Hi everyone, here are this week’s reading picks:
1. Move Over, Alpha Males. Why Being a Beta May Be Better (At Least for Baboons): Fascinating piece at Time Magazine Healthland, by my friend Maia Szalavitz, on new study finding that beta baboons are healthier and suffer less stress than alphas. My favorite bit is near the end of the article, discussing a baboon troop which due to a quirk of fate consisted mostly of betas and below: it was a gentler, healthier troop than the norm, and these traits were even passed down to the next generation.
2. What Makes a Great Leader? Listen to this WBUR radio program, in which William Deresiewicz discusses his now-famous West Point commencement speech on leadership and solitude. Leadership means thinking your own thoughts, he says. There’s value in being connected with others — but not all the time. Read a book, he advises, or sit and think, or write a long letter, or have a long conversation with a close friend. Deep friendship is a form of solitude.
3. How Childhood Books Make Us Who We Are: Twelve writers over at GeekMom weigh in on the children’s books that shaped their adult selves.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Move Over, Alpha Males. Why Being a Beta May Be Better (At Least for Baboons):
“So, hang in there, nice guys. Perhaps being a beta male means you’ll land on top in the end.”
I hope that turns out to be true. As far as the office setting is concerned, I’d rather deal with a Beta than an Alpha, regardless of whether it be a male or a female. Dealing with a Beta makes it easier to have a level-headed conversation and find a mutually agreed upon solution. Alphas want everything done their way even though they may be making a huge mistake from lack of understanding of the facts at hand. Alphas seem to have oversized egos that take precedence over level-headed solutions.
What makes a great leader?
Simple, leaving your ego at home where it belongs and concentrating 100% of your efforts to finding the appropriate solution to the problem.
The baboon study is also covered in a 2008 National Geographic special called “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” that is streamable at Netflix. In that show’s view, stress is a byproduct of social hierarchy and the dominance games we play because we, like the baboons, don’t have to devote much energy or time to feeding ourselves. This frees us up for (pointless, counter-productive) game-playing, and the status/dominance game we’ve settled on puts unhealthy stress on everybody.
I have to sit with Deresiewicz’s comments for a while. I’ve spent the last quarter century in a large bureaucracy, and there is a painfully large amount of truth in his speech. I encourage people not just to listen to his interview, but to read the entire speech.
If everyone wants to go where you want to go, you are not leading. You are agreeing.
Funny how in a bureaucracy you can fight for years to get to a certain position, and when you get there, you must realize that to inhabit the role fully, to really do what the role requires, you have to threaten the very role for which you so long fought and sacrificed.