5 Strategies for Working with Alpha Leaders

Lizette M. Tucker

Whoosh! Did you hear that? That’s the high-speed pace of change rushing past you in your industry. For leaders, the nuance and athleticism required in today’s runaway marketplace are unprecedented. That means, more often, emerging and successful leaders think fast and move fast. Moreover, these Alpha leaders, as they are often called, rarely take “no” for an answer.

So, what makes them tick? What makes them successful, what gets in their way, and what can other members of their organizations do to support them?

Alpha Leaders: Who Are They?

The great news is that they get things done. They hold a strong vision, are passionate, fully committed, and hold themselves to high standards of performance. You can count on them to deliver the best possible results. They often seek out more difficult challenges. They are definitely not pushovers.

The not so good news is that because they think and move rapidly and believe in what they are doing, these traits can prevent them from listening to and understanding the needs and stressors of others. Furthermore, their high expectations extend not just to themselves but others as well, so they can often appear dissatisfied with what are often good results and may fail to motivate or show adequate appreciation for others.

How to Support Alpha Leaders and Keep the Organization Whole

Tactics for supporting these types of leaders can be anchored in two basic ideas:

  • Creating moments not meetings
  • Positioning every conversation and decision in the context of forward movement


Alpha leaders are bottom-line focused. So, it helps to make sure that every discussion is rooted in crisp, believable data and, if possible, to relate the discussion to metrics by which they are measured. Visuals, charts, and graphs and direct, economical presentations will go a long way with the Alpha leader.


Be objective but don’t sugar-coat anything as you lay out possible risks, decisions needed and options for mitigations.  Then ask, “Given this situation, what is the most important next step?”


Always remember this mantra: “Be quick, be good, be gone!”  Be creative about finding opportunities to connect, and forego more traditional meetings whenever possible. If co-located, drop in. Print out a one-pager that they can review and walk with them to their next meeting. Or determine the time of day that is typically quiet for them (for instance, early morning, late on Friday). This last idea can also work even if you can’t connect face to face. And don’t forget to use instant messaging and texts.


Alpha leaders are not mean-spirited. They are just so fully committed to and believe in the new position that sometimes they don’t understand why others don’t feel the same way that they do. Using the “keep things moving forward” concept, when there appears to be a roadblock from another group, try asking the leader something like, “What do you think your partners/team will be concerned about in this situation and what is the best way to get buy-in and support?”


If ignored, high expectations about performance can become a breeding ground for dissatisfaction. The first order of business here is to set and measure milestones in metrics that matter to them. It also really helps to provide “breadcrumb updates” to show progress (this is a great opportunity to use IMs or text or as a topic to share on that walk to get coffee).

When milestones are achieved or people go above and beyond in accomplishing a task, create opportunities to recognize the achievements of others making sure the leader is aware. For instance, sending an email with a copy to the leader alerts them to the good work and allows the leader to easily add their thanks as well.

Most importantly, since Alpha leaders often feel that accountability for the success or failure of the project rests solely with them, make sure to acknowledge directly their achievements and effort.