Being an alpha male is more involved than you think
When people hear the term “Alpha Male” it, it usually conjures up mental imagery of a super good looking guy who holds the traits of being strong, muscular and charming – all at the same time.
This classic representation of such men can be found in many modern day movies. Examples include Brad Pitt, who played Tyler Durden in the flick Fight Club and Cam Gigandet, who played Ryan McCarthy in Never Back Down.
Below I’ve included a video to give you an idea.
- The etiology of term alpha male
- The link between animal research and “alphas”
- How wolves relate to alpha men
- Common traits and characteristics of alpha men
- The differences between “Alpha Males” and “A-Types”
- Tips on developing your inner alpha male
- Alpha male movies that you can use as reference points
- Common myths associated with guys who are alpha
ALPHA MALE EXPLAINED
Before we get too far into the traits and characteristics of an alpha men, it might help to understand some background behind the term itself. I mention this because being an alpha male is multifactorial in nature.
The phrase “alpha male” was coined by folks involved in the field of ethology; a 25 cent word used to describe the objective study of animal behavior.
Here, we’re talking about researchers who spent years obserting how various kinds of animals interact with one another in their natural environment.
We get the term “alpha” from the Greeks. That’s because the first letter of the Greek alphabet is “A”. Ethologists who observed that certain animals had leadership abilities with dominant traits were referred to as “Alphas”.
FYI: Famous ethologists who used these kinds of terms include movers and shakers like Charles Darwin, who is considered by many to be the father of evolutional theory, and Konrad Lorenz, a biologist credited with the psychological construct known as imprinting.
Probably one of the most famous ethologists is Jane Goodall, who is known worldwide for her in vivo study of chimpanzees. If you get a chance, be sure to check out her book on her 30 years with chimps.
ALPHA MALE RESEARCH
In American nomenclature, we typically link alpha males to wolves. The reference itself dates back to studies conducted in the late 1940’s by Dr. Rudolf Schenkel of the University of Basel; a researcher known for his study of captive grey wolves.
What’s been lost over the course of time is that Shenkel didn’t confine the prefix “alpha” to just males. That’s right – he also wrote about alpha female wolves. But the term has been coopted by pop culture and to a greater or lesser degree, Hollywood.
I point this out because it would be massively incorrect to assume that males are the only ones who can be “alphas”. Any reasonably objective person who looks at this topic through the lens of biodiversity will conclude that mammalian alphas have been with us at least since the Cenozoic era, if not well before.
With that shared, let’s move into alpha male characteristics, using the previously mentioned ethology as our guide.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ALPHA MALES
To be an alpha male, one generally exhibits the following traits and characteristics. As you read what follows, bear in mind these traits are based on animal studies and not the stuff of Hollywood.
Alpha Male Traits
- Natural leadership skills
- Protective instinct
- Physically strong
What’s important to note here is that your “alphaness” is as much a function of heredity as it is personality. In other words, we know from research that some traits are inherent.
For example, if you are naturally assertive and that charactersitic runs in your family, there’s a good chance that heredity is part of the dynamic. To this point, the old axiom, “that trait runs in our family” strikes a chord of truth.
That’s not to say that we can’t nurture nascent traits. For example, leadership skills can be grown when a person dedicates himself to the cause.
And for that matter, one does not need to score a 10 on the alpha Richter scale in order to be considered alpha. There are many alpha males who are strongly assertive but not necessarily curious.
Furthermore, not all traits need to operate at equal intensity.
Finally, on this point I’ll share this: all of us, to a lesser or greater degree, hold these traits. Sure, there are men who are more dominant than others. But dominance isn’t a black or white issue. Instead, it’s more about the marriage of instrumental and expressive traits.
- Need to dominate
I mention these because alpha traits, like the previously mentioned dominance, are not about some Neanderthal construct of masculinity promoted by those who wish to sell an image. Instead, it’s about the total person.
Some folks confuse the construct of “A Type” personalities with “Alpha Males”. While they may share certain similarities, they are not the same. That’s because alphas are trait driven where “A Types” are personality centered. Below I have offered a working definition of A Types.
