Authentic Leadership Vs. Alpha Leadership

May 26th, 2010 2 Comments

I hear a lot about being an alpha leader; proving to your tribe that you are leader, that you are alpha.

I have started to hear a number of newer entrepreneurs telling others that every successful entrepreneur must establish themselves as a leader by demonstrating certain characteristics defined as alpha behaviors.

But I think there needs to be a clarification. Leadership is demonstrated by authenticity and consistency in action.

My horses are a perfect example.  I have a large band of horses (at one time almost 60).  As herd animals they always have an established pecking order of which all in the herd are aware. What I observed over many years is the battle among the horses for alpha horse status (usually a mare by the way).  Every now and then a horse will challenge the order and try to establish themselves as alpha, especially if a new horse is introduced into the herd.

There seemed to be two kinds of horses that vied for the leadership position: the “wana-bes” and the authentic leaders.

The wana-bes tried to intimidate and control the others to establish their leadership, sometimes with very harsh tactics.  They frantically, herded and punished anyone that didn’t follow their lead or attempted to break from the herd.

The authentic leaders on the other hand, just kind of did their thing.  They were consistent in their actions, they could always be depended on to define a good course of action (usually to gain food or water), and in the end were the one everyone looked to for guidance in a time of fear (prey animals depend of this for survival).

The other pattern I noticed was that the authentic leaders spent very little outside effort in their leadership duties.  What they did and the actions they took came naturally, and they would have done them whether they had followers or not.  The wana-bes; however, were constantly expending additional, and often frantic, effort trying to dominate the rest of the herd and keep them in line with their expectations.

As you would suspect, the true test of leadership was in time of emergency.  Having thousands of years of survival instinct hard-wired into their brains, when the mere possibility of impending danger loomed, the horses didn’t think twice about who to follow.  They, including the wana-be,  ALWAYS followed the authentic leader.

As an entrepreneur, we all should be establishing ourselves as leaders.  That’s why we are here, we love taking the helm and plotting a course!  But, be authentic.  Our true power comes from our authenticity.  Be consistent and stay within your own integrity.  Your leadership will naturally shine.

And when time comes for others to choose who to follow, they will always pick the Authentic Leader.

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  • Chris

    Great article and so right on. Having spent a decade in the corporate world I watched first hand how people try to assert the power game or the Alpha role. Now living in Idaho and working in the outdoor business I enjoyed your examples of the wanna be Alpha leaders in your herd of horses.

    Here in Idaho as well as where you are we hear a lot about the Alpha wolf and in that case they are dominant.

    I guess my point is that the true success of any leader is to be authentic and humble in life. These are two traits that are important in business or your personal life.

    Thank you again for a great article.


  • Richard

    Love the POV and analogy of the herd. It’s true that great leadership is so often not noticed because it’s not noisy and obvious; just consistent and authentic. If you appreciate this kind of thoughtful perspective and dialogue, you may also enjoy the thoughts of Kristin Zhivago, Consultant to CEO’s and a real leader and real leader.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mary.

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