Did you see the recent study in Science that compared Chinese who eat wheat versus those who eat rice? It turns out that there’s a big difference. The wheat-eaters (from the North) are more individualistic and the rice-eaters (from the South) are more communalistic. The authors believe that it’s due to the fact that rice takes a lot more effort to grow and you need to rely on your neighbors so you can’t do it alone. That’s unlike wheat-growing where loners do fine.
I think this study opens up a whole slew of new perspectives in leadership. It’s an area that we leadership types really haven’t looked at enough, if at all. And given today’s focus on nutrition, obesity and the like, there couldn’t be a better time to turn our collective attention to it.
For a start let’s look at the most basic division of all, meat versus veggies. Does meat make you a more aggressive leader, like Vladimir Putin? And if you are a vegetarian does that make you a peacenik like Jimmy Carter (there’s obviously a deep reason he grew peanuts).
In fact does the type of meat count? Are sheep-meat eaters (such as in the Middle East) more aggressive than beef-eaters (as in the US and Europe)? Does this explain the chain of man-made political disasters in the Middle East, caused by rising meat consumption as they grow better-off?
What about gluten-free? Does this mean a leader is more picky i.e. quality-focused because they are more sensitive to pimples and aches than us normal folk? If I eat anything, gluten included, can you trust me as a leader? Will I truly be authentic?
And what about genetically-modified (GM) foods? How does that shed light on my leadership strengths and weaknesses? If I go for GM food, does that mean I am open to dangerous new ideas; even a risk-taker, God forbid? To the contrary, if I don’t opt for GM foods, does that mean I am dangerously behind the times, a curmudgeon? Definitely not suited to high-tech companies, or living in the Valley?
What about the fraught Sugar question? If I (knowingly) imbibe sugar, such as in Coke or a Frappuccino, does that mean I will be a reckless leader? Since sugar is supposed to be toxic, yet it gives me a sugar-high?
And if I refuse to let even one molecule of sugar pass my dead lips, what does my choice of sugar substitute say about me? Is Equal kind of déclassé, a bit lower-class, only suitable for commodity-type leaders? How about Stevia, the natural no-sugar sweetener; is it the opposite, for Ivy-League types with class, upper-crust leaders?
How about Splenda – Level 5 leaders in Collins’ Good to Great could we surmise? Honey is obviously for the true authentic, with great ethics, who believes in Climate Change and banning all carbon emissions and particularly wind power.
You can see my point. And I haven’t even started to peel away the increasing layers of leadership complexity as we go deeper into nutritional issues. Fruit preference and extroversion. Vegetable type (root versus leafy) and financial versus operational preference. Dwarf versus Heirloom tomatoes and debt versus equity preference. I think there’s a new industry here!
I also think that this approach has major implications for management practices. We need to rewrite interviewing manuals so that we can include questions on food preferences, plus appendixes telling us what these actually mean for performance on the job.
Of course, there would be some questions that would not be politically correct. So we would need to develop new training courses for HR so that they can ensure that they don’t get sued by job applicants who have been asked questions about sensitive foods such as marijuana-laced candy from Colorado.
And now we have a new tool for leadership analysis by the spooks. What did the Pooh Bahs eat at the latest White House dinner? The NSA can film the whole spectacle (just like it probably does already) to do its food analysis and predict later political events based on the delicacies du jour. They will get it all wrong of course but that will provide justification for a new FAU (Foodie Analysis Unit) in the NSA so that it can get bigger and spend more money, probably on foods for the spymasters. And to develop a food-based leadership personality test, c.f. below.
And there is the whole vexed question of personality testing that integrates the Food Approach. As a leadership assessment developer myself, this is of particular interest to me. Do the Big 5 personality traits now need to be joined by a 6th (or even more) that include food preferences?
Is the Next Big Thing an FBPI (Food-Based Personality Inventory) incorporating research into the relationship between food and leadership? Could we now have an INTJ-Sg in the Myers-Briggs? That, is an INTJ with a fatal attraction to sugar, with all that this implies for narcissism and bad leadership?
As always this blog likes to bring the latest in cutting-edge leadership topics to its readers. We trust that this one has also brought a more-than-the-usual dollop of food for thought.
Foodies of the world unite, I say!