The Danger Of Being An Alpha Leader – How To Avoid The Pitfalls

Picture credit: Alex Storer, AWS Productions

We’re told the leaders who make it to the top are great visionaries. Assertive. Clear on the mission of the business, the purpose, and the quest. These results-focused leaders bring others along with them, moving the team along quickly towards success. The true alpha. We expect when ‘danger’ comes at us from the outside, this person who is strongest will run towards to the danger to protect us. They will lead from the front and we shall reward them with our productivity, our loyalty and our efforts.

But it doesn’t always play out like that. And the alpha leader is left looking over their shoulder, scratching their head wondering why nobody is following them.

Two of the most the most common pitfalls I see alpha leaders fall into are.

  1. A Mindset That There Can Only Be One Alpha

As humans, we share many traits with primates. If we look to the silverback gorillas we know that only one becomes the leader. It’s usually the strongest, the one that becomes the master since it has the great responsibility to protect all members of his group. Their tasks are similar to that of a leader:

  • Make decisions
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Defend the group against enemies (competitors)
  • Find new sites to feed (business growth)

We’re constantly assessing and judging each other. Who’s the alpha? Who’s the dominant? Who do we want to follow?

And this is where alphas can come undone, by butting heads with other dominants. Fuelled by the need for significance, and driven by certainty through control they can fall short of achieving the vision if they are drawn into the politics of fighting off competitors for the position of the one and only alpha leader of the tribe.

  1. Frustration That Nobody Can Be As Good As Them

A leader who is committed to fight and defend the vision of a business will build a reputation as the one to turn to when signs of trouble appear. Their reputation is widely known as the solver of all problems. The mythical dragon slayer, admired by the village tribe. They’ve trained to the best of their ability, improved each skill to near perfection, upgraded their armour and weapons, forded every river, explored every cave, and climbed every mountain.

Yet this level of significance can lead to the false impression that they are the only person who can create success. And so, when a member of the team fails, when things fall apart the dysfunctional dragon slayer becomes frustrated. Why bother fighting the dragon when nobody else pulls their weight? So they drop all of their leadership skills with their armour and either turn and walk away in anger, or leave the villagers out to dry to ‘learn a lesson’.


How Does An Exceptional Leader Avoid These Pitfalls?

If you notice yourself in either of these descriptions, know that although you might be an authority, you will not be a leader.

It might be a hard message to hear, but the fact is there’s a cost to leadership at the highest level of responsibility. Be it the CEO, the Managing Director, the business owner. The cost is self-interest.

Exceptional leaders, those who achieve great success by bringing their team with them on a journey know the secret. It doesn’t necessarily come with age. Nor experience. It’s the knowledge that they have to put their own self-interest aside to look after others.

The quickest way to do this is to let go of ego. It’s the one thing exceptional leaders know gets in the way to success. A simple answer yes, but not so easy to do.

Realise that you don’t get to do less work as a leader, you need to do more work. You need to show up every day being the best version of yourself. Being the leader you want to see in your team. Taking on the traits and behaviours that allows others to succeed. Especially on the ‘bad' days.

It’s gracefully arriving at the end goal, with a servant’s heart to others. Not an interest in serving yourself. Work on being the best version of yourself first, so you can then shift your focus to serving others.

Rather than being rewarded by eating first, the exceptional leader aims to eat last. In the words of Simon Sinek, “leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their vision.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?


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