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When leaders relinquish some control of their projects, the results speak for themselves, leadership expert Gabby Bernstein says.

Millennials love Gabby Bernstein. The New York Times bestselling author has a profound ability to speak from experience with refreshing honesty and openness, which strikes a chord with this generation. They resonate with her modern and relatable approach to self-help and personal and professional development.

And as the tides of leadership change from power and control to collaboration and surrender, Bernstein’s teachings couldn’t align better. There’s no doubt her message of love-based – rather than fear-based – leadership has helped shape this generation’s perception of true success.

It’s one that believes that purpose and profit go hand in hand, and success is measured not only in financial terms, but also in the positive impact on society and the world at large.

“When you can learn to harness your control in creative ways, it can be very valuable.”

Knowing this, it’s somewhat surprising when Bernstein tells The CEO Magazine that she still errs on the side of control.

“To be honest, I’m a control freak,” she admits. “Surrender is a daily practice for me.  But I’ve done a lot of personal growth work to support the part of me that needs to be in control to feel safe.”

Control: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Many leaders can probably identify with a strong need to control. According to Bernstein, that’s part of being human. And in some ways, control can even be a good thing.

“The controlling part of me is the same part that wrote 10 books in 13 years and has served readers throughout the world,” she says. “When you can learn to harness your control in creative ways, it can be very valuable.”

Of course, control also has a dark side. In leadership, it’s best kept to a minimum, she says, recalling a time when her need to control got out of hand.


“At the height of the pandemic, I was really struggling to make decisions on how to run our business. I was freaked out, triggered and over-controlling, to say the least,” Bernstein remembers. “In that manic state, I created a lot of chaos and discomfort among the team.

“This was an ‘aha’ moment that led me to create stronger boundaries at work and dive deep into healing my controlling patterns. I’m proud of the pivot I made at that time and my commitment to growth as a leader.”

Managing the Desire to Control

It goes to show that no matter how famous or successful someone is, or how much work they have done, control can still rear its ugly head. Bernstein explains that for leaders, it often surfaces due to the pressures of getting everything right.

“Many leaders have high standards and expectations,” she says. “I’ll speak for myself when I say that I’ve often struggled to trust that people will do the job the way I want it done. Often leaders rely on controlling behavior to keep it all together and move things along.

“When you have a team that isn’t performing at their highest and best, it can feel impossible to let go of control.”

“A controlling leader creates an unsafe environment for people to speak up and be creative.”

However, it is possible – and preferable. Micromanagement only stifles creativity, limits the potential of teams and hinders organizational growth.

“A controlling leader creates an unsafe environment for people to speak up and be creative,” Bernstein says. “I’ve noticed this happens in my own company. Whenever I become too controlling, people shut down. I cannot imagine that it feels safe or creative to have a boss who’s trying to control the workflow.”

The Road Map to Release Control

What does true surrendering in leadership actually look like? “You know you’ve surrendered when you let go and release your need to control, manipulate and force outcomes,” Bernstein says.

“Successful leaders are radically honest. They’re conscious of the strengths and weaknesses, and they lead from a place of clarity, compassion, connection and creativity.”

“Successful leaders are radically honest. They’re conscious of the strengths and weaknesses.”

Bernstein shares a road map to help all leaders learn to release control and create space for innovation, creativity and collective problem-solving within their teams and organizations. It’s the same advice she wishes she was given 20 years ago, when starting her first business.

Here are five ways leaders can begin to release control and seize success.

  1. Get honest. Get honest with yourself about your controlling behavior and how it affects the team. Without this self-awareness, there is no room for growth.
  2. Practice the 85 percent rule. Shift your expectations of your team from 100 percent perfect to 85 percent. When you give people the room to grow, it’s helpful and safer. If you expect 100 percent, you’ll remain frustrated, discouraged and triggered into more controlling behavior.
  3. Be transparent with your team. Tell them that there’s a part of you that’s over-controlling. Let them in on what triggers that part of you. Speak for the controlling part of you, rather than as it.
  4. Practice the 24-hour rule. When you notice the controlling part of you is activated, don’t act on it for 24 hours. Give yourself some space to reflect and pause. When you become less reactive and have space to reflect, you’ll release the need to control and avoid a lot of unnecessary drama.
  5. Clear is kind. The clearer you are about what your goals and objectives are, the easier it will be to support the team. Practice objectives and key results, KPIs or other business growth processes to maintain clarity across the company. When those objectives change, be sure to adjust the plan swiftly and be overly explicit with the team about the changes.
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