Episode: Why Every Leader Needs a Hobby

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to be talking about a topic that is about business. It definitely has a business impact, but you’re not going to think so at first, so give me the benefit of the doubt. It’s Why Every Leader Needs a Hobby. We’re going to make the case, the business case, of how this can help you as a businessperson or an organizational leader.

Having a hobby makes you a better leader in at least four ways, but I first want to talk about hobbies. What constitutes a hobby? I talk to a lot of business owners who say, “My business is my hobby.” That justifies them working 24/7. If your business is your hobby, you really enjoy it, I get that. I like my work too. But that’s not a hobby. When I talk about a hobby, I’m talking about something that is not work, that is non-achievement, or at least achievement in the professional sense.

Megan: Okay, Dad. I have to pipe up here for a second, because some of our listeners are like me, and they’re in a similar stage of life. I’m 40 years old. I have five kids, ages 19 to 1. Some of us are thinking, “There’s not a lot of time for hobbies when you’re in this season of life.” I think it’s really important, as we get into this topic…

I’m actually excited about it. I think this is a great topic, but it’s important for our listeners to know that your hobbies at your stage of life (empty-nester, a lot more discretionary time) and mine, as a mom of five kids, and all the chaos that brings to my outside-of-work hours, look really different, and that’s totally okay.

Michael: Okay. Again, this is like a tale of two cities…a tale of two hobbies. My hobbies at my season of life… And granted, this takes some leisure time. Currently, my hobbies… By the way, this is a moving target because they change every year. My dad was a serial hobbyist.

Megan: Your hobby is hobbies, I feel like.

Michael: Well, you know what it’s driven from is I love to learn.

Megan: That’s true. You do.

Michael: A hobby presents a new opportunity or a new field of inquiry and study. Currently, bass fishing… I’ve been fly-fishing for the last decade and a half, and I love that, but I’ve recently gotten back into bass fishing, and particularly, bass fishing from a kayak. I mean, crazy, but it’s a great, great hobby. Then also, I have restarted my golf hobby. So, those are currently the two things I’m pursuing right now. Admittedly, golf takes a lot of time. Fishing can take a lot of time, but both of these I do at our lake house, and I’m just enjoying them like crazy. I’m thinking about it all the time.

Megan: Well, I was at the lake this last weekend… Just to give people a visual of this, imagine a garage, a sort of average two-car garage. I walk in, because we’ve been talking now for weeks about you getting these kayaks, and they’re special for fishing. They have a little motor so you can troll in and out of little coves and whatever.

So, I’m imagining your ordinary kayak that would fit on top of your car. You know, you sit on top of it, you paddle, paddle, and if you get tired you put the little motor on. This is what I’m imagining we’re going to be sitting out in. As it turned out, you were not yet ready for the kayaking trip because these are really not your mother’s kayaks. These are, as you told me, personal watercrafts. Just let that inform the scope of what you’re imagining in your mind right now.

These are canoe-sized kayaks. They’re like 13 feet long. They have electrical wiring. They have livewells. They have motors and other little motors and fish finders and lights, and I don’t even know what. Two kayaks side by side took up an entire bay of the garage. They weigh 150 pounds apiece. This is a whole thing.

Michael: Okay. Well, you’re making a good point. These are kind of the Ferrari of kayaks. By the way, for those of you who are geeks or interested, these kayaks are made by a company called Old Town Canoe, and this is the Sportsman AutoPilot 136. Just to say that shows you how geeky I am about this, but I spent a lot of time rigging these up and getting the wiring right, and I have these Humminbird Helix 7 fish finders with side imaging and all this crazy stuff, and they’ll hold about six fishing poles on them.

Megan: Did you hear that? Six fishing poles. You might be asking yourself, “Why would you ever need six fishing poles on one person’s personal watercraft?” I don’t know the answer to that, I’m sorry to tell you.

Michael: These are basically search and destroy fishing vessels. I don’t know what else to say.

Megan: It’s amazing.

Michael: So, yeah. I’m serious about my hobbies.

Megan: Now in contrast… And we’re going to talk about, by the way, the leadership benefits of these hobbies, but we’re going to have to get…

Michael: Stay with us.

Megan: Stay with us. For me, at this stage of my life, I frequently go to the lake, our family lake house, and I love to fish too. I love to fly-fish. I’m a new fly-fisherwoman. I don’t know what the proper term is for that.

Michael: That’s it.

