To Lead Well, Eat Well

Eric Ho
Table of Contents
Glen Etive, Highlands, Scotland

If you want to build strong, deep connections as a leader you need to eat well. 

As a shy introvert, it took me longer than most to realise that creating a connection with others is key to being a great leader. But it took me even longer to realise that when we pay attention to what we eat by giving our brain the right fuel:

  1. we can power through the day with the effortless grace of a swan; and
  2. the skills we learn in leadership training programmes finally become useful – in high-stakes situations when it really counts.

Diet is a controversial topic: I almost got my head bitten off in a chat room this week for suggesting what we eat transforms our lifespan and health span: the quality of our years is as important as the number of them.

I’m not here to convert you. I’m here to share an insight about how you could transform your relationships at work, and at home. So, I invite you to look for insight, rather than agreement.

Connection is reflection

Connection is about how we show up in the world.

It’s how we create a sense of belonging, of togetherness, of feeling part of a tribe. Particularly if we’re leading a team.

At work, you might experience that internal effervescence of being part of a close-knit, “we can do anything” team.

At home, it could be feeling supported and loved when you’ve had a hard day at work.

At a deeper level, creating connection is about the evolutionary purpose of our emotions: we attract what we reflect.

The professionals and entrepreneurs I coach sometimes turn up with a leadership dilemma they’ve been regurgitating over and over. They’re at the edge of a precipice, frozen with fear about what path to take next. When we look back at the end of our conversation, they usually say that they “feel much calmer”.

When we’re with another human being our brain’s mirror neurons are activated, and they enable us to mirror someone else’s emotions and state of being. So, if the person in front of us is calm, our mirror neurons trigger our endocrine systems to tune in to the calmness of that person, and release hormones that induce that calm in us.

Isn’t that amazing?  The connection we create is a reflection of ourselves

Smile, and someone is more likely to smile. 

Shout, and someone else is more likely to shout back.

Beyond the conversation with a client, the way I show up with a calm presence can influence what my client feels.

THAT is connection.

So what impacts most how we show up in the world?

It’s what we eat.

The way you eat is the way you connect

An Oreo Cow, Wrynose Pass, Lake District National Park

Have you woken up on the wrong side of your bed and found yourself shouting at your team during the day? Or have you arrived at home and slumped on the sofa, rather than having a conversation with your loved ones – because you’re “spent”?

Before I paid attention to food, I would wake up with brain fog and lethargy, blaming it all on a late night at work. My afternoons slumped over my desk felt like endless days of jet lag without the travel. Once, I even fell asleep during a conference call sitting in the same room as my boss! 

Talk about lack of connection!

Each of us is a complicated chain of finely balanced chemical reactions. 

So when we stuff ourselves with “food” that is inflammatory and lacking in nutrients (think: a supermarket item which has more than five ingredients listed), we show up at work and get snappy. When we arrive at home we snap at everyone there, too. Or, we’re too tired to even care. 

Our modern lifestyles set the stage for brain inflammation – caused especially by the three biggest sources that are the root cause behind our modern-day diseases:  industrial seed oils, processed sugar, and refined carbohydrates. That includes that delicious-looking glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

More about those sources of inflammation – and what you can do about it – in a later article!

When my head jolted forward interrupting my mid-conference call snooze, what I was experiencing was the crash after a lunch filled with more carbohydrates than my body needed. I used to consume fruit juices, bread, pasta, fried potatoes and rice with a carefree abandon.

However, when we eat well, we dampen down inflammation and allow our bodies to function optimally in the way they were designed.

I’ll share a resource at the end that outlines simple principles (eat liberally, eat moderately, aim to avoid) you can follow to eat for your health, without needing to count calories or reluctantly take another gulp of bland food.

When clients, friends and family have shifted from eating for convenience to eating for health, they’ve woken up without a foggy brain. They have better skin, better sleep, weight loss, energy that lasts throughout a full day and – importantly – a good mood. 

When you are able to show up in the world with a good mood, energy and presence, it’s easy to connect with others. 

Less shouting, more smiling, more calm.

Overlooking Lake Windermere, Lake District National Park

We can draw on our skills when it really counts

I was involved several years ago in a high-stakes negotiation. It wasn’t going the way our lead negotiator wanted. They start getting agitated, raising their voice. They turned and threw a dagger glance at someone in our team that said: “ Why did you friggin’ get that wrong.” They started belittling the other side, too. And then walked out of the negotiation.

What ultimately was amusing – in the cold aftermath of those outbursts –  was that this lead negotiator had attended one leadership development programme after another: 

Somehow the lessons on authenticity and empathy in leadership had not sunk in.

The best leadership training can give us ninja tactics, like learning about the power of our facial micro-expressions and how to maintain eye contact (without being a weirdo). Or, at a more basic level, we can re-discover how to listen to someone – deeply – while simultaneously resisting the seemingly irresistible: scrolling on our devices.

But what’s the point of knowing how to be a ninja-level communicator if you can’t deploy your knowledge optimally because you’re waking up feeling like crap? 

When we eat well, not only do we have the mood, energy and presence to show up in the world and connect with others, but we also give ourselves space.

The biggest leadership challenges require a space that allows us to choose and deploy our knowledge and skills when we need them most. A space for reflection, self-awareness, and tapping into the entire wisdom of our three brains.

As one of my clients said recently:

“If I can obtain the pillars of health, I can attain everything else”

Over to you!

What one insight have you gained from this article? 

What will you put into action?

If you’re nodding your head reading this, it’s probably because you’re familiar with these principles already. In that case, could I make a request?

Would you be willing to share this article with that person you know?

If you’re a sceptic about this, I’d love to have a conversation with you. If I can understand better your perspective, I can – perhaps – better help others in a similar situation.


Here’s the handout I promised earlier that outlines a science-based approach with three simple principles that you can follow (eat liberally, eat moderately, aim to avoid) to eat for your brain health, without needing to count calories or reluctantly take another gulp of bland food.

As always, if you have any doubts about the changes you want to make, please reach out to me and I’ll find a way forward with you, which – depending on your circumstances – may involve me putting you in touch with a qualified medical professional. Or feel free to consult your trusted medical professional in the first instance.

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