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Becoming the Alpha Leader

Alpha. What thoughts come to mind as you think about this word? Perhaps it is dominance or aggression. Maybe it is strength or masculinity. The alpha wolf has long been portrayed as a  savage blood thirsty predator so it is no wonder that many people view the alpha in a negative light. Researchers that have studied wolves in the wild have found that behavior among wolves is very different from the stereotype we know and there is much to learn from these animals.  

Wolves are highly social creatures with an organized pack. The wolf pack is more like a traditional family, consisting of the alpha male and female who lead the pack, and their offspring. Male and female wolves are monogamous creatures that generally mate for life. Their children stay with them until they reach the age of maturity where they then search out a mate to start their own pack. Alpha is just another name for mother and father. As such, the pair of alphas share in the responsibility to raise and lead their pack members.

Together the mother and father wolves decide when and where to hunt, where to call home and correct inappropriate behavior. Aside from decisions of necessity, the parents will also play with their children and are nurturing and affectionate to them, often snuggling and licking them. Of course, alpha wolves are still wild creatures and will be aggressive, however only when there is a real threat to the pack. These behaviors teach us valuable lessons.

Leadership is not driven by force

Researcher Rick McIntyre has spent 20 years observing gray wolves in the wild of Yellowstone National Park. He has been a leader in helping to dispel the myths of wolf behavior.  When interviewed on the behavior of wolves he said,

“The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence, quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re comfortable with that. You have a calming effect.”

Leadership is driven by a true sense of self, by calm and by kindness. In any leadership role, whether manager, parent or boss it is essential that we do not view ourselves as the superior. An alpha leader will produce the result they want because the people they lead want to, not because they are forced to. An alpha leader is respected and loved because they give respect and love. This calm leadership is especially important within the family unit. If you are a parent you may not have thought of yourself as a leader, however the truth is, once you become a parent, you also become a leader. The type of leadership you choose to demonstrate will affect the entire family.

In the same interview, Mr. McIntyre said,

“Imagine two wolf packs, or two human tribes. Which is more likely to survive and reproduce? The one whose members are more cooperative, more sharing, less violent with one another; or the group whose members are beating each other up and competing with one another?”

Likewise, the family led by calm strength will be happier, more cooperative and loving toward each other.

Howling at Imaginary Threats

An important characteristic to note is that the calm alpha wolf only reacts to real danger.  This helps the pack feel secure and protected. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be a wolf that howls at imaginary or misinterpreted threats. How long do you think it would take before this type of wolf’s pack starts to distrust them as their leader? This type of behavior also happens to humans although much more subtly. The opposite of calm confidence is constant stress. Leading in calm confidence is a challenge when an individual is constantly reacting to false danger. This is the same as the alpha howling at imaginary threats. Imagine for a minute a boss that is constantly worried. How secure would you feel in your job? This same scenario is true in the family.

Unnecessary stress will make the entire family pack feel insecure, uncooperative and defensive. This is not to say that being a true alpha leader will always be easy or always mean perfect behavior. This does mean that whatever circumstances arise, that your pack will trust you and that you can trust yourself.

A way to measure your leadership as a parent, at work, or any social circumstance is to notice the cooperation and responses of those in your stewardship. The responses we get are a great opportunity to reflect and observe our own behavior. For example, perhaps our negative attitude or our own insecurity are creating a feeling of uneasiness to those around us that could be provoking resistance. If you don’t feel like you are leading the way you want, it is never too late. You can learn to improve yourself and eliminate chronic stress. As you develop yourself you will learn how to become a leader and influence your family for the better. You can become a true alpha leader. This only comes about as we start to change and improve ourselves.  

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