Sympathy for the Alpha Male (and Female)?


Life as a corporate alpha male – or alpha female – can be tough.

Rivals lurk everywhere; rivals that need to be dominated and subdued. Impatience, aggression and anger for some alphas is only a millisecond away – a tough price for the “plays well with others” performance rating and getting people to spend time with you at a family picnic.

Turns out that the price that alpha males pay for their status is pretty steep. The Wall Street Journal reports in an article Are Alpha Males Healthy? – based on a study in Science of our close cousins the baboon – that the price of that behavior is frequently bad health and short lives.

That adrenaline rush that alphas experience as they guard their throne also increases cortisol, endangering their immune system and increasing blood pressure. Alphas who are also Type A’s – with all the accompanying agressive tendencies – carry a heightened risk of heart disease.

While the impact on female alphas is less researched and subsequently less understood, you can fathom a guess as to what the impact of that alpha behavior might be. The one piece of early good news is that rank within females (baboons as least) is related to lineage, which may bode well for the type of “kill or be killed” dynamic found amongst alpha males.

And beta males?

Turns out that there may be considerable advantages to coming in 2nd. Alpha males may get the girls (or boys) but beta males have less stress, and less stress related health issues. They live longer, and perhaps happier.

Alphas can mitigate their health risk through moderate exercise, yoga, music or downtime with family and friends (those, I might add, that they haven’t scared away).

The trick is for alphas is to work and learn to be less competitive. Practice, as the saying goes, makes perfect.

So that guy at work who keeps expressing their need to always dominate – or that alpha mom at the bus stop who insists that the playdates have to be held at her house and not yours – are carrying an aded cost for their behavior.

Grin and bear it if you can – and realize that their need to control carries a price that with any luck you’ll avoid.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

Alphas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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