Spanish Red Wine and the Entrepreneur

What I learned from drinking Spanish red wine (a Rioja if my memory serves correctly) is that it’s best not to mix vintages.

It’s been on my mind a lot recently, perhaps because I’m in the middle of my MBA and taking Entrepreneurship right now, but a key success factor for entrepreneurs is having the right people around them at the right time. An organization is no different. You need the right blend of styles and skill sets on a project or team to ensure everything gets done on time while generating a profit. The counterpoint that some will take is; “Well people have to learn to work together!

Yes, you can force individuals to work together by giving low performance ratings and other draconian means but at what cost? What if you are stifling one of your “best and brightest,” forcing them to conform and  to “get along” when a change – although possibly inconvenient – would allow you to leverage the full value both individuals bring? Just putting the idea out there…it’s a new way of looking at the situation and thinking outside of the traditional box of “comply or die!”.

“Just as it’s best not to mix vintages, it’s best not to mix personalities that blatantly clash. As coworkers guardedly tap dance around each other, waiting for the other to strike, work piles up and customers are neglected.”

The Story
It was a sweltering hot night in Puerto Rico and the “Father of the local Ford dealership cartel” (I’m joking… well, kind of…), Jorge, was trying to educate us Gringo’s on the differences between the various types of Spanish red wine that were available and what made each so special. Jorge was the leader in my mind. He owned two dealerships and had a knack for choosing just the right wine at dinner. We were at a group dinner that evening and I was the top dog from a status perspective from the factory (as always, we were there to “help” our dealer partners). As was customary, I ordered a nice bottle of Spanish red for the group to go with dinner. It was moderately priced, perhaps $17 back in 2001. As dinner progressed we became more intrigued about the description of why some Spanish reds were so superior to others. I threw caution, and the fear of facing our Finance staff when I turned in my expense report, to the wind and challenged Jorge. “So, what would you have selected if there were no limits?” He looked me down and returned the challenge by giving the vintage and dollar amount, about $75 dollar a bottle.

I looked back at him and said “Order it. Let’s see why this is so special.” He accepted the challenge and we quickly had our new bottle of wine to sample. My coworkers were looking at me with varying degrees of respect and horror. I could hear them thinking everything from; “she’ll never get this one paid for” to “at least someone has balls around here”. As the waiter made his way around the table, I must have inadvertently moved my hand in what was a “go ahead” sign and he began filling my glass with wine. It was like watching a car wreck that you have no way of avoiding. The most lovely, pure Spanish red was being commingled with the moderate wine that I had not finished drinking before my glass was refilled. My eyes wide with horror, I knew there was nothing to do but bluff my way through this debacle.

As I had been taught, I swirled the glass while carefully holding the stem and watching for “legs,” the more the better according to wine aficionados and took a small sip. I looked up at my colleagues and said, “Not bad for a $40 bottle of wine.” I like to remember the incident as though we all laughed together and overlooked my horrific faux pas, that I hadn’t been looked at with varying degrees of sympathy for not understanding what the waiter was looking for when he reached my chair. I didn’t get to taste the beauty or bouquet of that high priced wine that evening but I’ve always wondered what it would have been like, if I just hadn’t accidentally waved my hand that night.

Practical Applications In class the other day, we were talking about the difficult personalities that employees with an entrepreneurial streak can bring to an organization. My classmate, Kinglsey, made this post: “Entrepreneurs are transformational (not transactional) leaders and can be good managers/employees when the situation is right. Entrepreneurs are great if they are managed correctly. You wouldn’t tell Mike Tyson that he needs to start with 2 left jabs then a right cross before backing out and repeating two more before starting combination #24. You would just tell him, “Go out there and knock ‘em out.” There is a fine art in managing an entrepreneur- you must give them the freedom to find their own way yet make sure that they know where you want them to go. If you need a transactional leader, and likewise a transactional manager, it is best not to hire an entrepreneur for the job.”  I think Kingsley nailed the point home perfectly. Just as I don’t recommend mixing two significantly different bottles of Spanish red, I don’t recommend putting the wrong personalities together in a work setting. An entrepreneur working for a micromanager is a disaster in the making.

As leaders in organizations, it is incumbent on us to take the time to place the right people in the right positions. It is not always easy, especially now when resources are scarce. But just as I never fully experienced that $75 bottle of Spanish red, an employer will not experience the full potential, that unique bouquet from the individual employee, if they put them in the wrong position. They will get a diluted, not so satisfactory experience for both sides. Depending on manager and employee maturity and experience levels, the wrong combination can be toxic. Results can include horrifying HR intervention steps that could have been avoided at the outset. Taking time to understand up front what the employee skill and personality sets are, and what they can become when blended with other employees, is critical when seeking to fill positions in today’s economy. Ensuring the right people are in the right positions leads to optimal outcomes for both employee and employer. Hire in haste; repent in leisure.

Full disclosure:  I started B-school with the intention of completing my MBA but 3 moves in 4 1/2 years, while working, was more than I could manage and I didn’t submit my dissertation in time to get credit.  Completing the coursework let me receive a Postgraduate Diploma instead of an MBA.  Just want to make sure my digital profiles match 🙂
Disclaimer: All insights and opinions are my own and have been formed over many years of practical business and personal experiences; as both an employee and a business owner. They do not represent the views of  my current employer. MM