‘6 self-destructive habits I overcame to succeed as a business leader’

Workaholism, comparing ourselves to others. Chances are you’ve been guilty of these at some point in your career, and CEO Esha Oberoi has been, too. But to be a better leader, she learned these self-destructive habits needed to go.  

If you’d met me as a teenager, you’d never believe that at 24 I’d be starting a business, or by 37 I’d be the CEO of a compassionate care provider with more than 500 staff.

The truth is, I was an awkward youngster. I arrived in Australia at age seven not speaking a word of English and my struggles to communicate with peers led to bullying and social withdrawal. These experiences planted seeds of doubt in my mind, which only grew as I welcomed one abusive relationship after another in my early 20s.

They say adversity is our greatest teacher and I truly believe that. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t be who I am today – a passionate advocate for mental health and a successful leader who has very consciously cultivated an inclusive workplace environment, but if I came face-to-face with the person I used to be, I probably wouldn’t recognise her.

The organisation I founded, AFEA Care Services, now provides disability care services to more than 800 clients a week and operates like a family, celebrating birthdays and different cultural events together. But to become the leader I am today, I’ve had to let go of many toxic thoughts and behaviours.

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Our culture that glorifies ‘busyness’ and ‘hustle’ is the same culture that leads to burnout. Stress-related presenteeism and absenteeism are directly costing Australian employers $10.11 billion a year and 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress.

When I was admitted to the hospital because of an emergency health problem some years ago, I discovered what ‘busyness’ really meant. For the nurses and doctors looking after me, the situation was literally life or death. It really put things into perspective for me, and now I know a lower stress environment delivers better results from my team.

Focusing on weaknesses instead of strengths

Where we put our focus and energy will determine where we end up. When we spend too much time on our weaknesses rather than playing into our strengths and embracing your unique skill set, we are giving energy to our fears.

Part of being a good leader is finding people that align with your values and have diverse skills that complement your own. Accepting that you don’t need to be perfect at everything, and building a team that you trust is key to the success of any leader.

Comparison is the thief of joy

When my now-husband joined me in the business I started at age 24, without a business background or road map, I began comparing myself to him and his strengths and experience.

As a result, others did too. When I learned to stop comparing it freed energy to focus on other areas I could develop to support the business. Now we recognise our different strengths, and so does everyone else. It’s not a matter of comparison, but working in synergy and leveraging each other’s skills for a broader purpose.

Control’ style leadership vs. ‘compassion’

Learning to let go and trust others in your business takes time. As a leader with a vision, it can be challenging to have confidence in others to bring that vision to life, but when you do, anything is possible.

This starts at recruitment. Even if a person has the perfect skills and experience for a role, if they don’t believe in our mission and vision, then they won’t put 100% in, and won’t get as much out personally.

Knowing my team all believe in contributing to the community along with me has formed a solid foundation of trust and compassion and learning to lead with care, to empower my team to take the reins is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Letting go of ‘multi-tasking’

Swapping multi-tasking for mindfulness and complete in-the-moment focus on one task has helped me significantly. One could argue this might slow things down a little, such as responding to emails later rather than as they come through, but it results in far fewer costly mistakes in business.

Instead of thinking of multiple things at once, I can calmly look at each situation as it comes. This has improved my ability to make calculated decisions and has drastically improved my ability to remember details.

Thinking I needed to project an alpha male energy

As a female business leader, there is often pressure to think and act in masculine ways. I had always struggled with this because since starting AFEA I was always authentically me. Learning to embrace my femininity and the nurturing energy it brings to the workplace has been incredibly powerful.

Esha Oberoi is the founder and CEO of AFEA Care Services and an award-winning business leader.

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