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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.”
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.”
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.”
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.