George MacLeod is a 92-year-old man who grows grapes and produces award-winning wine. In addition to the inspiration I draw from him as an elder, who has done so much with his life and continues to stay vibrant and alive, enacting his plans and vision for the future, I’m also inspired by his approach to wine making and what it can teach us about leadership. In contrast to so many wine makers who focus on the fermentation process, George focuses on the quality of the grapes.

He carefully nurtures the vine upon which they grow, to maximize conditions so that the grapes can be at their succulent best. Like a gourmet chef, who believes that high quality ingredients are essential to superior taste, he believes that the best grapes make the best wine. His fundamental question about growing wonderful grapes is simply this: Are the vines happy? In other words, his philosophy is, happy vines make delicious grapes, which in turn make extraordinary wine.

This philosophy is profoundly relevant to leadership and creating a conscious and healthy organization. Organizations are significantly effected by the quality of relationships, much like wine and the quality of the grapes. And what causes relationships to flourish? The answer is trust. Trust is at the core of all relationships. Trust is the vine of the relationship, without which everything else breaks down. It’s the glue that holds the relationship together. The quality of that trust determines the quality of the relationship. When trust breaks down, many other things break down too.

Communication suffers, information does not flow well, people tend to contract and withhold, and that often results in a lot of political game playing and self-protective actions. This creates a vicious cycle, which reinforces low levels of trust and negative behavior. So many leaders forget this. They focus solely on their goals at the expense of relationships to get the results they want. They forget that when they use actions that feel manipulative and don’t honor relationships, they damage and erode trust.

They may get the immediate results they want, but the vine of the relationship is weakened. Conscious leaders develop relationships with others. They seek to create bonds born out of mutuality and trust. They know that the stronger and more connected people are in their organizations, the better. Trust is the glue and needs to be built, maintained, and repaired if broken. Leaders would be well served to follow George MacLeod’s guidance and tend to their vines.

Here are some ways to fertilize the soil and water the plant so that the vine of trust becomes healthy:

  1. Tell the truth, always, no matter what. However make sure you balance candor and respect.
  2. Do what you say you are going to do. Keep your promises. Or re-negotiate. Be your word. If you don’t, be willing to take responsibility and apologize.
  3. Care for the well-being of all people involved in your plans or projects.
  4. Don’t take more than you have earned. Go overboard in honoring the contributions of others. Share the responsibility and rewards for success.
  5. Take responsibility for the whole system.