“As with stomachs, we should pity minds that do not eat.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
It is my gut feeling that this is the right time to address the topic of digestion, the stomach and the gut and how they relate to leadership.
The saying in the English language “I can’t stomach it”, can refer to several things: It can mean that you cannot eat a particular thing because of the texture, flavour, consistency, taste or smell which you find revolting, and consequently “cannot stomach”.
It can also refer to a person “I can’t stomach him or her.” Meaning that you cannot bear to be around a particular person. This might also refer to an activity, TV programme, event or food that the person using the phrase has experience of and which leads to such a violent response such as “I cannot stomach that programme.” Or I can’t stomach eating x.”
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Where did this saying come from?
After extensive search in Google, I have sadly been unable to find the origin of this descriptive and physically felt phrase. What I mean by this is that you can feel the reaction that your stomach might have to a particular person, issue, activity or food when you put yourself in through thought only into that situation.
The digestive system is highly intelligent and if we put something into our mouths that is going to cause a major physical reaction, the system already starts to reject it through reflux and vomiting before it has gone too far, limiting any physical damage. This leads on nicely to the following saying that is also stomach or gut related:
“Why do I bring this up?”
Another saying related to the digestive system. Usually when we use this term it is pre-empted with something like “I am sorry for bringing this up.” Or “I would like to bring x up as it is……….” We try to compensate or balance the potential emotional reaction we think the topic in question is going to stir up in terms of thoughts and emotions that have been hidden, buried or pushed aside in the hope that they might go away. Lacking the courage or resilience to deal with a particular issue, leads us to “hide” it in order to avoid any scrutiny, not to mention “out of sight, out of mind”. Perhaps the subject is taboo for some reason or buried as those involved do not want to deal with the consequences or reactions of raising the topic with all relevant parties.
As managers and leaders it is important that we are able to address situations and people related issues that we find very difficult, perhaps because of those involved, fear of the consequences when “bringing it up” or maybe even the fear of rejection. The stomach is the part of our anatomy that “digests new ideas and experiences that we have.” It processes all issues connected with the mind and the emotions - personal power and sense of self. When there are stomach problems, if we are in touch with our own intuition and feelings it usually means that we don't know how to assimilate the new experience – we are afraid. “What or who can’t you stomach?”
The principles of leadership
One of the key principles of leadership is the courage to do and say what needs to be said through open, direct and clear communication to address issues that have been pushed under the carpet, and consequently those involved are not willing to deal with or alternatively hope the situation is not common knowledge. It is not relevant whether we like a person or not. It is about knowing the vision of why we exist as a team, department and company as well as knowing and living the values that guide decisions and actions. Therefore, when for some reason a team member/s have deviated and is/are now under-performing, that we have the courage to follow our gut and address the situation and person/s openly.
Constructive, open, fair, balanced and clear communication is necessary to help others firstly to recognise that their performance is suffering, to understand why it is below requirements, and then to find their own solution to rectify it. This openness might be a “hard pill to swallow”. Knowing the truth can sometimes hurt, however it is the truth that once swallowed leads to personal growth and development, not only of the employee, but the leader also.
Interestingly, the throat centre (chakra) processes all issues of communication and expression, as well as trust, truth and true expression of who we are, our authenticity. The throat connected to the mouth and feeding into the stomach is part of the digestive system.
Knowing this fact as a leader can be useful to remind us that given the correct “food”, cooked in the correct manner might be difficult for the other person to accept, but when they do it leads to learning for all involved through open expression, one of the most important aspects of dynamic leadership.
In conclusion, our digestion has a lot to do with effective leadership, not weakening a message, but structuring it in a way that makes it an acceptable “pill to swallow”, thus leading to a positive change in performance. It is my gut feeling that by bringing up this parallel between the digestive system and leadership, even though for some it might raise issues that are difficult to overcome or to stomach, can only result in a healthy digestive system, working environment, and relationships.
References: You Can Heal Your Life, Louise L. Hay
Spiritual Healing, Jack Angelo
Rachel Shackleton is an entrepreneur who owns and manages Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. Working with local and multinational organisations, she is a public speaker and trainer in the spheres of leadership, communication and customer excellence. She ensures sustainable productivity and profitability through healthy self-management and leadership practices, ensuring a focused and successful workforce.
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