To return to my previous analogy of business lessons learned from my dog team colleagues, I want to talk more about leadership within this framework. Many of us know who the ‘alpha’ is in our workplace or team. They may also be a leader in your organization. But do they mean the same thing? Is it necessary to be the alpha to be a good leader and vice versa?
No, absolutely not. A leader is someone who steers the team in the right direction. The lead dog(s) can guide the sled and team through challenging terrain and difficult conditions and always has the strength of character to make clear decisions. Decisiveness and direction are two very important traits in a leader. The leader’s primary concern is keeping the sled on course to reach the destination. Course corrections and minor adjustments are all within the leader’s skill set.
The alpha on the other hand is considered to be the biggest (personality, not always size), toughest, and most dominant dog in the entire pack. The pack is made up of all the dogs that run in the teams as well as old and young dogs. The pack is a much bigger group than the team. The alpha often has a dominant genetic presence within the pack as well. (In the business world, this is clearly seen where some ‘alpha’ managers will make sure the pack is filled with ‘their people’.) The alpha has a large and dominating presence; everyone notices as they enter the room.
One of the interesting things about dog team dynamics is that as a general rule, alpha dogs do not make good lead dogs. This may be surprising to you, as it was to me when I first started working with these animals. But think about it for a minute. The alpha has to be concerned with what everyone is doing, but the leader only needs to make sure that the team stays on track. If the leader is worried about dominating the team (an alpha trait), he won’t be focused on the goal ahead. This is one of the reasons why many smart, capable leaders often are not great in that position; they are ‘too’ alpha.
Recognizing alpha or leadership qualities within yourself, you can better position yourself within your team. If you have a strong, dominating personality, use that strength to keep your team motivated and moving towards achieving your goals. If you are more of the goal oriented type, use that vision to help your team keep their eye on the prize. Being aware of your strengths will help you be a better leader, regardless of your alpha status.
Personally, I strive to be a leader, goal oriented and concerned with the bigger picture. Leaders have the long term vision to guide the team in the right direction; they are future oriented. Alphas are primarily concerned with the here and now and/or their legacy; they are past and present oriented. To keep your sled or business moving, you may have a need for both, but vision will help guide you into the next miles of your journey. Are you a leader or an alpha?