I am More than a Caricature: Why Some CEOs Openly Invest in a Serious Leisure Interest

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Abstract

This paper examines why some top CEOs not only invest significant time and resources in a “serious leisure” non-work interest but also freely communicate about it. We investigate this phenomenon in a two- stage study: first by analyzing media mentions of serious leisure for CEOs of S&P 500 companies, the largest listed US corporations, and second by interviewing 15 CEOs of S&P 500 or comparable companies who have a passionate nonwork interest. We first discover that CEOs assign their serious leisure identity an important role in shaping who they are as leaders and how they are perceived, and we further unpack how this shaping process occurs. Our findings challenge the traditional view of leaders’ work and nonwork lives as separate worlds as well as the common perception that CEOs portray themselves as exclusively dedicated to their leader role. We open for discovery a little-explored area at the intersection of the leader identity work and the nonwork-to-work enrichment literatures, specifically the role of a serious leisure identity in leaders’ identity work. Our findings suggest that nurturing a serious leisure interest may prove a valuable asset for leaders’ lifelong development.

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