Q I have recently started in a new role, and I am finding it challenging to adjust to my new boss. He is a typical ‘Alpha male’, and I find him excessively critical, controlling and generally aggressive in his tone. I’m not quite sure how to work with him, having never worked with someone like this before.
A All of us will encounter colleagues with different leadership styles throughout our careers. While we all respond better to styles we recognise, adapting to the way others work is something we all need to do to be successful.
It is crucial to understand varying personalities and learn how best to work with them. To an extent, it is a matter of determining how others like to work, and accommodating their needs.
People with the ‘Alpha’ tendencies you describe have a particular way of working, regardless of gender. This is a result of their need to be in charge. They thrive on pressure and, paradoxically, become stressed if they are not able to take control in a highly stressful, pressurised environment.
To have a successful working relationship with your new boss, you need to understand how he likes to work. Alphas respond well to data, action and clarity. You need to mirror this: be direct, to the point, emphasise performance and achievements, and communicate each using data.
To some degree, you will need to mould your language to suit his: say it once, and say it clearly. Emphasising your soft skills won’t wash with Alphas and might be seen as a weakness. He may not appreciate emotional intelligence either, preferring tangible results.
Alphas’ high expectations of themselves are reflected in their expectations of others. As a result, he may not seem to appreciate the exceptional performance of others. This isn’t criticism it’s just an Alpha’s natural mode of communication.
They appreciate opinions that challenge the status quo, and also respond well to opinions that show you have considered what the competition is doing, and what your company can do to get the edge.
To deal with your boss effectively, you will probably need to engage on his terms. To some degree, this is about feeding his ego and, while this may not be your preferred working style, it might be a necessary adjustment.
However, it is also important to reflect on your personal values. If it’s not just the way your boss gets things done, but also what he gets done, that you don’t like, you might want to reconsider your options.
But don’t forget to use your support network. Discuss your feelings with trusted colleagues, and find out how they manage to work effectively with this person.
By Adrian Starkey, head of executive coaching and executive development, DDI
If you have a question for our panel of experts about developing your career, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org