Megan: I’m new to that. I’ve done it for maybe the last two years a handful of times. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve always loved to fish. I grew up fishing with my grandfather (your dad), so that’s something I really enjoy. That’s what I do when I go to the lake. Honestly, I am as happy as a clam to be fishing off the little bridge to the dock and catching bluegills. In fact, this past weekend we were out there, and you were like, “It’s going to be amazing. We’re going to catch all these bass off the dock,” because the kayaks are not ready yet, so we’re not yet going out on the personal watercrafts.

Michael: And let the record show I caught five bass.

Megan: Yeah. So, you’re sending me these pictures for a few days before we come of a five-pound bass, all of these big fish, and I’m like, “This is going to be amazing.” Well, I come out there. These fish don’t want to have anything to do with us. We didn’t even hardly get one bite the entire weekend. So, I decided to go to my tried and true, which is my little container of worms off the bridge, dropping my little hook with my bobber. I mean, within minutes, I had a fish. Now, this fish was about, maximum, two inches long, but I’m just going to tell you, it was more than you did in the weekend, so there you go. I think I caught about five little fish, but nothing very impressive.

Michael: You don’t have to rub it in.

Megan: I know. But you know what? Honestly, I love it. It’s so fun. It’s so relaxing. I can only go out for a half an hour at a time, because it’s probably time to put Naomi down for a nap or feed her, or whatever, so I don’t get a whole lot of time. That’s kind of what my life looks like right now. I’m fishing. I’m walking outside. I’m doing stuff with the family.

I also enjoy cooking a lot, so that’s something I enjoy doing on the weekends, but unlike you, where you can spend two or three days immersed in a hobby, I might get two or three hours in a month. That’s probably realistic for me right now. So, I just want to contextualize that. That’s okay. You can still get benefits even from a little amount of time.

Michael: And I will say this. We tend to make room, within reason, for what’s important to us. One of the things I see that happens a lot is that business owners say, “I don’t have time for hobbies.” Well, they don’t make time for hobbies. You won’t make time for something you don’t see as important. One of the things I want to say to you guys listening… Make it a priority. I realize it’s a different priority for me than it is for Megan. Even if it’s only a couple of hours a month, it will make you a better leader, and we want to talk about that.

Megan: Also, you don’t have to do your hobby alone. You can include other people. You can include your staff. You can include your children. You can include your spouse. This is not the old idea of the dad goes out and plays golf on Saturday while the mom stays home with all of the kids. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Chad Cannon, for example, on our team, one of our executives, has gotten really into golf with his wife Julie, and they take their daughter Crew, who I think is 4, or almost 4, at this point. It’s like a whole family thing, and they love it. This can be a great way to connect with your family or friends or partner or whomever. It doesn’t just have to be a solitary thing.

Michael: So, four ways that a hobby will make you a better leader. First of all, improved problem-solving. There’s great value in learning to solve problems in a world that’s not the world you work in every day. One of the things that can happen is lateral thinking. Everything becomes a metaphor for something else. Let me give you an example.

This weekend, after you left the lake house, on Sunday… We were there. It wasn’t our turn to go to church. We’re rotating church things, so I wasn’t in Nashville, so I decided to work on the kayaks. Well, I had to wire up the fish finders, which was going to mean I had to run some wire inside the hull of the kayak. I don’t want to get too technical, but I’ve always thought of myself, Megan, as a non-mechanical person.

Megan: Right. I’ve always thought that about you too.

Michael: So you had a limiting belief about me.

Megan: Right. It’s true.

Michael: Gosh, how can a guy get ahead? So, I have this limiting belief about me. My family has this limiting belief about me. “He’s not good with his hands. He’s not good with tools. He’s not very mechanical.” I have all this rattling around in my head, but I decide I want to do this on the kayaks. As it turns out, anything you want to do in life, there’s a video on YouTube.

Megan: It’s really true.

Michael: I don’t care what it is. I mean, it is unbelievable. Then there are Facebook groups. I don’t generally like Facebook, and I don’t pay any attention to my feed because I’m pretty much off social media, but I am in a kayak fishing group where I could go ask those people exactly the questions I had and get specific answers. So, I wired those kayaks up like a boss, but I had to solve the problem.

I’m thinking to myself, “Okay. From where the wire enters in the kayak, it’s six feet until the hole comes out where it’s going to connect to the monitor.” My arms, as you may have noticed, aren’t six feet long. So how do you solve this problem? I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking, “Okay. Well, maybe I could get a coat hanger and tape the wire and thread it through the hull.” Well, then I discovered in my Facebook group there’s actually this tool that electricians use called a fishing rod.

Megan: Ironically.

Michael: Ironically. The convergence of my two hobbies. So, I could feed this through the hull. Once I got the fishing rod, it took me about five minutes to do it.

Megan: Wow.

