leaders get stuck in the same old behaviors, getting the same old results from their teams.  This time, Mark was able to shift his leadership routine and reap material benefits such as a happier and more productive crew during a really gritty harvest, while also achieving his personal goal of working less hours. 

CASE STUDY: Post founder stage, this young owner has been building his own team, introducing cultural and winemaking concepts that differ markedly from his father’s.  As Mark has tried to make change happen in his company, he has had to address some classic millennial leadership challenges. Principally, how to deliver results through people: many more experienced, representing the old guard; and others, younger – more aligned with his values and philosophies. 

PROBLEMS/CHALLENGES: Earlier this year, members of Mark’s team started to rebel against his new ideas:  many were acting disenfranchised, coming late to work, leaving early, communicating very little during team meetups, complaining about others on the team.  To make up for his team’s slack, this young CEO was working harder than ever, while feeling like his team was following him with less and less momentum.   

Well into his journey as a change agent, Mark hit the wall with a major health incident that forced him to reevaluate personal and professional priorities.  He simply could no longer work 70-80 hours/week and do it all.   

APPROACH: Just before harvest, Mark had hired a couple, super strong, new production team members. As such, he was ready and able to start delegating some of his tasks to these new employees and practice some new, positive routines that would engage his managers more, and enable them to become leaders rather than followers. This young CEO was learning to control less and delegate more. Sound familiar?  He had assigned one winemaker to lead Chardonnay program decisions and the other to lead Pinot Noir program decisions.  

We talked about how he needed to DO less and make room to lead more, even though doing less moved him further away from being an individual contributor in the cellar, a role he clearly relished.  ‘Leading more’ required Mark to be more available to organize schedules, actively listen to and mentor members of his team. Properly executed, these new routines would allow team members to self-actualize by learning new skills faster (through doing and failing faster). More on this below.         

Entering harvest, he encountered a BIG DILEMNA which he needed to resolve:  Mark felt he had passed on a lot of his role to these new team members, but didn’t feel comfortable enough to walk away from everything yet. At the same time his managers were still asking him: ‘Why not delegate more to them? Why was he still DOing so much and how he could possibly get everything done on his own?     

  1. When I asked about his team’s demeanor, he responded:  they appear to be burned out and stressed, which is why he felt he had to Do more.
  2. When asked why they were acting this way, he felt he didn’t trust them to do the job well; they needed training and he had to still be in the trenches showing people how to do things.    

As Mark’s coach, I knew this was a learning moment so I asked Mark to name his fear. He shared his fear of losing control: ‘things not getting done the way he wanted them done and being perceived as not being in control’. We talked about the impact of Mark’s fears on his team and what to do about this. Here is what we learned:    

  1. His inability to trust his people to take on new tasks was THE main reason for his team’s stress: they knew he didn’t have confidence in them!
  2. And, they didn’t feel like they were learning by watching Mark do their work: people learn most through doing, NOT through watching!    

Once Mark understood the impact of his fears, he admitted that it was easier on him to resort to old behaviors, when under stress: showing people how to do things (his old routine). He also understood that by doing this, he didn’t have enough bandwidth to do his job as a leader: to organize schedules and provide feedback loops to his team on their new learnings.    

With this new awareness, he was ready to stop trying to control everything. So we started to experiment with essential steps for letting go of old ruts. See sidebar: How to stop trying to control everything and just let go!    

RESULTS:  Mark has increasingly achieved better results with his team by practicing new leadership behaviors and creating new routines. Here are examples of new routines that worked for Mark and his production team. Also see sidebar: Lessons learned.  

  1. He hired the right people AND did a great job delegating and organizing schedules. 
    • Mark learned that the activities that energized him as an individual contributor in the cellar are different than the activities he now values as a successful leader. 
  2. His team is feeling more empowered to problem solve and more successful functioning as leaders themselves.
    • Mark invested heavily in his team through mentoring more: helping his managers take lessons and adjust from mistakes.  He became more TRUSTing of this team, and was able to be more compassionate and less judgmental when they failed.  

In summary, because of the speed of change, it is impossible to lead a growing organization unless you are continuing to develop as a leader. Effective coaches enable leaders to access the motivation they need to accelerate their performance, re-engage teams, and fuel project-specific and company-wide success. Call Deborah Steinthal at Scion Advisors to find out how executive and business coaching can help you grow your impact – engaging people, igniting change, inspiring action and leaving a lasting legacy for a better world.  

How to stop trying to control everything and just let go.
  1. ASK: What will you lose from letting go? Letting go of control is not the same as losing control. 
  2. Understand why you want to control. Most people want control because of fear.
  3. Let go of the small things first.
  4. Leave room for surprises, mistakes or unpredictable events. Include space in your daily schedule and to plan for mistakes.
  5. Manage or let go of your expectations. There’s a risk of disappointment in every expectation.
  6. Be willing to change. People who want to control everything are very willing to change others and their circumstances, but not so willing to change themselves. Realize that the person who needs change the most is yourself. 
  7. Surrender to life. Only control what you can control. 
  1. During stress periods, more structure is needed, not less: if informal meetings are working, learn how to formalize these without creating too much structure. 
    • ASK your team: What do need you from me? What are your questions? What are you concerns? What did we learn? What do you think
    • Stop answering your own *damn* questions: create white space.
    • Use all forms of communications: verbal and written; digital text/email/Slack; and physical/white boards.
  2. Delegate jobs to the right people: people perform better and are more engaged in roles where they feel they are employing their best skills, so delegating proper functions that suit each will have a significant impact on the productivity of the team.
  3. When delegating, be super organized and specific – don’t just walk away: set goals, parameters and timelines for deliverables.
    • Ask your team how they intend to achieve their goals: listen hard and be a mentor/sounding board.
    • Check in weekly on progress and provide guidance/feedback loops (don’t wait until after due date).
    • Take time to write down your task list: don’t assume because it is in your head that others know what you are expecting from them. 
    • Use Waterfall communications: send weekly tasks to to your key leaders. Let them communicate directly with everyone on their teams. 
  4. Be a good model of what you are asking your team to do:  do what you say you are going to do.
    • Never cancel weekly meetings. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Deborah Steinthal is Founder and Managing Director of Scion Advisors, a leading boutique, strategy consulting firm serving the U.S. wine industry. With a proven approach enabling business owners to position for profitable growth or for exit, she has worked alongside over 150 winery owners and CEOs; and has moderated over 80 Winery CEO Roundtables involving more than 50 top wine industry CEOs for over a decade. Deborah’s expertise is in the area of business growth strategy, family business transformation, and board and leadership development.

Based out of McMinnville, Oregon; born in Lima, Peru; raised in Belgium and Germany; Deborah has lived, worked and travelled globally. She is broadly published in the national business press, an invited speaker, panelist and widely quoted for research on key practices, such as such as How to Build a Pull Brand, Digital Commerce and Family Business Transition.

For more information call Deborah Steinthal at 707.246.6830.

Among her clients: Bledsoe Family Estates (Doubleback, Bledsoe family Wines, Bledsoe-McDaniels), Cristom Vineyards, Adelsheim Vineyard, Wine by Joe, DeLille Cellars, Woodward Canyon Winery, OVS, Willakenzie, Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, Patz & Hall Winery, Benziger Family Vineyards, Calera Wine Company, Delicato Family VIneyards, Cakebread, Spottswoode, Gundlach Bundschu, Luna Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Quail’s Gate Winery, Wente, J. Lohr, Choice Lunch,
 Cowgirl Creamery, 
Easton Malloy 
(producers of Peppermint Bark for Williams-Sonoma)
, and McEvoy Ranch.

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