Why CEOs Devote So Much Time to Their Hobbies

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Emilia BuneaSvetlana N. Khapova, and Evgenia I. Lysova for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/Getty Images

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When Goldman Sachs named David Solomon its new CEO, the media didn’t just focus on his professional background and his rise through the ranks; it also covered his moonlighting as a bona fide DJ.

Solomon, aka DJ D-Sol, is known for his mantra of finding passion at, and outside of, work — and he’s not an isolated case. We have identified dozens of S&P 500 CEOs who have what is called “serious leisure” interests. These are hobbies and volunteering gigs that often start at a young age and that individuals continue to invest considerable time and energy into.

Does serious leisure make you a better leader? The few studies that have looked at the job performance of CEOs with strong hobbies show mixed results. For instance, CEOs who are also pilots lead more innovative companies, and CEOs who run marathons show better company performance — but excessive CEO golfing may actually harm shareholder value.

In our research, we set out to investigate why leaders make time for passionate leisure interests in their already impossibly busy schedules — and whether they feel it helps their job performance. We searched for public information on the hobbies of CEOs whose companies were in the S&P 500 index at the start of 2018. Our search yielded 56 CEOs for whom a serious leisure interest is known. For each of them, we scoured thousands of articles, videos, and social media posts about them and their interests. This helped us build a rich picture about how they and others connect their hobbies to their leadership.

To validate and enrich our findings from public sources, one of us (Emilia, a former CEO herself) conducted private interviews with 17 CEOs of S&P 500, Fortune 500, and similarly sized U.S. companies, asking about their hobbies — and if they had a serious leisure activity, what it meant to them and their ability to lead.

In public and in private, CEOs state that their leisure interests help them cope with the ever-increasing demands of the top job. They typically invest considerable time in their leisure, and even block off time far in advance to protect it from “life taking over,” as one interviewee said.

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