Michael: It was so cool. But that problem-solving… I said to Gail, “I don’t think I’m particularly good with my hands. I don’t think I’m mechanical. I think I’m really good at problem-solving, and I really enjoy it.” Some people like to put together puzzles. I like to just solve problems in a non-work context. I find fun in that.

Nick: Michael, in education they talk about this idea that when you used to go to school, they would shove your brain full of knowledge, because all you had were reference books. You didn’t have the Internet. They called that just in case learning. “Here’s the periodic table. Here’s the multiplication table.” Just, “Here. You might need it someday.” But we live in an era that they call just in time learning, where now, the moment you need the information, the skill set is in the ability to get it. That’s the actual skill: to go, “Well, what’s the question I need answered, and how can I get that?”

Megan: That’s such a great point.

Nick: It’s such a different paradigm we live in.

Megan: That’s excellent.

Michael: That’s really good.

Megan: Honestly, Dad, when I think about one of the things that has made you successful, it’s your ability to solve problems. It’s your ability to figure out problems. It’s not that you know the most. It’s not that you’re the smartest. It’s that you figured out very early on that, as Marie Forleo says, everything is “figureoutable.” You can find a way to figure things out. You just have to find the right Facebook group in this case, the right YouTube video, or whatever.

Think about how empowering that is in business. How many situations as leaders do we face where it’s like, “Wow! That’s as far as we’ve ever been before. We don’t know how to do organizational design. We don’t know how to sell a business. We don’t know how to do some kind of financial reporting,” all of these different things that may be something we haven’t done before, but we can figure it out. We can figure out how to figure it out, and that’s a superpower.

Michael: Again, I want to give my dad credit for this, because one of the things I saw my dad do is whenever he took on a new hobby (and he was a serial hobbyist), the first thing he would do was either go to the library or the bookstore and buy a bunch of books, and he would just start digging them. This was before the Internet.

He would just read all of these books. I saw him do that with photography. I saw him do that with woodworking. I saw him do it with a number of different hobbies. I’m kind of the same way. I probably have watched (and I’m not making this up) probably a hundred hours worth of fishing videos.

Megan: Wow!

Michael: And those were all just bass fishing videos. I feel like I have the fly-fishing thing pretty much down. I understand trout, understand their behavior, but now I’m into bass. Totally different species. The same thing with golfing. And your mother… This was awesome last week. She has taken up golf. I never thought I’d live to see that day. She’s taking golf lessons from an LPGA coach right here in Nashville who used to be my coach, an amazing lady, Nancy Quarcelino.

She has had a couple of lessons. She played two rounds last week. But get this. This is the crazy thing. When I was sitting there reading, I noticed she had her headphones on and was looking at her iPad. I stopped and said, “Babe, what are you watching?” She said, “Oh, I’m watching golf videos.” What? Who is this woman, and what have you done with Gail? It’s awesome to watch. But I think it’s that persistence to learn and to stay engaged until you solve the problem.

If I have a superpower, it’s not even my problem-solving abilities. It’s my ability to persist until I get it right, until I get the answer. I try tons of things that don’t work, but I don’t give up when they don’t work. I just keep doing it. Gail has said this to me a thousand times: “Babe, why don’t you go to bed? Approach this in the morning.” I said, “Look. I just want to keep trying things. I’m very close.” I just persist.

Okay. That’s the first benefit of how a hobby makes you a better leader: improved problem-solving. It gives you an opportunity to practice your problem-solving skills in an unrelated area so that it’s fresh, so that you can become a beginner again and approach problems in a new and fresh way. Okay. A second way: increased creativity. Hobbies make you more creative by getting you to play.

Megan: I love this one, because I think one of the biggest negatives of not having any hobbies and, basically, all you do is work is that you never get your brain to turn on in a different way. You’re sort of using one part of your brain. It’s kind of like if you only did bicep curls, you’d have really impressive biceps and chicken legs, as they say.

That’s kind of like creativity. You really need to use a different part of your brain so that you have access to that when you need it in your professional life. Play is incredible for that. It also reduces stress. It allows you to free associate and think of all kinds of solutions you wouldn’t have before. I think it’s really easy to discount the value of play as adults, but it’s really, really important.

Michael: When you think about where creativity happens, it usually happens when you’re the most relaxed, when you’re not trying to force it. I mean, it’s no accident that some of our most creative thinking happens in the shower, because that’s where we’re the most relaxed. Or you’re out for a walk or, again, fishing. I have some of the best ideas I’ve ever had fishing. A friend of mine, John Kramp, used to say, “When you’re fishing, you’re doing something, but you ain’t doing much.”

