Good Diet, Great Leadership

Andrew Weaver
February 6, 2020

Friday afternoon and we conducted a less than rigorous survey amongst the CTO Academy tribe in an effort to decipher the mysterious relationship between healthy eating habits and great leadership, loosely titled, “Wot’s your work diet?

Before you quasi-academics dig deep into our findings, some advance caveats;

  1. It was a very small sample size that we could rustle up in a 20 minute lunchtime window;
  2. It was launched as a result of a heated lunchtime debate about the joy and risks of food grazing;
  3. Despite evidence to the contrary, no-one is on the payroll of Mars, incorporated; and
  4. It’s not a study that’s going to trouble the World Health Organisation but … regardless of all this dear reader, the findings;
Sample Size = 14 
How many hours pd do you work at your desk? Average 8 hours
Primarily office or home based? Office 72%, Home 28%
Eating habits at work are healthy or unhealthy? Healthy 57%, Mixed 28%, Unhealthy 15%
Do you food graze during a working day? No 57% [impressive willpower] Yes 28% [slightly less so]
What are your afternoon munchies of choice? Quite a range of different options … Sweet & Salty Popcorn Percy Pigs Fruit But runaway winner … Maltesers (21%)

Onto the serious stuff … and I’m not suggesting we roll out the Broccoli 

What’s clear is we spend a lot of time sitting at our desks – [note to self, next survey is about posture] but the wider consideration is how diet, nutrition and good health play a crucial part in being effective at work and more specifically, impact the ability to demonstrate great leadership.

Chocolate hob nobs might be delicious, but they’re rarely described as the food of champions.

To perform effectively and consistently in a senior role, you need to take control of eating habits, and that’s aside from the obvious personal benefits around weight, physiology and mental dexterity.

Whatever the pressures, the hours and the opportunity for excuses … Good eating habits are a key pillar of any quest for great leadership.

Healthy eating is also linked to lower rates of depression, which is another not-so-great leadership conundrum. We’ve all had moments when ‘comfort food’ helps us emerge from a difficult day, but when it becomes your 1st food of choice then you might be building up some problems. 

And our mini survey indicates that the mid afternoon crash is often supported by some less than healthy options particularly it seems, the need for a small (or very large) bag of Maltesers!

What we do know is that energy drops are lessened when you’re eating healthily and that green salads, unrefined carbs and whole grains are amongst the food types that help to maintain energy levels.

Rejecting junk food is also key to improving the happiness of your gut and is often directly linked to you feeling a greater bonhomie and happiness with the world. 

Your gut is home to bacteria which act as a 2nd brain, passing signals to your 1st brain. 

Bad diet tends to lead to bad signals.

90% of receptor sites for serotonin, the chemical that makes you feel confident, happy and motivated, are in your gut. Because of this if you keep happy bacteria in your gut (and they can be moody individuals to treat them well) by eating lots of fruit and vegetables then your motivation, energy, performance and ability to lead will be transformed.

When you move from team player to tech leader, the expectations in how you perform and just as importantly, how you’re perceived increase. You are expected to lead by example and diet, health, energy levels and resilience are all part of the leadership cocktail around which your team gains an indication of your values and effectiveness. Never more so than if/when you ever inherit an established team.

A recent article in the WSJ suggested that to be a leader, you need to watch your BMI as “extra pounds and large waists undermine perceptions of leadership ability” and like kids at home, employees attitude and performance is shaped by the culture and energy levels around them.

Hey, we haven’t even started on the direct correlation between energy levels and good sleep.

That’s for another day and another bowl of delicious fruit.

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