Diet of the Leaders

A medical friend who specializes in eating disorders, once commented that most people who go to his clinic need to watch their weight. A sign of a time of unregulated abundance, it seems we tend to put on weight by eating unhealthy food and in excess quantities.
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Not only can his patients identify the problem but often they have the solution for it. In general, they mean a miracle program that if followed allows weight loss with very little effort and in record time.

These poor souls turn up at the doctor’s clinic asking him to validate their choice of diet and to help them follow it. They ask things like, ‘Dr., what do you think of a high protein low carb diet?’ Or ‘Dr., what do you think of me going on a pineapple and green tea diet which is said to help you lose weight?’ Or ‘Dr., I’m excited about Palaeolithic nutrition, what do you reckon?’ Or “Dr., if I become a vegetarian, will I lose weight? ‘

My friend usually listens carefully till the end to the detailed description of the program and then gives an encouraging response: ‘It sounds like a good program. As long as you burn more calories than you consume and you do exercise, that diet will always work. Let’s plan your calorie intake, and the amount of exercise you need to do, shall we?’ No matter what solution they put forward, his response is always the same.

We all like sophisticated programs with appealing theories. Even more so if they come with a good marketing campaign and illustrated leaflets. If there is a book by an international author who is a regular presence on television studios, then it is infallible.

And we tend to forget what is fundamental. We look at simple things with a sort of intellectual arrogant disdain. ‘If it were that simple, anyone could do it.’ The fact is that anyone who really wanted to do it, would be able to. Only those who do not want to do it hide behind conceptual models that withhold the reality of what has to be done.
In my consulting work of developing leaders and management teams I am often faced with a huge thirst for intellectual knowledge, which I consider to be absolutely healthy.

In the executive coaching training courses and sessions that I run it is common for managers to ask me things like: ‘Ricardo, what do you think of the twelve roles model / four styles / six core / seven pillars / ten behaviours / eight habits / five attitudes / three eyes and a navel of leadership? ‘

This is when I remember my friend – the doctor – and cannot resist stealing his line: ‘It is a good model of leadership. If you can increase your team’s engagement, develop your employees’ skills, align their attitudes with the desired company culture and manage performance so as to achieve your objectives, it will always work.’

We can attend conferences and read books with the latest theory about leadership. But only a leader can help his team to produce results. And this depends on holding people accountable for strategic actions, managing their performance appropriately, helping them to develop the skills needed for success, and aligning their attitudes with a competitive corporate culture.

It may seem simple, and for that reason not that appealing, but it is indispensable. With a little determination and humility it can be put into practice and help us produce results. But this is only for those who really want to do it. For the others, there are nice models out there.

* Management Consultant, founder of Plan B Consulting, partner of TMI Portugal, author of the book The Art of Becoming Useless (

(originally published in Executive Digest, April 2009)
By Ricardo Vargas