Table of Contents
- What Is An Alpha Male?
- Alpha Male Traits
- Alpha Males vs. Beta Males and Sigma Males
- Pros and Cons of Being an Alpha Male
- How Alpha Males Are Built
- Controversy (Including Alpha Males vs. Toxic Masculinity)
- Thought Leaders on Masculinity and Alpha Males
- How to Find Balance If You Show Characteristics of an Alpha Male
In a world where confidence, assertiveness, and ambition are lauded as key qualities of success, the concept of the “alpha male” is both admired and criticized.
In pop culture, the alpha male archetype has been a prominent figure throughout history—think men like Hercules, Julius Caesar, James Bond, and more recently, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Alpha males are portrayed as the “leaders of the pack” who command respect. In fact, according to Havard Business Review, “alpha males represent about 70% of all senior executives.”
Although the alpha archetype is associated with power and high social status, some experts worry about the potential negative impact that this stereotype has on social dynamics, gender roles, and societal expectations.
Alpha males are not without their strengths, but the controversy surrounding them warrants a closer examination to understand their place in modern society, especially how it relates to modern-day masculinity. Vanessa Van Edwards, author and communications coach, explains, “Men today are being encouraged to be knowledgeable about emotions and feelings, creating a new generation of strong, confident, and empathetic alpha male leaders.”
In this article, learn what it means to be an alpha male, how their characteristics and behaviors affect them at work and in relationships, and how they can find balance in order to practice “servant leadership” and thrive.
What Is An Alpha Male?
An alpha male is a personality type described as being self-assured, assertive, and decisive. While not universally accepted as truthful, some believe these traits, among others, give “alphas” access to power, money, opportunities, and romantic partners.
The term “alpha male” originated amongst researchers describing animal hierarchies, particularly packs of wolves and apes. However, in recent years, the concept has been applied to “top dog” men who embody masculinity and strongly believe in their abilities. Men who identify as successful alphas may have many strengths, such as being ambitious and confident in their ability to be a leader. Nevertheless, the term is also often associated with character flaws, especially arrogance, dominance, and sexism.
Alpha Male Traits
“Alpha males expect to win eventually, even when things are not going their way. They know their worth, won’t tolerate disrespect, and will not allow others to manipulate, demean, or take advantage of them.”
What makes someone an alpha male? Below are key personality traits and behaviors associated with alpha males:
- Assertive: Alpha males are proactive and take charge of situations. They’re known to be direct and decisive in their actions and choices. They don’t shy away from asking for what they want or pursuing goals, sometimes aggressively depending on the person.
- Fit for Leadership: Given that they’re driven and confident, it’s unsurprising that alpha males tend to take charge and demonstrate leadership qualities, such as guiding others and taking the lead on decision-making when in groups.
- Ambitious: Nathan Lee Morales says, “An alpha male’s worst enemy is that of mediocrity and low expectations.” Most alphas strive to accomplish tasks and projects, while some also highly value making money and accumulating wealth.
- Charismatic and Charming: Many alpha males are socially skilled and possess charismatic qualities that attract others, including partners of the opposite sex and friends. They tend to network well and develop relationships that benefit them socially or professionally. Their social influence often further sparks their confidence.
- Persuasive: Although they speak with authority and are self-assured, alphas tend to persuade others and easily garner support.
- Socially Skilled: Being an alpha doesn’t always equate to being “book smart,” however, many alphas possess social intelligence, including interpersonal/emotional intelligence (or “people skills”). John C. Maxwell says, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them,” which are all signs of EQ and maturity.
- Knowledgeable: Some alphas are highly educated and conventionally smart, which helps them secure senior-level positions in various fields.
- Strong Physical Presence: While not all alphas are concerned about their appearance, many exhibit strong body language, maintain an assertive posture, and work hard to stay in good physical shape to add to their appeal and attractiveness. Research shows that alpha males are more likely than the general population to be tall, muscular, and have a deep voice.
Alpha Males vs. Beta Males and Sigma Males
The terms “alpha males,” “beta males,” and “sigma males” are used in discussions about social hierarchies and masculinity. However, it’s important to note that these concepts are not universally accepted or supported by scientific research. Instead, they’re terms mostly used in online communities and in pop culture to explain how men act and interact with one another, as well as coworkers and people of the opposite sex.
Here’s an overview of what the terms “beta male” and “sigma male” typically mean, plus how they differ from alpha males:
Beta males are considered less dominant and outwardly confident compared to alpha males. They’re sometimes described as being more passive or cooperative and therefore less traditionally “masculine” (at least according to what it stereotypically means to be masculine).
While it’s too simplistic to label certain men as being beta and “weak,” some men can identify as being more agreeable, shy, or averse to risk-taking. Men who meet this description may prefer to be in long-term relationships with equally strong partners and may be drawn to career paths that are stable and predictable, such as being a corporate worker or teacher.
Sigma males are said to be the “lone wolf” types who are the most individualist, independent, introverted, and non-conformist. Sigmas are often depicted as those who operate outside traditional social hierarchies and “go their own way.”
