If you ask most people to describe how a great leader looks and acts, you’ll often get answers that refer to generals and military commanders, or presidents and heads of state. In other words, we tend to think of leaders as those who rise to the top of the hierarchical pyramid — those who display charisma, a “take charge” attitude, and the self-confidence to issue commands from above — consequences be damned.
While that leadership model may have worked in the past, the world has changed in ways that make such command-and-control models obsolete. I define this change in my book, The Fall of the Alphas. Call it a changing of the guard, if you will, where the “Alpha” model of leadership is being phased out in favor of the newer “Beta” model.
A New Model of Leadership
This new model describes leaders who have a greater self-awareness and an understanding of how to limit their “ego.” Ego is a Latin word that means “I myself.” An individual who views themselves realistically, and recognizes both their strengths and weaknesses, is generally perceived to have a healthy ego.
Those of us who have “unhealthy” egos, on the other hand, tend to preserve their self-judgments and close themselves off to the opinions of others.
And yet, it is this sense of inflated self-worth that we seem to reward when it comes to leadership. It would be considered “weak” and “indecisive” to weigh the consideration of others in favor of what those at the top of the pyramid have decided.
In our outdated Alpha view of the world, we’ve decided that the best leaders are those with the greatest self-confidence and biggest egos who garner the most influence.
To survive and thrive today and into the future, though, business leaders need the appropriate self-awareness to manage their egos. Beta leaders need to be fully invested in the present, rather than viewing situations and individuals through the lens of the self or focusing on future moves on the corporate chessboard.
Leading with a Healthy Ego
Now don’t get me wrong: to be a successful entrepreneur, you need a healthy ego to succeed. The difference is that a Beta leader understands that the success of the organization doesn’t rest solely on his or her shoulders. Rather, Beta leaders are self-aware. They understand the limitations of their ego. That’s also why Beta leaders have a desire to include others in the most critical decisions and share in the rewards for work well done.
For instance, an Alpha CEO might parade around the office asking workers if they are “hitting their numbers,” while issuing a none-too-subtle threat if they aren’t. Beta leaders, on the other hand, ask,
What can I do to help you hit your numbers?
What are the constraints and how can I remove them?
Is there someone who can help and, if so, how can I connect you with them?”
Imagine how the workers in these two organizations might respond differently?
Healthy Leadership Builds Strong Teams
Beta leaders must also consider why they respond the way they do. For instance, let’s say a suggestion comes in from another member of the organization. A Beta leader asks herself:
Do I have a bias or a personal issue that might color or slant my judgment?
Am I truly thinking about this suggestion from a place of wisdom and experience?
Have I truly thought through the possible unintended consequences that might result from my decisions and actions?
When leaders embrace this level of introspection, they are, in fact, far from being indecisive. Rather, they are fostering deep respect for divergent points of view – a trait that today’s workers cherish in their leaders.
Armed with a managed ego, the very best Beta leaders intuitively understand how to play to their strengths and build the very best team possible around them. Self-aware Beta leaders, for example, recognize the gaps in their own skill sets and are confident enough to hire intellectual equals capable of filling those holes.
What Defines a Beta Leader
A core trait of a Beta leader is the capacity to relinquish the need to control everything and instead bring in new people who reflect the company culture and who can augment the leader’s own skill set.
Other traits that you’ll rarely find in their Alpha counterparts that Beta leaders demonstrate:
Are good listeners and communicators.
Willing to bet on people by allow them to take risks rather than risking the company on their own bets.
Willing to create partnerships within and from outside the organization.
Share the rewards of the organization’s success beyond the corner office.
Actively solicit feedback from their peers and coworkers because they see that as an opportunity to improve themselves.
Willing to admit mistakes and ask for help in avoiding repeating them.
A Better Way to Lead
The best way for leaders to prevent narcissism and ego from impeding their success is to be as aware as possible of their own motives and feelings, and needs and wants of others. To borrow a term from Buddhism, Beta leaders need to practice mindfulness and encourage their peers and employees to do the same.
If leaders can pay attention to the humanity of others and show that they actually care, they will yield immeasurable benefits for both themselves and their organization. That’s what being a Beta leader is all about.