As an introvert who tends not to show my emotions, it takes something special to get me excited and passionate to the point where my gorgeous wife Linda says I’ve ‘gone all evangelical’ on the topic. But recently I think I may have!
Over the past 18 months I have been doing a bit of an experiment on myself (Sample size n=1) in respect to a number of elements of my personal wellbeing, health and fitness. Over this time I’ve read many books and blogs on topics related to these areas and applied suggested techniques to my nutrition, sleep and exercise habits. The net result has been nothing short of life-changing for me.
Not only have I lost over 7 kgs. but, more importantly in many respects, I have noticed a positive shift in my level of focus, my energy levels throughout the day and the clarity and openness /positivity of my thinking. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever felt as ‘fit and well’ in body and mind.
My excitement and passion in this area comes not only from the impact the changes have had on my personal wellbeing, but also from a sense that this approach is a significant element that we (and many others in the leadership space) have been missing in the way we have looked to develop leaders over the past 10 – 15 years.
Based on my experience, if we are able to assist leaders to make changes to some of their ‘personal leadership’ habits (such as nutrition and exercise) and this allows them to be clearer in their thinking and more open to receiving new information, this will have a multiplier effect on the other content we provide them with in development courses and coaching. In addition, they are likely to be generally more ‘present’ with their colleagues and team members and therefore better to work with. I’m convinced these are fundamental aspects that can make a significant difference to the performance of leaders.
I realise that there have been many excellent offerings over the past years in the Resilience and Wellness space, some of which cover aspects around these areas. However, my experience is that these tend to be offered as one-off sessions or in isolation from a longer-term intervention with leaders. As a result there is a danger that their impact is short-lived. It is also my personal view that the word ‘Resilience’ in itself has somewhat defensive/negative connotations. A quick Google search for a couple of dictionary definitions would tend to back this up e.g.‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties‘ or ‘ The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change‘. Going for Resilience ‘training’ can be seen as an admission that we are not fully equipped to deal with the stress of working life, so it can perhaps been seen rather negatively and therefore not as a key aspect of a leader’s personal toolkit.
My personal experience of the changes I have noticed causes me to believe that these elements are actually proactive (rather than reactive) tools and approaches that can help leaders to be even more effective than they already are.
I’m not going to say that I’ve got everything cracked because I am still very much a work in progress. However, the impacts have been sustained for long enough now that I know they are not a flash in the pan.
Some of the changes, especially around nutrition have caused me to come up against resistance from the likes of my doctor and counter to Government / Health guidelines about what constitutes a healthy diet. My nutrition is now one of Low Carb Healthy Fat (LCHF) which a number of you may be familiar with. Following this lifestyle (rather than thinking of it as a diet) I cut out the majority of carbohydrates (in particular sugar and refined/starchy carbs like bread, pasta, potatoes etc.) eat a moderate amount of protein (eggs, meat, nuts, dairy) and lots of healthy fats (olive oil; coconut oil; avocados etc.). I eat ‘full fat’ dairy (no low-fat products which are full of sugar to make up for the lack of taste that comes from removing fat); and no vegetable oils or margarine. It’s about eating ‘real’ food that doesn’t come in a box with a list of ingredients the names of many of which we struggle to pronounce, never-mind understand. It’s about shopping for food around the outside aisles of the supermarket.
It’s often the (lots of) ‘full fat’ part that gets people concerned as this approach (like the Atkins diet from the 1990s) is almost totally the opposite of what we’ve been advised to eat by those (supposedly) in the know, for the past 40 years. So changing to eat in this way has required me to challenge some paradigms that I realise have been drilled into me over my lifetime like “Eating bacon and eggs will raise your cholesterol level; eating butter will give you heart disease; you should eat lots of healthy grains” etc.
Being a bit of a researcher about topics that interest me I’ve looked into the science, albeit as an enthusiastic amateur, and when you do that you find out lots of interesting things that some people (Big Pharma and Big Food especially) don’t want you to know. There have been many studies carried out into the efficacy of the LCHF approach and none have shown them to have any negative effect on cholesterol levels or increased heart disease – in fact the opposite! It’s not fat that makes you fat and raises your ‘bad’ cholesterol level, it’s carbohydrates (especially sugar).
My priority over the coming months is to put together a programme that will support the ‘regular’ leadership development work we do to share the latest science around these areas with the leaders we work with and encourage them to adopt some of the practices that have been so successful for me.
By doing so I know they will put themselves in the best possible position to make more effective decisions, maintain energy and balance, enjoy their work more, reduce the likelihood of illness and long-term health issues (including obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease among others) with a resultant positive impact on their own lives, interactions with their work colleagues, family and their organisation.
I’d be very interested to hear from leaders or coaches who have personal experience from adopting this kind of change to their lifestyle, particularly the LCHF aspect as I’m keen to build / connect with a network of successful ‘low carb’ leaders.