Diet and exercise can help people lead more effectively, a new University of Florida research project shows.
Chris Mott, a UF doctoral student in agricultural leadership development, investigated how food and lifestyle impact emotional intelligence, an idea that calls for people to manage feelings so they can express them appropriately and effectively.
"We know that prior research separately links the food we eat and exercise (or the lack thereof) with the brain, triggering neurogenesis and affecting moods," Mott said. "But this study is the first of its kind that ties diet, exercise and emotional intelligence together. Emotional intelligence is about knowing one's true self and using awareness to best respond and relate to others ─ vital for a trusted and effective leader."
Mott studied the University of Florida IFAS Extension's county directors, but he said his research likely applies to leaders everywhere.
A 2013 study identified the need to educate county Extension directors about emotional intelligence. UF/IFAS Extension provides leadership training for Extension directors, but emotional intelligence is not formally included.
This data is important because county Extension directors spend considerable time building relationships between and among their staff, administrators, stakeholders and the public, Mott said. Emotional intelligence can be utilized to effectively approach and garner those relationships.
For his doctoral dissertation, Mott tried to connect the dots between living a healthy lifestyle and being an effective Extension leader.
Toward that goal, he surveyed the state's 64 Extension directors to assess their daily physical activity for the most recent week. Questions covered physical activities that they do at work and at home. The directors also assessed their own diets for the most recent 30 days.
After getting the self-assessment data, Mott mostly surveyed Extension directors' subordinates, who rated the directors' emotional intelligence. He also surveyed a few peers such as, say, the county's parks and recreation director.
Mott then combined and analyzed the data to look for correlations, and that's when he found strong relationships between diet, exercise and emotional intelligence. He concluded that directors with healthier lifestyles also had high emotional intelligence.
Specifically, Mott found that leaders who ate more fruit and vegetables and exercised more were rated as having high emotional intelligence. Conversely, those who consumed high amounts of sugar received lower emotional intelligence scores.
"That is what makes this study novel," Mott said. "Prior research tells us many organizations need emotional intelligence training, but never has it been investigated and published with a nutrition and exercise component."
Extension directors lead faculty in all 67 Florida counties, as they provide programs that bring science-based data to constituents, including growers, gardeners, educators and others. They work for the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"Like many leaders, county Extension directors have had the important role of cultivating, growing and maintaining effective relationships," Mott said. As Extension directors go into their communities, they need to model healthy lifestyles, he said.
Materials provided by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Original written by Brad Buck. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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