A TYPE PERSONALITIES DEFINED
A personality that typically exhibits high ambition and rigidity. Usually very organized, focused on status, emotionally sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management.
Primary Difference Between Alphas and A-Types
To make things simple, “alphas” speak to any animal (human, dog, wolf, bear, etc.) that exhibits one of the 7 previously mentioned characteristics.
“A-Types” are descriptors generally restricted to human beings. And when you think about this it makes sense. Would anyone really describe their pet cat as being “A-Type”?
HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR INNER ALPHA MALE
Now that we have a better understanding of the science, it’s time to move about the business of helping you to develop your inner alpha male.
What follows is a detailed walkthrough of each trait with specific steps you can take to nurture what’s deep inside. Remember, to be an alpha male, you don’t need to be super strong in all trait areas. Even among wild animals, we rarely see this.
Instead, your goal should be to grow your challenge areas. I’ll guide you through each area and provide tips for personal development. I’ve also included several book and movie recommendations for further study.
Let’s jump right in.
Perhaps the most noticeable trait of an alpha male is his ability to be assertive. This is different than aggression, which denotes a hostile tone.
Assertiveness, at least in human terms, means confident.
But how does one build his confidence? Well, there are a variety of ways but in my work as a counselor, I can tell you that the best approach is through doing. In other words, confidence happens through experience.
When you have a chance, I encourage you to read this post that offers 10 ways men can build confidence.
Here are some other tips to help you increase your confidence as a man and by extension, your level of assertiveness.
- Be mindful of posture. Make sure you stand straight when you walk.
- Shoulders should be squared.
- Chest raised but not puffed out.
- Smile when you greet someone and tilt your head slightly to show interest.
- Use a firm handshake.
- Make eye contact and avoid looking downward or away
There are just but a few suggestions. If you are hoping to build your skills in this area, I highly recommend the book: Assertiveness Training: Become an Alpha Male by Robert Moore.
The reason I like Moore’s book is because it offers real world exercises that are designed to enhance confidence through the use of assertiveness based skills.
Some people confuse dominance with over the top behaviors. In fact, dominance has kind of gotten a bad rap because it’s been assigned to aggressive male behaviors depicted in television and in movies.
Another example of faux dominance can be found in the movie Wall Street. In this flick, we see Michael Douglas play the part of a corporate raider Gordon Gekko – a narcissistic financial tyrant who ruthlessly uses people on his rise to the top.
So these sound familiar?
While great for the silver screen, dominance doesn’t work that way. Well, at least not in a way that gets people to like or respect you.
Instead, with a specific focus on alpha male characteristics, dominance is about having a commanding presence, which is a function of body language.
Think of previous U.S. presidents, such as Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy. People intrinsically knew these men were alphas the moment they walked into a room.
I’ll level with you and say now that dominance is one of those traits that can be difficult to develop. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In order to do it, you’ll have to identify several individuals who you that admire project strength and self-assuredness.
The best way to do this is to grab a pen and paper and start making a list. A manageable number to start off with is five. Once you’ve made your selections, jot a few characteristics down next to each person’s name.
To help you get started, consider the following questions:
- What message does this person project?
- How does this person project (words, body language, etc.)?
- Who is the message being projected to?
Bear in mind that your list doesn’t have to include famous people. It can be a previous boss, someone you played sports with or a mentor. The idea is to choose people who have dominant traits that you can emulate.
Keep in mind that part of having a commanding presence is theatrical. No, that doesn’t mean you need to take acting lessons. But it does mean you will want to study how the person carries himself.
In my research of alpha men, I’ve discovered that most have spent time carefully studying the people they admire.
And so part of the key to better understanding dominance is to be aware of body language. If your goal is to project strength, conviction and power, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book Body Language by Chase.
Any survey of alpha male characteristics quickly reveals that leadership is a key trait. But what exactly does that term mean? Believe it or not, folks who research the topic of leadership actually disagree on the definition more than you might think.
