This is the stereotypical image of a CEO: business suit, blocked calendars, moderate to high levels of stress, and a sole focus on the business. But this is a small slice of perspective. We’re here to share a different one.

When Goldman Sachs named David Solomon as CEO, he said, “if you can’t find a way to pursue passions and mix them into your professional and personal life in some way, shape or form, it’s harder to have the energy to work.” He meant it. Because Solomon when not a CEO, moonlights as a popular DJ: D-Sol. And he is not the only one who is challenging the norm.

Researchers Emilia Bunea and Svetlana N. Khapova, Vrije University (Amsterdam), set out to explore why CEOs, in spite of their packed schedules, pursue hobbies with much dedication. Or what’s called ‘serious leisure’. They interviewed over 17 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and here’s what they found:

  1. It helps move away from the spotlight. Successful CEOs are the best at what they do – constantly being watched and always having to do the right thing. There is an image to keep up with. But, with hobbies, its different. As CEO of American Electric Power, Nick Akins said about playing the drums, “As a CEO you’re constantly in the public eye, and in that event, we were just sort of the hired help!”

Since hobbies come without the pressure, it makes failure acceptable.  And that builds humility. Studies show humility in CEOs is an advantage. Such CEOs lead teams that are more likely to collaborate, take joint decisions, advocate for lower pay disparity, and build shared visions. As you can guess, all this leads to better performance.

  1. It offers control. It may look like leaders are making things happen – leading teams, delivering on strategies, changing the direction of companies, etc. But, that’s becoming increasingly difficult in a fast-changing world where policies, technology, and opportunities are all in a state of flux. Control is out of reach. That affects a leader’s emotional health because control is a psychological need.

As one CEO shared in the interview, “I got into competitive cycling right after the financial downturn. And a lot of it was, ‘I can control this; I can’t control the world, but I can control how I exercise. And I need some level of control over something.’”

  1. It creates avenues for connection. Work projects and goals are not the only common ground a leader can have with his/ her employees. Alternatives could take the form of going for a run or creating office sports teams. Having hobbies and inviting team members to join you can go a long way in aspects like:
  • Building deeper relationships with colleagues, which can help alleviate stress, increase belonging, and even enhance employee engagement.
  • Accessing key information about the health of teams and projects, people’s needs, and even feedback about your own self, in a way that is less pressured.

You might feel like you just don’t have the time to fit a hobby into your schedule. But check this out – even CEOs have at least two hours of downtime every day. Just schedule your play in advance.

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