That’s really true. It’s enough to keep you actively from thinking about work, but suddenly, out of left field, you get some crazy idea, even some business idea. I try to park it and not think about it, but oftentimes, those come when I’m just out there playing. It happens on the golf course. I’ll have some consequential, meaningful, deep, intimate conversation with a golf partner, because we’re doing something, but we’re not doing much.

Megan: I think that’s really, really true.

Michael: So, first way: improved problem-solving. Second way having a hobby makes you a better leader: increased creativity. Third (and I love this one too), continuous growth. Hobbies put you into a beginner’s mindset and cause you to have to learn and stay humble. Can I just share a story? This happened to me this week.

I got a message on Facebook Messenger from somebody in the kayak group who has been a long-time follower of mine. He thanked me for all the content we produce and the books he has read, the courses he has been through, and so forth. But he said, “I’ve learned more from you based on your interaction in the kayak group than I have in all of the things I’ve read or studied of yours over the last five years.”

Megan: How come?

Michael: He said, “Because what I noticed is that you were humble…” It seems awkward for me to say this of myself. He said, “You were humble, and you were willing to be a beginner. You didn’t presume to know anything.” Women know this, but when guys get around each other, they kind of act like they know more than they do.

I didn’t do that. I became a beginner, and I asked the most basic questions. Sometimes I felt really stupid, like, “How do I tell the difference on the battery between the positive and the negative charge?” Not quite that basic, but almost that basic. I was willing to ask those kinds of questions, and I think doing that is really helpful, particularly in business.

Megan: Absolutely.

Michael: To give yourself the gift of being a beginner… To walk into a financial meeting, for example, if you’re the CEO, and not feel like you have to be smarter than the CFO, but to actually act like a beginner and be able to say if you need to, “Could you please help me once again…? I know you’ve explained it to me before, but can you help me understand how the income statement relates to the balance sheet?” That’s how you learn. Having a hobby puts you in that position where you have no other choice.

Megan: Yeah. You get to practice it. Right?

Michael: You get to practice it.

Megan: It kind of reminds me of Felicity, who is my 17-year-old stepdaughter. She’s an amazing artist. She loves Japanese anime. That is totally her thing, and she has been drawing seriously for years. When I say seriously, I mean hours every day. She comes home from school and she draws until dinner, and then she does her chores, and then she draws some more.

Of course, that wasn’t always true. The way she started was she started watching these anime films, and she was really captivated by the characters and the design and just loved that aesthetic, and she’s also fascinated by Japanese culture, so she just started learning. She started teaching herself. She started watching YouTube videos. Kind of exactly like what you said, Dad, with your kayaks.

She didn’t join a Facebook group. She didn’t have that available to her, but every Christmas she would ask for books about Japanese culture, about anime, graphic novels. She would watch the Studio Ghibli movies. She has probably seen every one of those like 47 times. In doing that, she has now achieved a level of mastery over the years that’s pretty astonishing. She works both digitally and by hand.

It started out with this curiosity and excitement about a medium she really loved, and she just started trying things. She wasn’t like, “Oh, I have to be studio quality art at the very beginning.” She knew she was just going to start messing around. I think kids have a way easier time with this. They don’t have the hang-ups that adults do around “This needs to be perfect from the beginning.”

I remember when I was learning to fly-fish… Of course, you had been fly-fishing for years, and the first time we fly-fished… Actually, this happens to me every time I do it. I feel anxious about it. Like, I have to confront this whole beginner’s mind thing every time, because I want to be good at it. I really want to be good at it. The only way to get good at it is years and a lot of practice.

It’s challenging for me every time to say, “You know what? I don’t have to be successful at this. I don’t have to be the expert. I don’t have to be the best at this.” I think that’s really important. As a leader, as somebody who is successful at some level, we can kind of get in this rut of… Like, we can’t ever go back to the beginning. Now we have this level we have to meet in every part of our lives, and we can’t ever go back to the beginning.

Of course, that’s not true, and it’s not helpful, and it’s not a great way to live, but if we’re not thinking consciously about it, we don’t really challenge that assumption, and we stop trying new things because we don’t like that feeling of “Oh, I can’t remember how to cast” or “I can’t remember how to mend my line” with fly-fishing, or whatever.

Or often, when I’m casting, I get stuck in the tree, and it’s so embarrassing, which literally happens to me frequently in Tennessee because there are trees over the river. It’s like, “Okay. Now I have to ask the guide to help me get it out again.” But that’s so great, and I need to have that same mindset in our business as we’re trying new things, as we’re thinking about the future and pioneering, or I’ll just stop taking risks.

