insight magazine

You Need a Hobby

No time for diversions? Better find some, because it could make you the best boss ever. By Derrick Lilly | Winter 2016/17


Actor Liam Neeson puts on his waders and goes fly fishing whenever he needs to escape the rigors of Hollywood. To keep his mind sharp, “The Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffet plays bridge with Bill Gates. Serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson grabs hold of a mini parachute and surfboard to catch some air kitesurfing across ocean waves. Channeling her competitiveness, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hits the links as one of the first women to earn a membership at the coveted Augusta National Golf Club.

That’s right, even the busiest and most influential people we know today make time for hobbies—not because they’re bored or have nothing better to do, but because it makes good business sense.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking this must be some kind of joke. Fly fishing? Bridge? Kitesurfing? What can they possibly do for your career?

“Quite simply, hobbies provide balance,” explains Duncan Ferguson, managing director of Client Services at Vantage Leadership Consulting, and a seasoned corporate HR leader. “Too many people let the demands of their jobs take over their lives; they get so invested in their work that they can’t separate themselves from it.”

This is all too common in the accounting and finance world. The problem, however, is twofold. “For one, it’s not good for your health. Two, it makes you very one-dimensional—you lose perspective of not only yourself but of the people around you, too,” says Ferguson. “Finding balance in how you approach life is not only the right thing to do for yourself; it’s the right thing to do for your team and organization. Being balanced allows you to be a better boss—a better leader—because you’re more in tune with yourself and with the people surrounding you.”

So, if you’re ready to be the best boss you can be and take your career to the next level, let’s talk about four hobbies that could help.

Maestro of Music

Music as an art form brings together people from all walks of life, giving them something to collaborate on and bond over. Learning to play music, however, takes things a step further—it can be an effective lesson in harmonious team building and leadership.

“I knew a leader who really liked music, so he went to Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music to learn how to play an instrument. There, he was placed in a band with other people of similar talent and then taught how to perform. What he got out of that,” Ferguson explains, “is that it was about working as a team. It was about learning how to offer constructive feedback and instill collaboration. It was about everyone playing their part to reach a common goal.”

This same leader ultimately decided to try the exercise with his team at work, Ferguson recounts. After all, leadership is about leading people. If he could lead them as a band, he could lead them as a productive team.

Essentially, each person plays a specific role within your team, as they do within a band or orchestra. Without seamless collaboration, an ear for the role of fellow team members, and perfectly timed coordination, the band—and the team—fall apart.

Forerunner of the Fairway

If peace and solace are more of what you’re after, picking up golf may be a better choice. Cliché? Perhaps. But golf is a challenging sport that’s certain to put your will and determination to the test regardless of whether you want to play it well or just use it as a way to close business deals.

“The funny thing about golf is that your 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway doesn’t mean anything if you’re prone to shanking your nine-iron every time there’s a sand trap ahead. Golf teaches you to think one step—one shot—ahead. You’re going to learn to plan and strategize. You’re going to learn how to manage your emotions and stress,” says Ferguson.

And let’s not forget integrity. A bad lie? A lost ball? Will you become the Master of the Mulligan, or will you swallow your pride and forge on to overcome the hurdle ahead regardless of your score?

As for golf only being for the guys, think again. Funded in part by proceeds from the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the KPMG Future Leaders Program aims to advance emerging women in business through scholarships, leadership development retreats, mentoring relationships with women business leaders, and, of course, an introduction to golf.

KPMG says it is passionate about developing women leaders through golf, and that the KPMG Future Leaders Program helps to instill the confidence and leadership skills women need to succeed and lead in college and their careers. By the way, Condoleezza Rice is an ambassador of the program.

Master of Mechanics

If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, auto mechanics probably isn’t for you—and maybe leadership isn’t either.

Like any well-run machine, your business and your team need tuning and maintenance to keep things humming along. Being an effective leader requires knowing the ins and outs of your people, products and services, and sometimes that means getting down on the factory floor, or out in the field, to see how everything is made, what challenges face your business, and how to think critically and analytically to make the decisions that will keep things moving at full power—sort of like what a skilled mechanic has to do.

“Business, like mechanics, is about diagnosing a problem and identifying a course of action. A good leader, like a good mechanic, understands the need to focus on the problem at hand,” says Ferguson. “He or she sees the connection between the big picture and the small and precise steps it takes to achieve the goal.”

“This type of hobby hones problem-solving skills and is also a good practice in creating a process that has measurable and observable results,” adds executive coach Jay Scherer of Scherer Executive Advisors.

What’s more, a hobby like auto mechanics provides a great sense of accomplishment when the project is completed, says Scherer—plus hiding out in the garage can be a great escape.

Trailblazer by Bike

Looking for another great escape, or maybe an adrenaline rush? Whether you’re into hurling yourself down black diamond downhill trails or racing across two-lane country roads, there’s more to cycling and mountain biking than just the thrill of it all—there’s also a lot about leadership that can be learned on two wheels.

“Cycling is one of those hobbies that’s very positive because it provides an escape to recharge while also building much-needed business skills,” says Scherer. “It definitely builds your stamina and physical fitness, but it also can fine tune your mental toughness, tenacity and ability to take calculated risks outside of your comfort zone.”

Stare at the front wheel and you’re bound to crash. Pick the wrong size bike, built for a different type of terrain, and you’re bound to be uncomfortable, inefficient and downright lagging if not immobile. Lack confidence and an adventurous spirit and you’ll never keep up with the pack, let alone forge your own path.

Being a great cyclist means being efficient with both mind and body, looking ahead when navigating complex routes, being flexible and nimble to overcome unexpected obstacles, being analytical in piecing together a machine that excels under your body in your preferred terrain, being dedicated to skills training and development, and valuing communication and teamwork if competitive racing is your thing.  

Whichever way you look at it, hobbies are well worth your time. They help you reduce stress, learn new skills, focus and build confidence—and they may even provide an informal outlet for connecting with your peers. Simply, hobbies help you to become the best boss you can be.