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Coaching alpha males


Think 'alpha male' and do you see an inspirational, decisive leader, or a bullying chest-beater? Dr Ho Law addresses the common weaknesses of so-called alpha males and how coaching can help.

What do the international executives and many charismatic political leaders such as the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have in common in terms of their leadership style?

W­hen we think of inspirational leaders, it usually conjures up an image of a person who is confident, decisive, effective intelligent, productive, sharp, visionary, and successful. Perhaps we may not immediately associate the qualities of good leaders with how they delegate tasks, listen to others’ opinion and handle their emotions under stressful situations.

"The prominent and distinctive aspect of alphas’ personality that contributed to their success could also lead to extreme behaviours that can become counterproductive."
But can these extraordinary leaders also be insensitive, domineering and difficult to work with? Are they the so called ‘alpha leaders’? Can their quintessential strengths become their weaknesses? This article looks specifically at what defines alpha males, their typical personality type and how coaching intervention could help them to become even more successful.

What is an Alpha Male? What typifies them?
The term ‘alpha male’ derives from the social animal world where ‘alpha’ refers to individuals in the community to whom the others follow. Thus men who are typical alpha males tend to be self-assured, competitive, and dominant. When achieving a leadership position, they like to dominate others and deny them access to opportunities that may challenge their status quo.

Alpha Male personality type, their signature strengths
Alpha males tend to have an ‘Executive’ personality type described by Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) as ENTJ (Extraversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgment). In other words, they are assertive, career-minded, confident, creative, critical, decisive, determined, dominant, efficient, energetic, forceful, innovative, inspirational, intelligent, motivated, opinionated, sociable, strategic and visionary thinkers and communicators. These qualities make natural born corporate leaders. Their drive for leadership is achieved by their ability to think quickly, understand complexities, constantly seek opportunities and make decisions, offering solutions and action plans.

When strengths become weaknesses
The alpha males are such perfectionists. Their authority, personal power, a sense of control and presence may also become the source for alienating others in a team. They are such demanding, forceful, judgemental and self-aggrandised leaders that others may find them abusive, cold, intimidating, and overbearing, very challenging to work with.

Alpha male leaders tend to have an inability to tune into people’s feelings, and are uncomfortable with the ‘touchy-feely’ expressed by their co-workers. They are impatient and can not see from other’s perspectives. These weaknesses, coupling with their lack of attention to detail, may cause the alpha male leaders to run into difficulties in implementing their grand projects. This is due to their failure of obtaining collaboration and vital information from others.

Research has shown that under such autocratic leadership, a team would only work hard when the leader was present (Lewin and Lippitt, 1938). The subordinates under the alpha male leader are likely to be affected by low morale, high absenteeism, high levels of stress and burnout. Thus, the prominent and distinctive aspect of alphas’ personality that contributed to their success could also lead to extreme behaviours that can become counterproductive. Companies run by unhealthy alphas tend to develop real problems (for more information on ‘Alpha Male Syndrome’, see Ludeman & Erlandson, 2006).

How can coaching help Alpha Males to overcome their weaknesses, without compromising their strengths?
In general, the constructive, honest and open dialogues between coaches and alpha male coachees would raise their awareness about why and what they need to work on. The coaching feedback could serve as a wake up call for the alpha males.

As Lesley Yeung, a trainee coaching psychologist at Empsy® Network observes in coaching alpha males, it might be useful to ask specific questions and pin down the target behaviours, examples of coaching questions include:

  • Do you interrupt and dismiss other’s opinion?

  • Do you find it frustrating to have to take other’s view into account?
  • When alpha males identify the required behavioural changes, the coach could challenge them in setting more reasonable goals while validating their existing strengths. With commitment, their positive attributes could potentially take them further to their highest aspiration as a successful “good” leader.

    However, in practice this may not be straightforward. Since the alpha males do not perceive their own weaknesses, they do not see the need to change. This makes coaching alpha males particularly challenging. The first step is to help them become aware of others’ perspectives about themselves and their impact upon others.

    "Coaching alpha males to develop their emotional intelligence in terms of their self, social and cultural awareness could be the key for change."

    This could be in a form of one-to-one coaching using the Johari window framework (pointing out their ‘blind spots’). The alpha males who are lacking Intuition (ESTJ) would make hasty decisions. The coach could point out these issues and help them discover possible solutions. On the other hand, the alpha males who have limited thinking capacity (ENFJ) tend to make poor decisions and fail to translate good ideas into action plans. In this case, they would benefit by the facilitative coaching approach to help them take into consideration ideas from other members of the team.

    In an organisational or team context, 360-degree feedback may be used. This involves the alpha being rated on various behavioural dimensions (such as leadership skills or communication skills) by one or more bosses, peers, and subordinates.

    For example, the on-line tool developed by the author and his colleagues Sara Ireland and Zulfi Hussain called Cultural Social Intelligence (CSI) provides 360 degree feedback mechanism for users to review their self awareness as well as feedback from others (see or email author for info).

    Indeed, coaching alpha males to develop their emotional intelligence in terms of their self, social and cultural awareness could be the key for change. Alpha male leaders need to consciously be aware of other people's opinions, values and their feelings. Other aspects include addressing the work/life balance, as their drive for success may cause their negligence of their family and social life.

    Dr Ho Law is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Chartered Scientist, Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine, a founding member of Association for Coaching, Society for Coaching Psychology, Special Group in Coaching Psychology (British Psychological Society), and the President of Empsy® Network for coaching ( He is also an international practitioner in psychology, coaching, mentoring and psychotherapy. He is the principal author of ‘The Psychology of Coaching, Mentoring & Learning’ (Wiley, 2007); and a contributor to the Association for Coaching’s Diversity in Coaching, edited by Jonathan Passmore (Kogan Page, 2009). He is the founder director of Empsy® Ltd, and at present a senior lecturer at UEL, Coaching Psychology Unit:


  • Diversity in Coaching is available from or

  • Lewin, K. & Lippitt, R. (1938). An experimental approach to the study of autocracy and democracy: A preliminary note. Sociometry, 1, 292-300

  • Ludeman, K. & Erlandson, E. (2006). Alpha Male Syndrome. Harvard Business Press. Boston. MA.
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