Most companies are run by CEOs who can best be described as the alpha male or alpha female of the organization – they are smart, demanding, not averse to risk taking, and have little patience for talking about people and their feelings. They’re tough, and that’s how they’ve gotten themselves—and their companies—to the positions they’re in today.

Egos Running Out of Control

What is the downside to this intense tenacity? These in-charge men and women often have trouble listening, being patient, and admitting they need to work on leadership development. Moreover, when presented with the value of enhancing leadership qualities, they sometimes will not even consider it!

If what they’re doing isn’t broken, then why try to fix it? Great leaders don’t have this belief – they know that overusing their ego will only lead to counterproductive results.

People who can be described as “alphas” within their professional environments are rough around the edges; “brash,” “bold” and “demanding”. They’re not big on people skills and are more likely to bark at you than to solicit your opinion on the best course of action. If you work for an alpha-type who exhibits these qualities—you are probably familiar with phrases or body language that conveys:

  • “It’s my way or the highway.”
  • “I don’t need to adjust to people—they need to adjust to me.”
  • “If they don’t want to work for me, I’ll find someone who does.”
  • “No one else ‘gets it’ as quickly as I do.”

Intentional or not, the only thing this gets across to others in this case is that the alpha person has a very unhealthy ego. Great leaders don’t fall into this trap. They know ego is important to building self-confidence and technical expertise, but ego does not belong as a leadership tool when interacting with people.

Missed Opportunities

Alpha men or women miss the opportunity to become great leaders. Instead of connecting with people, they are masters of sarcasm and arguing, and use their body language to communicate quite clearly how little time they have. Alphas are so wrapped up in their own egos that they are practically incapable of having a conversation that does not revolve around the words “I” and “me”.

It’s not uncommon to have several alphas in a workplace who come across this way and who continue act unchecked for the majority of their tenure with the company.


The reason for this is simple: they’re so overbearing that most people fear talking to them, much less have the guts to tell them outright that they’re being inappropriate, egotistical, and downright alienating to those who work for them.

So the alpha person simply goes on in the same way day after day, unaware of how they are being perceived and running over those they should be supporting, inspiring, and encouraging. In the long run, this leads to a myriad of destructive behaviors.

Destructive Behaviors from Dealing with Alphas

  • People feeling discouraged. With so much negativity in the air, it’s no wonder that people working around an alpha-type person will give up on trying to do their best. This happens in families too!
  • Reverting to individual agendas. When the people in charge are not fostering an all-for-one culture, team members are likely to feel as though they have to watch their own backs—no one is looking out for them, so they just have to look out for themselves.
  • Passing around negativity. Bad feelings are like the flu. Once one person brings the bug into the environment, it’s a sure bet that ten other people will be down with the ailment by the end of the week.
  • Opposing recommendations. The fact of the matter is that an alpha manager is still a manager, and what she says still goes. However, when she treats her employees with disdain, they will return the favor by not completing the best work that needs to get done.
  • Building walls. Over time, all of these factors will create a long, high, and practically unscalable wall between team members and the alpha person—and even between team members themselves.

Tips for Working with Alpha-Types

We all want—and need—is to feel good about our roles in life and to feel pride in what we do. This is an aspect of our ego, the thing inside us that not only tells us how good we are, but that craves approval, that wants to do a good job so that we can hear those notes of praise in the voices of those around us.


There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s a natural human instinct to want others to accept us and like what we do. Great leaders constantly work on balancing or adjusting their ego to the appropriate level.

Here are 3 tips from leaders I know that do a great job of checking their ego at the door:

  1. You do not need to be the know-it-all. Listen to what others have to say. Put aside your own ego by avoiding telling others what to do. Let others be heard and give them opportunities to provide input.
  2. You do not need to react to alpha behaviors. Intense people tell you that what you’re telling them is preposterous, or give you ten different reasons why your idea—and the system itself—won’t work. Don’t shut down because of such comments; they are just venting and you can politely and confidently continue on with your message, keeping the end result in mind. Giving in to what alpha people want—an argument, a chance to show you that they are right and you are wrong—will do nothing but derail your good intentions.
  3. You do not need to try to change other people’s minds or behaviors. Steer clear of trying to do this, simply because it is not possible. When meeting with the alpha people in your organization to discuss ideas and recommendations, spend your time and effort on getting your points across and presenting your ideas in the most positive and intriguing light possible.

You might not be able to influence their opinions right away, but if you keep your ego in check you will be able to get them interested—and that is certainly a good first step toward getting things done.

How Can Leaders Keep Their Ego in Check?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.