Field Notes on the American Alpha Male (Corporate)

In my varied career I have worked with many an American Alpha Male (Corporate) in its natural habitat, the (large and/or shiny and definitely on the top floor) corporate office/board room.

I’ve watched a CEO of a huge company say to a CEO of a small company across a gleaming conference table that he’s going to buy the other guy’s company simply because he can and acquisitions are “cheap right now.” I’ve heard a CEO say “It’s good to be the king” as he climbs into his limo at a corporate event. I’ve had a CEO say to me at dinner at his house, after I said I had the best husband in the world, “No, I’M the best husband in the world.” I’ve had a guy say to me in a meeting that if I don’t do something his way that “we’re gonna have to have a conversation.” I have waited, and waited, and waited, while the Alpha we were supposed to meet with kept everyone waiting – thus controlling everyone’s time and compressing the agenda.

Dealing with this creature makes and breaks and bends the trajectory of petty much every corporate and political career.

Here are my field notes:

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By the way, any AAM(C) reading this I think would agree. They know their deal. It’s not a problem. It’s business. It’s how Things Get Done.

The American Alpha Male (Corporate) has a large presence in every facet of our society. It runs the companies and the government. It is literally everywhere and its decisions shape your life.

If you want to effect change or influence society in a big way, you will need to understand the motivations of the American Alpha Male (Corporate). Actually there is only one motivation, and that is to dominate. That’s it. One-note piano. Often in the service of Big Ideas, but not always.

You can’t take down an Alpha Male (Corporate) full-frontal. I’m sorry, but that’s the deal. Everything is stacked in the Alpha’s favor. Literally everything. We kind of built America around them.

Instead you have to either take away the Alpha’s platform, or maneuver around it. Change the venue. Build your power base in parallel. Or become an Alpha yourself.

If you are forced into a confrontation, especially a situation where an Alpha is flat-out wrong, you have to provide a face-saving out like a distraction or counter-offer. Even when it’s CEO-on-CEO action. So many times I’ve seen two Alphas maneuver out of a straight-up disagreement in a way that both of them could say they won.

That is the single most effective way to deal in an Alpha-driven world: Give everyone a way to say and/or believe that they won. 

AAM(C)’s are not bad people necessarily. They are friends. Motivated. Influential. Creative. But they dominate. Period. That’s the deal. It’s what they do. Again, none of them will disagree with this.

Yes, we are evolving. We are making strides in creating opportunities for those who don’t fit this incredibly narrow, classist and racist mold. Some of this is beginning to feel old-school. Many of the traditional Alphas are over 60 now. We are trying so hard.

But the American Alpha Male (Corporate) is still very much all over everything. Big egos will find their way to the tops of things. They like it there.

The AAM(C) mold has become an unfortunate and inadequate shorthand for power. That’s the danger. That’s why we fall for archetypes like the tall older white guy in a suit (or other iconic look like a turtleneck or hoodie). Power is lizard-brain stuff. Attaching yourself to an Alpha feels powerful. We have over-simplified and gotten lazy. We keep handing the lead role in the school play to the same kid over and over. In 2016 a bunch of us elected an archetype, not a leader. And we got to watch as someone who fit the mold in EVERY way but gender got attacked with epithets and lies and with a viciousness we’ve never seen.

Alpha behavior isn’t bad, it’s a catalyst. We need it. But we can’t keep looking to the same demographics for it. We’ve got to harness that idea, of personal forcefulness, and get it pointed in the right direction with a much wider variety of people. And we’ve got to accept it in a much wider variety of people.

And, we’ve got to get more adept at tuning in to the AAM(C) aesthetic that is in place at the tops of the vast majority of our companies and government agencies. Those people are in the business of not backing down and that is how they got there and you will not work with them effectively unless you learn how to help them win in some way. Know this and incorporate it into your thinking and let’s keep chipping away.