What a Natural Alpha Really Looks Like

The alpha is the big dog. The boss. The leader.

The concept of the “alpha” was derived from observations of wolf packs in captivity in the mid 20th century.

Since then, the alpha idea was applied in the spheres of personal development, business, leadership, dating advice (for men) and others.

Unfortunately for hardcore believers in the alpha, the concept was later discarded by the very experts that invented it:

Researcher L. David Mech, one of the primary creators of the Alpha male hypothesis for wolves, later found additional evidence that the concept of an Alpha male may have been an erroneous interpretation of incomplete data and formally disavowed this terminology in 1999. He explained that it was heavily based on the behavior of captive packs consisting of unrelated individuals, an error reflecting the once prevailing view that wild pack formation occurred in winter among independent gray wolves. Later research on wild gray wolves revealed that the pack is usually a family consisting of a breeding pair and its offspring of the previous 1–3 years.

Researcher M.W. Foster investigated primates and found that the leaders were more likely to be those who did more for those around them instead of being determined by strength.

Much of our old-school understanding of alphas was incomplete at best. It conveniently dovetailed with popular, simplistic ideas of power.

We traditionally assume the leader in a situation must be the loudest, strongest and toughest.

But in a 21st century world where physical intimidation is not the currency of power, this version of the alpha is obsolete.

There are a few settings where the old-school alpha stereotype applies: war zones, crime-ridden urban neighborhoods, the primitive social dynamics of childhood, or any situation of social collapse or lawlessness.

But outside of these very unique settings, “alpha” has limited utility.

We need a better way to explain power and influence.

Yesterday I talked about situations where acting “weaker” might actually be advisable, and can ironically create strength.

This is what we see when we look at natural alphas: sometimes they are assertive and loud, and other times they take a backseat and withdraw from a situation. But it’s always from a place of strength.

A natural alpha could be a man or woman.

They have a certain way about them that makes new acquaintances kind of assume they are in charge, or that they “know what they are doing.”

It’s that ineffable quality of charisma and magnetism that just makes you feel safe around them. You feel like you are in good hands.

And, importantly, they have been this way their whole lives.

Most of us can mimic these qualities of verbal and nonverbal communication from time to time. Some of us can even adopt them wholesale and transform ourselves and the way we relate to the world around us.

But these natural alphas have always been like this, since childhood.

What is their secret (aside from good genes or a fortunate childhood)?

If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be self-assuredness. These are people that are always, completely sure of themselves at all times.

Whether in a high-stress situation with a looming deadline, an awkward conversation, an argument, or a tense sales presentation, these people exude an aura of calm, core confidence and clarity.

Nothing seems to get to them. They are able to make decisions calmly but decisively. And they are never emotionally affected by conflict, disagreement or discord.

What are they not?

They are not bullies. They are not aggressive towards others. They do not slap people down (except in rare cases).

They are predisposed to motivating others, guiding them, and helping them achieve their best.

They do well for themselves, but they do not come across as self-centered.

They stand up for themselves, without making others feel small.

So much of this comes down to that self-assuredness. They don’t have an ego, and lack any need to project “pride” or to compensate for something.

You can always spot “wannabe alphas” by those kinds of traits–aggression, bullying, intimidation tactics, territorial behavior, emotional reactions to being challenged, an egoic need to be right, and an overarching sense of “looking out for number one.”

Natural alphas are a totally different breed. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your life or workplace, observe them closely and learn from their communication style.

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