Dealing with the Alpha professionals

Date:   Wednesday , April 02, 2008

Many young and upcoming professionals succeed in their careers because of certain common characteristics. These include hard and intelligent work, a thirst for learning, being flexible, showing initiative, taking calculated risks, personal sacrifices, seeking help when necessary and reaching out to those in need of help, and above all integrity in relationships with people they work with. These attributes are even more strongly required as they move up the organizational hierarchy and reach senior positions.

But what happens to many of these people at a later stage is a sad story. These highly successful and bright stars start becoming “shooting stars” and become increasingly unpopular and unmanageable over time, if they have not consciously paid attention to a quiet change that happens within them. This change is often viewed as career-limiting because their relationships with others start to strain, their listening abilities diminish considerably, and they become difficult to handle. What happened to these rock stars?

Welcome to the world of Alpha Male & Alpha Female
Over time, they have become Alpha males and Alpha females. In a ground-breaking Harvard Business Review article published in May 2004, Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson describe what it means to be an Alpha person. “They are the people who are unhappy if they are not the top dogs - the ones calling the shots. Alphas get stressed when the responsibility of taking tough decisions don’t rest in their capable hands”. The authors go on to show how their very strengths can become their weaknesses as well by explaining a few of their attributes as under:
They are self-confident and opinionated: This helps them with their intuition and to act decisively in most situations; however, this turns into a weakness when they close their minds, come across as domineering and intimidating in their relationships with colleagues.
They are highly intelligent: So, they see beyond the obvious and often take creative steps in resolving issues and problems; but this takes an ugly turn when they dismiss or demean colleagues who disagree with them.
They are action-oriented: This helps them produce results and become dependable; however, it becomes a negative trait when it is manifested in showing intolerance or impatience with process change which may actually improve results for their performance.
They set straight goals for themselves: They show great quality as they set standards and achieve goals; however, this can also take the form of their being constantly dissatisfied and they may fail to appreciate or motivate others.
They are unemotional to an extent: This may be helpful to be objective and laser-focused, but this does not cut the ice when they are difficult to relate to, and when they do not inspire teams they lead or work with.

How do we help these Alpha professionals to overcome their weakness?
Organizations can harness a lot from these intelligent, hardworking, objective, and assertive professionals by adopting a few key strategies:
* Provide them with concrete feedback on how their strengths are proving to be their weaknesses when played out without applying mind. Coaching and mentoring can go a long way in helping them.
* Identify roles in the organization that will benefit from the Alpha-attributes and assign the same to these professionals. This should be done while providing coaching and mentoring support simultaneously.
* Emotional intelligence training would be very beneficial to them. Self control, self awareness, and self-motivation are quite high, but the maximum benefit will accrue when the learning is focused on seeking feedback and understanding their impact on others.
* Instrumented feedback on various attributes and social skills will help them to reflect at and review their styles of functioning and relating to others. Of course, this should be done with the help of qualified professionals, and not quacks with a bunch of feedback questionnaires and instruments. Let us not forget that many of the instruments tested for validity and reliability need certified administrators with consummate knowledge of the process for debriefing and coaching.
* Interpersonal interventions in the field of Organizational Development such as Transactional Analysis and Mirroring exercises can be helpful. General Electric uses the New Manager Assimilation programs very effectively leveraging the Johari Window framework. A modified version of this can be used to help these Alpha professionals to overcome some of their ‘blind spots’.
*A membership in humor clubs and other relaxation techniques can also largely benefit this category of people.

Leveraging their strengths (and not damaging) is key
In the whole exercise of helping the Alpha professionals to become more interpersonally effective and savvy in order to generate desired productivity and results, care must be exercised to see that their very valuable attributes are not blunted. The issues are about how we enhance the effective aspects of these attributes and at the same time eliminate their ineffective facets.
Since Alpha professionals are very self confident and bright, it must be easy enough to handle them ,but when done with appropriate mentoring and coaching, chosen interventions prove very effective and long-lasting. As these professionals get better with more effective forms of their behaviors, appropriate feedback must be given so that these behaviors become deep-rooted and

After all, all organizations have their share of Alpha professionals. In fact, most of the successful managers belong here. The key is to make them aware of the dark side of their attributes and help them consciously focus on the bright side.