Michael: How you approach your hobbies is how you’re going to approach your business, and to realize that, as you said before, quoting Marie Forleo, everything is figureoutable. Everything can be learned in business. I have no finance background, yet I feel like (and I think you could now too) I could hold myself in a room full of accountants or investment bankers or anybody else because I’ve taken the time to study, and I’ve learned it, and I didn’t expect myself to be an expert from the beginning. I was willing to kind of stumble through it, to ask people for help.

That’s another key component of this: the willingness to ask people for help. I’d been a marketing director in the book publishing world about five years when I got an invitation to attend a copywriting boot camp. I thought, “Well, marketing director for five years…” I’d had a lot of major campaigns under my belt, a lot of best sellers I had helped to create.

It would be easy for me in that situation to say, “I know all this. I don’t need to know that” or “I can delegate it to somebody else.” I thought, “No. That’s something I want to learn. I want to be able to write good copy.” I just had this sense that that was going to be important to me later in my career. What I didn’t know was it was the beginning of learning how to write and learning how to communicate and be more articulate.

So, I subjected myself to that 60-hour program, 60 hours in one week. It was literally a boot camp for copywriters. It was one of the best things I ever did. Again, I think we can take what we’re learning about hobbies and put it back into business. It’ll make us better leaders if we give ourselves permission to be beginners, to ask questions, to be humble, and to learn.

Improved problem-solving is one of the ways a hobby will make you a better leader. Increased creativity, continuous growth, and finally, reduced stress. Megan, how did fishing this weekend make you feel?

Megan: I think this is the thing I like the most about hobbies. If you’re sort of struggling with this and you’re not sure you want to take the time to cultivate a hobby, I really think this stress reduction component is so helpful. We spend most of our time in our thinking brain, and by the time we get to Friday, our brain is tired. Our brain is exhausted. In order to be prepared to come back to work and really make a contribution, we need to rejuvenate our brain, and we need to use a different part of our brain, something that helps us tap into creativity.

We also need to get back into our body, because when we’re in our thinking brain, we’re really not in an embodied place. We’re sort of like a head floating around is how I feel sometimes. What I love about hobbies is usually they engage us physically in some way. They engage our creativity. They get us out of our environment in nature, all of which are super helpful in reducing stress.

For me, I know… This has been true forever. If I stand on the dock and fish… It’s even better if I’m out on a boat, but low bar here. If I’m just standing on the dock and fishing… My kids don’t really like it that much, but I am so happy and so relaxed. I can just feel myself exhale. I can’t really think about anything else. I can’t worry.

I can’t obsess about things, because there’s enough concentration that’s needed for the fishing itself. I think this is true… You hear this from people who do art, from people who are musical, from athletes who are runners, or whatever, that you just can’t think about a whole lot when you’re focused on whatever it is you’re doing in your hobby, and that is such a relief sometimes.

Michael: I heard somebody say one time, Megan, that stress is the enemy of performance. I’ve experienced this in golfing. When I go out there and I’m a little bit stressed at the beginning… Maybe if I’m golfing during the weekday, I’ve just come out of a meeting that was stressful, and I’m stressful in golf. I have a tight grip on that club, and I’m really trying to hammer it with my swing. I inevitably botch it.

But when I totally relax, take a deep breath, and then swing and let the club do the work, that’s when I perform the best. I think it’s a good metaphor for how it works in business too. Business by its very nature, especially this year in 2020, facing COVID and all of the challenges… It’s easy to get stressed, and stress leads to burnout, and when you get burned out, a lot of bad things happen.

So, I think we have to give ourselves permission to take breaks, and when we take those breaks, we give our minds a chance to relax again and take on the problem and be refreshed. You can’t just go, go, go, go. It’s not productive. You won’t be focused, you’ll be more easily distracted, you’ll be less creative, and you just won’t produce. Hobbies counteract all that.

Megan: As we said earlier, having a hobby makes you a better leader in four ways.

  1. It improves your problem-solving.
  2. It increases your creativity.
  3. It offers you the opportunity for continuous growth.
  4. It reduces stress.

So, if you’re on the fence about this hobby thing…maybe you haven’t made it a priority…these are four really good reasons that not only is it going to enhance your personal life, but it’s really going to enhance your professional performance to make a little room for hobbies in your life. Dad, do you have any final thoughts?

Michael: I do. Let me encourage you to pick one hobby, to decide that there’s going to be one thing that’s going to be your hobby, even if you can only give it an hour a week or an hour every other week. Be deliberate and start at the beginning. Decide you’re going to learn that thing and pursue it, and just notice the difference it makes in your thinking, your creativity, and your productivity.

Megan: Awesome. Thank you, guys, for joining us today, and we’ll be right back here next week. Until then, lead to win.