For example, sigmas might choose to avoid getting married and may choose to work in fields that allow for autonomy, self-direction, or a “nomadic lifestyle” that involves a lot of freedom and travel. This might include being a freelance writer or designer, researcher, entrepreneur, academic, or remote IT worker.
Pros and Cons of Being an Alpha Male
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”
The most successful alphas are likely to be a combination of confident, open to challenges and taking risks, sociable, respectful, and highly intelligent. That said, some alphas lean toward being cocky, inconsiderate, and at times, misogynistic, which is the exact reason why not every man believes in this ideology and concept of manhood or strives to be an alpha.
While some alphas rise to powerful and high-ranking positions, studies on human behavior and leadership have shown that effective leadership is not necessarily tied to stereotypical alpha characteristics. Traits such as empathy, emotional intelligence, effective communication, collaboration, and adaptability are highly valued in modern workplace environments, and not all alphas possess these strengths.
Because “alpha male” is a broad term that includes a range of traits, this personality type can present differently in different men. Below are some of the rewards that being an alpha can have, as well as the disadvantages:
Pros of Being an Alpha
- Often garner respect: Alpha males often command respect and have a significant impact on those around them. This makes them capable of influencing others, for better or worse.
- Achievement-oriented: Their ambition and assertiveness can drive alphas to achieve many admirable things, including wealth, status, creative skills, or other talents.
- Given leadership opportunities: Alpha males can find themselves in leadership positions, which can bring rewards and recognition, as well as money and power.
Cons of Being an Alpha
- Perceived as domineering or disrespectful: Some people may view alpha males as overly dominant or hostile, which actually causes others to lose admiration and respect for them
- Can be difficult to work or collaborate with: The desire to direct others and “steer the ship” can make it challenging for alphas to work as part of a team or to take feedback or direction well. For instance, appearing to be a “know it all” or overly arrogant can cause conflicts between alphas and their bosses or coworkers.
- Pressure to maintain an overly masculine image: Alpha males may feel pressure to constantly exhibit strength and confidence, leading to stress and burnout.
- May exhibit strong Type A personality traits: Another reason that some alphas are prone to dealing with negative effects of stress is their ambition, drive, and time urgency, which are all Type A traits. Type A people have been shown to be at greater risk for health problems tied to stress, such as heart disease and anxiety.
- Can struggle in close relationships: Showing kindness, compassion, and respect are essential for maintaining healthy relationships, yet some alphas struggle to do so.
- Find vulnerability challenging: Traditional masculinity emphasizes emotional restraint, which can deter alpha males from opening up about their struggles or admitting when they’re upset, hurt, or scared. Alpha males may feel isolated, even when in leadership roles, making them less inclined to share their insecurities for fear of appearing inadequate.
How Alpha Males Are Built
Human behavior, including whether or not someone is self-assured and assertive, is influenced by a wide range of factors, such as someone’s upbringing, culture, early life experiences, education, and social circle.
If we consider the traits often associated with alpha males, here are some factors that can contribute to someone developing into one or being perceived as one:
- Having an assertive male role model: Growing up around a male/father figure who displayed self-confidence in various social contexts can push a younger man to develop the same characteristics. Having a strong father figure to look up to is thought to help young men learn to assert their opinions, take charge of situations, and be seen as responsible leaders.
- Being seen as competent from a young age: Achieving good grades, gaining recognition for talents and skills (such as sports or art), and generally being treated as competent starting in childhood or adolescence can enhance one’s self-esteem. The more that a man excels in areas such as career, academics, sports, or creative endeavors, the more likely they are to receive positive feedback and to believe in their own abilities.
- Strong interpersonal skills: Developing people skills and emotional intelligence goes a long way in boosting someone’s support system and social status. For instance, effective communication skills, empathy, and the ability to build positive relationships allow men to connect to others. This results in men having reassuring people to lean on during difficult times.
- Social capital and network: Drawing on the point above, some alpha males can build a strong social network and maintain connections that contribute to their influence and perceived social dominance. Being well-connected and having access to resources and opportunities can be advantageous in many contexts.
Being assertive, mature, and confident—what some people would call an alpha male—can lead a man to act in some of the following ways in various situations:
- Leadership: They take charge of situations, provide clear direction, and inspire their team.
- Decisiveness: They make decisions promptly, weighing the pros and cons effectively.
- Confidence: They trust their abilities and are unafraid to take calculated risks.
- Effective Communication: They express their ideas clearly, aren’t afraid to speak their mind, and listen actively to others.
- Problem-solving: They tackle challenges head-on and find practical solutions.
- Resilience: They handle setbacks with grace and learn from their experiences.
- Positive Attitude: They approach work with enthusiasm and motivate their colleagues.
- Respect: They treat their partner with dignity and appreciate their individuality.
- Communication: They are open, honest, and empathetic in their conversations.
- Supportive: They offer emotional support and encouragement to their partner.
- Equality: They view the relationship as a partnership and share responsibilities.
- Boundaries: They understand and respect personal boundaries in the relationship.
- Confidence: They are self-assured and encourage their partner’s growth and self-esteem.
- Empathy: They understand their partner’s emotions and try to see things from their perspective.