Most of the confusion stems from the complex phenomenon involving the construct of leadership. That’s because leadership involves a trio of personality, physical traits and behaviors.
Here are a few academic definitions that I’ve taken from the textbook, Leadership by Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy, to help contextualize what we’re exploring:
- The process by which an agent induces a subordinate to behave in a desired manner (Bennis, 1959)
- Directing and coordinating the work of group members (Fiedler, 1967)
- An interpersonal relation in which others comply because they want to, not because they have to. (Merton, 1957)
As you can see, the definitions are similar but not exactly the same. That’s because leadership is both a science and an art. The “science” part comes from the inherent traits that a person may be born with. The “art” aspect of leadership relates to skills that can be grown.
For decades now, researchers in the field of human behavior have argued over the question: Are leaders born or made?
What do you think the answer is? I can tell you that in the case of alpha males, it’s a mixture of both. That’s because leadership involves the process of:
- Inspiring others
- Developing people
- Creating a vision for the long term
- Asking questions, including why?
- Modeling desired behaviors
- Challenging people to reach new heights
It is important to note that managers and leaders are not the same. For example, your immediate supervisor may be a good manager but that doesn’t mean they are a great leader. Typically, here’s what managers do:
- Establish short term goals (generally speaking)
- Ask “how and when” questions
- Imitate leaders
- Don’t challenge superiors or “the system”
That’s not to say that managers can’t be good leaders. I’m simply suggesting that the two terms are not mutually exclusive. You may be wondering why I am mentioning this.
For most men who want to be alpha males, it’s the leadership trait that needs to be grown and not the management trait.
The research tells us that leadership skills grow through a combination of experiential learning and study. In other words, you will want to reflect upon your own leadership experiences in the past and carefully assess your strengths and weakness.
There’s no way I can teach you all of the ways to grow your leadership skills on this one page. What I can do is encourage you to read more on this topic and be open to learning new things.
One of the best books you can pick up to help grow skills in this areas is: Leadership 101 by Maxwell. What I like about this read are the straight forward tips given by the author, primarily communicated through concrete examples.
Another good read is How To Be a Good Leader by Cochran. This one is nice because it helps you to identify your personal leadership style. It also provides insight into enhancing your communication skills while motivating your followers. When you think about it, isn’t that what alpha males do?
4. Protective Instincts
Have you ever noticed that in the wild, alpha animals are very protective of their clan and territory? Think of wolves here, where only the alpha males and females are in charge of the pack. If a non-pack member so much as walks near an area controlled by the leaders, subordinate members of the pack sound off alarms. In turn, the alphas (usually the male wolf) will go on the attack.
There’s a reason you see this kind of behavior in wolves and other animal species. It’s called instinct and it’s directly related to survival.
It might be helpful to think of instinct as a kind of “sixth sense”. Some people call it an inner voice. In any event, if you want to be an alpha man, it’s important to build this skill area.
- Good instincts are key to personal safety
- Well-developed instincts are linked to strong leadership skills
- Healthy instinctual skills are attractive to potential mates
One of the best ways you can develop and grow your instincts is to spend time studying the topic of situational awareness. I say this because when you think of an alpha male on a spectrum of characteristics, the ability to anticipate the moves of others and identify key threats is crucial.
To be an alpha male is to be courageous. That term shouldn’t be confused with risky behavior or foolish risk taking. Instead, I’m talking about men who overcome their fears so they don’t become paralyzed with anxiety and indecision.
In order to increase your courage skills, you’ll want to study men who have gone against the grain and made decisions that some might not agree with.
In the context of alpha males, I’ll briefly outline several steps you can take to enhance your own sense of courage. And I acknowledge here that this is a topic that requires a page all on its own.
How to develop courage
1. Write down your specific fears
2. Look for the root cause of your fears
3. Identify areas in your life where you’ve demonstrated courage
4. Develop a plan to transfer courage from one area to another
5. Engage in cognitive rehearsal as part of assertiveness training
6. Trust your instincts in decision making
7. Recognize that courage sometimes means going against the grain
In my study of alpha males, I’ve observed that most successful men have learned to modulate how the trait of courage gets expressed. In other words, these men don’t put purposely place themselves in risky situations in order to demonstrate they are brave. Instead, they’ve learned to become less fearful by making wise choices that reduce risk as much as possible.
