Mind & Body

4 Reasons Successful CEOs Make Time for Hobbies

Whether they crash and burn like Elizabeth Holmes or succeed beyond anyone's wildest dreams like Steve Jobs, we're obsessed with CEOs — what they wear (black turtlenecks!), when they wake up every morning (early!), and especially how they manage their time. They have enough work to fill every hour of every day, but some of them still carve out time for intense hobbies. Why?

Normalizing DJ D-Sol

Take the CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon. When he's not in the office, he DJs under the stage name DJ D-Sol. In 2019 he released an original single, "Feel Alive," that Rolling Stone called "sensual" (perhaps ironically). His DJ Instagram account has more than 20,000 followers. In fact, he's been DJing longer than he's been a CEO.

He's not alone, either. In a recent study detailed in Harvard Business Review, researchers looked at CEOs of S&P 500 companies — in other words, CEOs of the 500 largest public companies in the U.S. — and found that 56 of them had a hobby they were quite serious about, and long-term committed to.

From there, the researchers looked at press coverage of these CEOs' hobbies and interviewed 17 of the 56 relevant CEOs. They were trying to figure out if and how these leaders' hobbies — which included martial arts, squash, and aviation — informed their work.

More broadly, they were striving to figure out the same question we worry about when we obsess over CEO lifestyles: Do they know something we don't about leadership? Does good leadership involve ... squash?

How Hobbies Help Leaders

Like everyone else, CEOs benefit from hobbies unrelated to their careers via the Temin effect, named after Nobel Prize-winning scientist and enthusiastic hobby-pursuer Howard Temin. The Temin effect means, basically, that serious hobbies can help you make unexpected interdisciplinary connections at work. In a CEO position — an inherently multifaceted role, where you're trying to creatively optimize a million conflicting things — the Temin effect can fuel creative problem-solving.

But how else does a hobby help a CEO lead? Well, the study above found that:

Hobbies help CEOs stay humble.

CEOs who consider themselves infallible make bad decisions. Trying their best at a hobby and still not really succeeding reminds them that they're human and that they still have room to grow.

It lets them switch off their work brain.

Ironically, when you have a high-intensity job, relaxation can cease to be relaxing. Even while watching TV or passively lounging on a beach, your mind can wander back to work and its stresses. (It can even happen in your sleep — hence stress dreams!) An absorbing hobby takes active concentration, though, which means it takes CEOs' minds completely off work and recharges them in a way a "Killing Eve" marathon can't.

Hobbies help CEOs get to know their subordinates.

Good CEOs know what's going on with the rank and file at their companies — which means that even though they're technically everyone's boss, they need to get past the "Yes, boss, whatever you say, boss" dynamic. Joining in hobby-related activities with their subordinates can help them do just do that.

It lets them work solo.

CEOs seem to be "in charge," but really, they're constantly making compromises to accommodate their board, their budgets, and government regulations. Hobbies give CEOs an opportunity to succeed and fail all on their own, which can be a balm for work-related frustrations (and an exercise in personal accountability).

We know that what looks like "wasting time" — which can mean going for a walk or even taking a nap — can be professionally worthwhile. Turns out, hobbies offer myriad professional benefits, too, even for people in leadership roles who you might imagine work all the time. After all, Elizabeth Holmes said she worked 16-hour days at Theranos and slept just four hours a night. That didn't turn out so great for her, did it?

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Wish you had time for hobbies? Find out why you're not alone in "The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline Of Leisure" by Juliet Schor. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice May 15, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.