The US election has cast a light on some serious Alpha Wolf behaviour. What are the traits of an ‘Alpha Wolf’ and how do you manage them?

While the US election and its subsequent fall out has been simultaneously amusing and troubling, spare a thought for are those who work directly for Donald Trump and interact with him every day.

It is the worst feeling in the world, waking up in the morning, knowing that you will be looking over your shoulder and treading on eggshells throughout your working day. I have been there on more than one occasion.

What is an ‘Alpha Wolf’?

While I do not know Donald Trump personally, he appears to bear the many of the traits of an ‘Alpha Wolf Mindset’. I am not sure who coined this term, but it discussed in my favourite book, The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. He says: The Alpha Wolf has varying degrees of being a dictator or a control freak and genuinely believes that this is the best way forward as they are best at decision-making and doing things. The people they hurt along the way are seen as weak. Popularity is never an issue, as their success and ego are paramount.”

The Alpha Wolf believes they are always right. Any challenges are met head-on with aggression and hostility.

How do you manage them?

Alpha Wolf qualities are not always a bad thing. An Alpha Wolf mindset in the right place, and managed properly, can be hugely beneficial to an organisation. There are two suggested approaches for handling this kind of individual. Firstly, use an amiable management style, avoiding head-on confrontation. Secondly, be visionary and master the art of suggestion. They need to think it is their idea. They are selfish; it is about their success. The only thing they are worried about is what is in it for them.

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The challenge when they are senior

That approach may work when you are ‘managing downwards ‘. However, you often find Alpha Wolves at the top end of the organisation, senior to you. In this case, you are reliant upon their manager monitoring behaviour. If ‘upward appraisals’ are in place, this is where you may be able to ‘manage upwards’. If not, resort to help and guidance from the HR team.

The most challenging example is that of the CEO/owner of an organisation who has no-one to answer to. The ‘it is my company, and I will do what I want’ type attitude prevails. They surround themselves with ‘yes people’ who, through fear, will support their view, however extreme or unfair. Anyone who shows dissent or questions them is rapidly shown the door.

In this case, your options are likely to be more limited. Peters says, “The probability of changing this mindset is not so good! The Alpha Wolf either has to recognise that they have a problem or realise that they are having difficulty with others, something that doesn’t come easily with this mindset. Dealing with them is a matter of pragmatism. You either accept their ways, or you get away from them.”

Your mental wellbeing

I have great empathy for anyone who has an Alpha Wolf boss and is suffering as a consequence. I have experienced it. It is extremely unpleasant and damaging. When the employment market is challenging, as it is now, you can feel trapped. It is an emotionally draining and stressful experience that will impact on your mental wellbeing. In this respect, Peters gives some great advice, “Accepting their ways doesn’t mean rolling over. It means learning not to personalise attacks, understanding that they are unlikely to change, being assertive, avoiding confrontation, staying at peace within yourself and, finally, wisely recognising when it is time for you to move on.” In other words, keep your head down, roll with the punches and look for a way out.

You can bet that an Alpha Wolf will be legally astute as they have probably had several disagreements and scrapes in the past. Therefore, make sure you are prepared for all eventualities and understand your employment contract and your legal rights. Document your grievances and raise them with the HR team if there is one. Be careful, though. Any sniff of disloyalty and the Alpha Wolf will pounce.


The Chimp Paradox – Professor Steve Peters, published in 2012 by Vermilion (ISBN 9780091935580)