Kicking These Three Habits Made Me A Better CEO

One startup founder explains why he’s done asking his teams to give “110%.”

Kicking These Three Habits Made Me A Better CEO
[Photo: Weechie via Wikimedia Commons]

Pretty much nobody sets out to be an entrepreneur because they’re excited about becoming someone else’s manager. Usually, you start your own company because you’re passionate about an idea you have–and maybe also partly because you’re tired of having a boss yourself.


But as my company grew, I soon found myself the head of a company with dozens of people reporting to me. And eventually I realized that some of the habits I’d adopted for managing other people in the early days had just stopped working. Once I’d kicked them, though, things started running a lot more smoothly. These are three that I’m really glad I gave up.

Habit # 1. Being The Textbook Leader I Thought I Should Be

Some leaders think they need to distance themselves from their teams in order to qualify as leaders. And the logic behind that notion isn’t totally ridiculous–the idea that good leaders should be unbiased in every aspect of their decision-making.

I used to take that road myself, but I realized I was coming off to some as unapproachable or intense. Whatever impartiality I might’ve gained by keeping folks at arm’s length I was paying for in other ways. Not only did this kind of attitude just not feel like me, it wasn’t working. I was caught between being the leader someone told me to be and the human being I really am. I was fighting with myself, and it showed.

Related: How Leaders Can Balance Logic And Emotions To Make Better Decisions 

So I shifted gears. I started sharing ideas and expressing my passions more openly. It felt more natural, and it showed in my attitude. I saw immediate effects. Ideas started flowing more freely when I was open about my enthusiasm–which, after all, is why I got into the startup game in the first place.

Habit #2: Comparing My Success To Other People’s

There are some crazy smart, hardworking people out there in the world. Their success takes many forms. In my first few years as CEO, whenever I compared myself with someone around my own age who’d made it big, thoughts like, “I’m a year older than them, what am I doing wrong?” would run through my head. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I communicated these anxieties to my team.


That, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the best leadership habit. It strained some relationships and demotivated others. I started out as a scrappy teenager flipping phones in New Delhi, but I had somehow lost sight of the fact that we don’t all start out at the same point in life–or wind up in the same places, either.

After all, success is the culmination of progress, and what constitutes progress for one person depends on their life experiences and priorities. It follows that the same is true of “success,” a word whose definition is intensely personal. So while it’s important to draw inspiration and learn from others’ wins, I’ve since learned not to let it distract me. And my team is grateful I’ve stopped playing the comparison game, and holding them accountable to my own misplaced ideas about success.

Habit #3: Asking “110%” Of People

We’ve all had a boss who’s barked miniature pep talks like, “I want 110% from everyone!” Such a simple statement, right? But after trying similar tactics unsuccessfully, I realized my team probably hears them this way: “I want everyone to spend lots of time away from friends and family, abandon your hobbies, deprive yourself of sleep, and get some results! Pronto!”

Related: Three Counterproductive Myths About Corporate Culture 

When you put it like that, that’s not a fair ask–in fact, it can create some serious issues in a growing company’s work culture. I’ve since learned that asking 110% of people all the time, even metaphorically, is just plain nuts. Yes, there are crunch times in any startup, but people need work-life balance as well. In the long haul, it’s more productive. After all, just telling everybody to put in effort doesn’t tell them why they should–it doesn’t deliver much in the way of actual motivation. Once I’d put myself in my employees’ shoes, I realized I was doing it all wrong.

It was up to me to answer that “why” question, I realized, and then take the steps to make sure my company still offered good work-life balance for my team. In fact, I learned that if I could do that well, then I wouldn’t have to demand 110%–because when the need arises, people would be wiling to give their all–without being asked to.


Ajay Yadav is the founder and CEO of Roomi.