Controversy (Including Alpha Males vs. Toxic Masculinity)
“A typical alpha male is often portrayed as a cold-hearted go-getter. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. You can be confident, fearless, and emotionally intelligent.”
Whether the alpha male is more helpful or harmful is a controversial topic in the field of evolutionary psychology and sociology. In recent years, many researchers have questioned the validity of the concept, as human social dynamics are more complex and diverse than those seen in animals.
Not only is there controversy surrounding the oversimplification of male hierarchies, but there’s concern over the potential consequences of reinforcing rigid gender stereotypes that are associated with alpha males.
The controversy surrounding alpha males stems from two key issues:
Labeling people as either alpha, beta, or sigma males disregards individuality and the wide range of personality traits that men are capable of possessing. A point has also been made that not all outwardly appearing confident men feel this way on the inside; a man may seem confident but feel insecure and deal with self-limiting beliefs.
Overall, labeling men as either an alpha or not overlooks the fact that men can possess a mix of traditionally masculine and feminine traits, including showing emotion, accepting help, doing “domestic” chores, and earning money, power, status, and influence.
2. Promoting “Toxic Masculinity”
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, “toxic masculinity is the way men are culturally trained and socially pressured to behave. Its three core tenants, toughness, anti-femininity, and power, range in expression from person to person, but all combine to create the sense of ‘manliness.’”
The alpha male archetype emphasizes traditional stereotypes of masculinity, which can be limiting and exclusionary. It suggests that power and aggression are essential qualities for success, influence, and attractiveness, overlooking the importance of traits like empathy, collaboration, and emotional intelligence.
From an early age, society often encourages boys and men to exhibit traits associated with strength and emotional stoicism. Expressing vulnerability is often perceived as a sign of weakness, which can lead alpha males to suppress their emotions. “By far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos,” explains Chimamanda Adichie, award-winning author.
Thought Leaders on Masculinity and Alpha Males
Among thought leaders and influencers—including certain politicians, authors, “self-help gurus,” and content creators—there are diverse opinions on the concept of alpha males. Some strongly embrace the concept (such as Andrew Tate, an internet personality known for his misogynistic beliefs and advice about male dominance), while others criticize or reject it (such as psychologist Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, who advocates for men focusing on respect and authenticity over power).
Then there are those who believe in the power of healthy masculinity, such as psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson, who has stated that he “wants the world to know that being a man is not toxic.” In Peterson’s opinion, men should embrace qualities such as discipline, contribution, honesty, sacrifice, and hard work. In his book 12 Rules for Life, Peterson states, “Attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous.”
Dr. Kaufman, who has studied the perceived attractiveness of alpha males, has said about pop’s culture idea of an alpha, “The most attractive male is really a blend of characteristics, including assertiveness, kindness, cultivated skills and a genuine sense of value in this world . . . The true alpha is fuller, deeper, and richer.” Additionally, he points to findings from one study conducted at Santa Clara University and explains, “This analysis was revealing because it suggests that dominance can take many forms. The dominant male who is demanding, violent, and self-centered is not considered attractive to most women, whereas the dominant male who is assertive and confident is considered attractive.”
How to Find Balance If You Show Characteristics of an Alpha Male
“Success is not how high you have climbed, but how you make a positive difference in the world.”Roy T. Bennett
If someone who considers themself to be an alpha male hopes to become successful and fulfilled long-term, it’s clear that he must focus on more than his social status, income, or ability to attract the opposite sex. Prioritizing ongoing personal development, meaningful relationships, and leadership skills should be priorities for any man that wishes to be well-rounded.
According to experts, men who strive to be emotionally and mentally well, in addition to being successful in their careers and responsible in their personal lives, should consider these suggestions:
- Develop Emotional Intelligence: Developing emotional intelligence, as well as emotional maturity, allows alphas to regulate how they respond to situations, to “respond instead of react,” and to understand and empathize with others’ perspectives.
- Emphasize Respect: Recognizing and valuing the strengths and opinions of others can contribute to a healthier social dynamic. For example, when a man displays professionalism and integrity in the workplace, even when he’s the boss, he’s practicing servant leadership, which is one of the best ways to effectively inspire and guide others.
- Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Being growth-minded means you assume that your skills, knowledge, and talents will improve over time with hard work, even if you experience setbacks. This type of mindset boosts resiliency, builds self-esteem, makes challenges fun, and opens doors for enriching opportunities.
- Embrace Authenticity and Vulnerability: Encouraging open dialogue about emotions and fostering a supportive environment that accepts vulnerability can help men feel more comfortable expressing their true feelings. Vulnerability can involve revealing one’s inner thoughts, fears, or uncertainties. It’s crucial to recognize that vulnerability is not a weakness but rather a fundamental aspect of being human and necessary for building meaningful relationships.
- Focus on Contribution, Collaboration, and Teamwork: This means learning to work effectively with others, communicate well, and value others’ contributions to enhance connections and reduce conflicts. Ways to do this include being open to feedback, actively listening to others, practicing confident body language, and keeping an open mind.
Want to learn more about being emotionally in control in a healthy, productive way? Check out this article:
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