But – when these same men do find themselves in challenging situations, they don’t shrink away. Perhaps the most effective way to learn more about courage is to study it. One of the best books you will ever read on this topic is: Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy.
Here, you will discover how the construct of courage manifests itself in the form of personal decision making; witnessed through the narrative lens of famous world leaders. It’s kind of a must read for any guy who wants to be an alpha male.
6. Physically strong
One of the common traits of alpha males in the animal kingdom is physical strength. For example, alpha wolves are typically bigger and stronger than others males in the pack. I’ll acknowledge here that much of this is a function of heredity.
But wolves can’t “workout” or engage in strength training. Human alpha males can.
Remember, to be an alpha you will want to focus on all areas and not just the psychological ones. Physically training your body through exercises (hopefully resistance training) needs to be part of the dynamic.
If you want to grow your strength, I highly encourage you to get involved with plyometric exercise, regardless if you are new to the gym or not.
It is also helpful to recognize that building muscle needs to be framed as something to look forward to and not a chore. Alpha men who involve themselves with strength training discover 7 unique benefits that are life enhancing.
Here are some other tips in this area:
- Focus on upper body exercises to develop chest and arms
- Don’t forget about your legs and calves
- Know the unique differences between the terms strength and power
If you’ve never worked out or only have minimal experience in this area, it might be helpful to gain the assistance of a personal trainer. The key to success here, particularly when first starting out, is personal accountability.
The final trait of alpha males that I’ll touch upon is curiosity. No, I’m not talking about being nosey or injecting yourself into the affairs of others. Instead, I’m speaking to intellectual curiosity.
Looking back to the wild, it’s hard not to notices that most alpha wolves are generally curious. They investigate what’s going on in their environment and then use (or acquire) skills for the future.
If you want to increase your intellectual capacity, it’s important to have an open mind. This means letting go of long held, rigid thoughts and allowing for new possibilities. It also means asking questions and investigating the answers.
One of the best ways you can do this is to pick a topic that holds your interest and start learning more about it. For example, have you always been curious about what makes certain athletes successful? Why not study the psychology of famous athletes to enhance your understanding?
All I can say here is that alphas typically involve themselves with growing their knowledge base, which in turns helps to inform the other trait areas outlined above.
You don’t have to be a “nerd” or even a master a given topic. You simply need to have a curiosity about the world around you and go about the business of learning.
ALPHA MALES IN MOVIES
In your study of alpha men, it helps to look at pop culture for examples. Below, I’ve created a list of alpha male movies for you to check out as a reference point.
- Jason Statham in The Transporter
- Matt Damon in Bourne Identity
- Paul Walker in Fast and Furious
- Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables
- George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Oceans 11
- Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man
- Any of the James Bond movies
ALPHA MALE POLL
ALPHA MALE MYTHS
In many ways, the term alpha male has a mystique attached to it. And like most things that have become romanticized, there’s also a few myths. Below you will find several of the common whoppers linked to alpha males.
- Alphas are restricted to men only
- Alpha men are bullies
- Alpha guys are sexually dominant
- Alpha men are born
- Only men with green eyes can be alpha
- Alpha men are always heterosexual
- Alpha men are narcissistic
- Alpha males are psychopaths
- Alpha guys are misogynistic
- Scorpio men are the only true alphas
ALPHA MEN FINAL THOUGHTS
Being an alpha man is more of a mindset than anything else. The skills and traits listed here don’t just happen organically. Sure, some may come easier than others but all require focus and attention to grow.
I hope you found the material listed here useful.
Myth of the Alpha Male (2008) Hawley, P. International Journal of Behavioral Development.
Instrumental and Expressive Traits: Their Relationship and Their Association with Biological Sex. (2003) Bozionelos, Nikos; Bozionelos, Giorgos.
Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy (2010) McGraw Hill