The Myth of the Alpha Dog

The Myth of the Alpha Dog

My wife and I have adopted two puppies this year, and as I was researching how to potty train our younger dog, I came across the headline, “The Myth of the Alpha Dog.” The article discussed how our belief that dog packs structures are based on an alpha dog or dominant dog is false. And that dogs have a more cooperative approach to pack structure.

This same myth is pervasive throughout our discussions on leadership. In the west, we have mythologized the single person as the saver of the world. The man on the white horse who comes in to save the day. When we talk about great discoveries, we talk about them as if a single person made the discovery. Admiral Peary had over 50 people with him as he tried to reach the North Pole in 1909 but the names of the other people have all been forgotten. We talk about great inventions; we talk as if a single person invented the light bulb. However, Thomas Edison had a team of “young muckers” working with him at Menlo Park. In the world of leadership, we talk of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both who are famous for the companies they started. However both had strong partners working with them; Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates had Paul Allen. This isn’t to say that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not brilliant men, it is just to say that rarely do we do anything in isolation.

My research and experience have led me to the conclusion that the leadership team is more important than the single leader of an organization. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the importance of having the right people on the bus. This is even more important the closer you get to the top of any organization.

 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

 

Why are leadership teams more valuable than a single leader?

  1. They provide a greater level of experience.
  2. They provide balance against a singular strength or limitation
  3. They offer diversity of thought.
  4. They provide the ability to delegate work
  5. They provide increased touch points to an organization

This does not mean that a leader can abdicate her responsibility for the team. It means that she has more resources to make the best decisions, create the best strategic vision and build the best team.

When I work to improve leadership teams, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Are the right individuals on the leadership team?
  • What behavioral changes will make them a better leadership team?
  • What is their level of motivation to improve the working dynamics?
  • How do they discuss different points of views?
  • Are they focused on the same vision of the organization?

Always start with an assessment of the team’s strengths and limitations. This gives a good understanding of what is working well together and what is not. I usually use an assessment tool, followed up with individual interviews. This provides an excellent groundwork to start working with the team to improve their team dynamic. Working with the leader and the team, we create a path to developing the leadership team dynamic. The goal is to understand the strengths and limitations of each member and that of the team. If you can create positive connections and a desire to move the organization forward, the team dynamic will improve.

The goal here is not to remove the leader or to dismiss the leader. The goal here is to provide a team of individuals working together to assist the leader in their challenges of running a large organization.  To create a cooperative approach to the team structure.

 

Together we are stronger than we are alone.

Walter Payton

 

 

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