• February 2010

Do You Have "Alpha Male Syndrome?"

By Hope Katz Gibbs

In their book, Alpha Male Syndrome: How to change nonproductive behaviors and increase leadership performance, authors Eddie Erlandson, M.D., and Kate Ludeman, Ph.D. identify four types of alpha males: commanders, visionaries, strategists and executors. As you might guess, they say that most alphas have a combination of these personalities, but all have one thing in common: They are wired to achieve results.

That’s the positive side of being an alpha, though. The book actually focuses on the fact that the very traits that breed success carry serious flip-side risks.

Below is a Q&A with the doctor — who spent 20 years practicing vascular surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan — and his co-author wife — an executive coach who has worked with thousands of senior executives.

Be Inkandescent: Eddie, can you give us some details about the personality traits and characteristics of the four types of alphas?

Eddie Erlandson: After years of working in the medical and business fields, Kate and I had much insight and experience with alpha males, which is what gave us the idea to write the book. We then conducted a sophisticated research study and on the whole, we found alpha males are tough-minded, hard-driving, highly skilled individuals who can be categorized into four groups:

  • Commanders—These men are natural born leaders who know how to get people to do things.
  • Visionaries—Leaders who see the big picture.
  • Strategists—Those who excel in abstract thinking, problem solving and planning.
  • Executors—Leaders who are dogged implementers.

According to our research, about 70% of C-level executives are alpha males. However, the characteristics that got them there—competitiveness, impatience and aggressiveness— can be toxic, especially when they start to compete with friends or even their kids.

So one of the goals of our book is to help those natural born leaders get this aspect of their personalities under control.

Be Inkandescent: Another goal, it seems, is to help the people who work for alpha males learn to cope with a hard-driving boss.

Kate Ludeman: Definitely. It can be a nightmare working for an alpha, and that’s because they have an insatiable need to win. Unfortunately, those with an alpha boss approach the relationship by responding in one of two ways: Either they cave in and play the victim or they take the opposite tactic, turning every interaction into an ongoing battle in a long war. Both approaches are dead wrong. You have to realize that alpha males are dysfunctional and make up for their flaws by using your abilities. Employees need to stop trying to change the alpha male and focus on their own behavior around him.

Be Inkandescent: The key, you say, is to never become defensive.

Eddie Erlandson: That’s right. Just work from facts and data and be sure to let the alpha know you understand the idea they are trying to convey. Otherwise, the alpha male will continue to be competitive. And never take on an alpha in public. They excel in that play ground.

Be Inkandescent: Are there no alpha women?

Kate Ludeman: Of course there are, and we all know them. But we decided to focus on males because there are simply more of them—especially in the top executive ranks. As consultants, we also found that while alpha females get angry, they rarely become as belligerent as alpha males. Yes, they like to win, and yes, they set aggressive goals for themselves and their team, but they are not as intimidating or as authoritarian as their male counterparts. A great deal of wreckage is simply caused by boys behaving badly, so that’s why we focus on helping the men.

Do you need to control “alpha male” tendencies? Find out by using the assessment tool on the authors’ Web site: www.worthethic.com


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Eddie Erlandson spent 20 years practicing vascular surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also co-designed and led Life Lessons, a fitness program that helped hundreds of people reduce health risks, increase life satisfaction and achieve sustainable results in business leadership.

His co-author and wife, Kate Ludeman, is a Ph.D., an author and executive coach who has worked with thousands of senior executives. Her previous books include “The Worth Ethic,” “Earn What You’re Worth,” “The Corporate Mystic,” and “Radical Change, Radical Results.”

The couple now live in Austin, Texas, where they run their consulting company, Worth Ethic Corp., which advises such notables as Meg Whitman of eBay and Larry Lucchino of the Boston Red Sox.

It has been a few years since “Alpha Male Syndrome” was published and the authors say it is doing incredibly well.

“In January, we spent 3 days in Sao Paulo, Brazil training the Brazilian Coaching Society to use the alpha male material and the assessment,” says Eddie. “It was a very gratifying experience to see these experienced coaches take this work so fully into the international business setting.”

Eddie adds that he and Kate continue to work with many “Alpha Leaders” — both male and female, and their additional research has reinforced the importance of self awareness & commitment in leadership effectiveness.

“As these highly motivated leaders bring their awareness to their mindsets and mental models, they can make shifts that positively alter behavior patterns which may have limited them and embrace new skills that support even greater success,” he says. “To have impact as a leader is to recognize key moments and show up with a style that will have the most impact. The key is to base everything you do on a commitment to having a strong vision. Using a coaching partnership can accelerate this process, and in the end everyone on the team wins.”

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