There Is No Such a Thing as an Alpha Male
A real alpha male will do whatever it takes to achieve his goal even if it means standing alone.
The theory of the alpha male has been selling like hotcakes since the early 1990s. Certain media began to use the term alpha male to refer to humans; to be specific to masculine men, top dogs in the business.
Who is an Alpha Male?
A character who is driven by power, success and status. Someone who is at the top of their game. The leadership style is aggressive, alphas like to be in control.
Alpha” males are those at the top of the social status hierarchy. They have greater access to power, money, and mates, which they gain through physical prowess, intimidation, and domination. Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley.
Business schools have been basing management styles on this theory. As the label implies, they’re the people who aren’t happy unless they’re the top dogs — the ones calling the shots. Although there are plenty of successful female leaders with equally strong personalities, we’ve found top women rarely if ever match the complete alpha profile.
Where Does the Alpha Male Term Come From?
The term alpha male comes from a study of wolf behaviour in the 1930s. Rudolph Schenkel, an animal behaviourist, studied wolves for 10 years in zoo settings. All of these wolves were captured from different areas in the wild, meaning they came from different packs; not from close-knit family units. They were forced to cohabitate. This led to aggression and fights, in an attempt to restore balance. However, Schenkel did not take that into consideration and concluded that wolves co-existed in a hierarchy-driven pack-based mentality. He considered the leader of the pack the “alpha”. The alpha wolves supposedly ruled by using dominance, fear and force to keep the other pack members in check, in order to obtain the best resources.
The alpha dog theory has been popularized partly because of a book called The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, written in 1968 by David Mech, founder of The International Wolf Center. Mech originally subscribed to the theory. His book was published in 1970 and republished in paperback in 1981.
Does Alpha Male Exist ?
The alpha male theory has since been proven wrong. In the late 1990s, by no other than David Mech himself. He realized when living with a pack of wild wolves on Ellesmere Island In Canada, that the concept of the alpha was biologically incorrect.
Alpha implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words, they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today:
- breeding male
- breeding female,
- male parent
- female parent
- or the adult male or adult female.
David’s book is currently still in print, despite David’s numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. The thing is, Schenkel was studying captive wild wolves. These captive wolves were behaving in a way that was crucial to their survival, in an unnatural environment. These wolves had to establish some sort of hierarchy — just like any social group would. In reality, there is absolutely no fighting for rank. The pecking order is well established, naturally. Both male and female wolves play an equal part. Eventually, the offspring go on to form their own packs.
Wolves actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring’s status is based on birth order. The pack’s hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents’ lead. Jeninne Lee-St. John, Time, 2010.
If you were to compare Schenke’s study to a study on humans, you would have to be observing for example prisoners or other unrelated individuals in a confined and stressful setting. For this reason, scientists have been trying very hard to debunk the alpha dog theory since the early 2000s. They have not been very successful.
Considering these new findings however, it is pretty clear that there is no such thing as an alpha male. Because there is no such thing as an alpha wolf.
As of 2022, the alpha male theory is still very much alive and kicking. It’s everywhere — in books, television shows and other media. The theory is faulty and leads to wrongful and outdated business and dating advice. Management by dominance and fear no longer works. Women are also great leaders in business, and the alpha male theory undermines that; it leads to beliefs that only men should be managers because in nature only the alpha male leads.
In fact, both men and women can be great leaders. Great leaders who lead by example, inspire and form open and collaborative safe spaces for teams to cooperate. Their leadership is cooperative and circular: employees also lead their managers. They are partners. It is a collective, which is no longer about an individual. There are no alphas in such a setting. Everyone is an alpha in their own right. After all, a manager cannot exist without a team.
We are all complex individuals. For that reason, as a society, we should not buy into an outdated and incorrect narrative of alpha males. It's hurting all of us.
About the author
Writing about well-being, self-care and psychology. Occassional poet and fiction writer. Based in Prague. Passionate about coffee, yoga, reading and Toastmasters. Native speaker of Czech, fluent in English (as a second language).