As I use “alpha”, it simply means someone who is equipped for leadership roles by psychology and temperament. You can tell you are one if your experience of life frequently includes being sucked into leadership vacuums. It’s not about having some sort of dark desire to dominate people, though of course there’s a subset of alphas that has that.
In the PUA context, “alpha” has the additional overlapping meaning of someone who has high hypergamic value to women. These two traits tend to be correlated and to reinforce each other.
I also noted this:
I don’t really know what makes alphas; I wasn’t always one myself, formerly having been what another commenter describes as a sigma [strong loner type, resistant to being in hierarchies]. In fact, for personal values reasons I denied to myself that I was an alpha until long after a third-party observer would have said so, facing the reality only when my pattern of constantly being sucked into leadership vacuums became undeniable.
I will further note that alphaness is not altogether a happy trait to have. The getting more sex part is nice, but the constant “somebody has to do it” presented by the leadership vacuums around you can be a serious pain in the ass. Especially if, like me, you have values conflicts about being an authority figure.
..there was never a lot of “reaching out” involved on my part. The damn leadership roles reached out and grabbed me. Once I realized I was stuck with them, I just tried to handle the job as competently as I could.
I’m not sure what else to tell you, except that I still think people who crave leadership roles are not to be trusted. The reason I denied I was an alpha for a long time is that I had some confusion in my head between the sort of person who wants to run things and the kind of person who can’t help doing it.
Now I will tell a story about one of the incidents that forced me to face my inner alpha.
It was 2005, and I had just arrived at my first Sword Camp. This was to be a week-long intensive training in Western sword and various associated fighting and survival skills.
The teaching doctrine of the school included a tradition that each class trained to fight as a tactical unit. The unit was expected to choose a name, design a banner, and (eventually) choose its command team. As you may imagine, this is a process often fraught with personal complications and conflicts.
Normal class intakes were clocked by the six-month span of basic sword training; thus, they had some time to shake down. The first Sword Camp was a (rather successful, as it later turned out) attempt to cram all that six months of training into a week of dawn-to-dusk intensity. The extreme acceleration meant our class didn’t have a lot of time to sort itself out.
There were three others in the first-ever Sword Camp class – two women (one of them an exceptionally beefy Valkyrie type who would be combat-equivalent to a fit man) and a younger man. We eyed each other and began exchanging stories.
Before this, I’d been reading about wargaming military history, tactics, and related fields for a very long time. One of those related fields was the command psychology of small units (note, if you want a painless but effective introduction to this you can do a lot worse than reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers). I knew a lot of theory about how good small-unit officers are supposed to behave towards their men, and the mind-set that generates that behavior.
And then it got real. Because within five minutes it became clear that, from my previous experience with hand-to-hand, Asian sword, and SCA heavy weapons, I had more relevant experience than all three of the others put together. My reaction to this wasn’t “I’m the expert, I should be in charge”, it was: “Damn, I need to take care of these people.” Or, equivalently, “They need me.”
That’s how a good small-unit officer thinks. In the field, your men eat before you do; you don’t sleep until they’re properly bedded down. You take care of them. It’s your job to ensure they’re the most effective fighters they can be. You may have to expend them for the mission, but you have to value each and every one, or the unit won’t work. I knew these things, but they were never emotionally real to me until that moment.
So I took charge. I report as a matter of checkable fact that we had a class name, a banner design, and a command structure chosen within fifteen minutes of time zero (Valkyrie-girl had “natural line sergeant” written on her forehead in letters of fire). This is still a record not to my knowledge even approached by any class since. And there was never an iota of doubt about who the class captain was, not in the class nor among the instructors and observers either.
We actually cohered as a tactical unit, which is not a minor achievement for a bunch of raw newbs without prior military training (the instructors were impressed and said so). Not because I played overt dominance games with anyone – I never even had to raise my voice – but because class Eleutheria was motivated and willing to be led by someone with a clue and the willingness to take responsibility and the right psychology to lead.
The point of this post is that I had the right psychology. I was, rather to my own astonishment, good at this job. It could have gone a lot worse; it was not any kind of given that class Eleutheria had to accept my authority, not as if I was wearing rank tabs in a real military. The way to bet, if I hadn’t had significant command ability, would have been that the unit never jelled.
When I told this story, later, the reaction I got was often something like this: “WTF? You’re a famously charismatic speaker, you energized an entire social movement, legions of geeks look up to you, and you’re surprised you have leadership capability? That is freaking hilarious.”
Um, yes, in retrospect I have to admit it is kind of funny. Even to me. But see above about my values conflicts. I’m an ornery individualist with a bone-deep distrust of hierarchies and people who want to be at the top of them. I wanted to see myself as a sigma, the kind of person who stands outside all that. But, obviously, it’s not that simple.
The experience I’ve just described wasn’t the first that pushed me to face my inner alpha. It was more like the point at which I could no longer kid myself that I wasn’t a natural leader in whatever biological/psychological sense those exist. And my reaction to that was not so much “Oh, cool!” as, “Oh, shit!”
Because with that power comes the responsibility to use it wisely. And, dammit, I don’t want that responsibility! I told myself I was a sigma long after I should have stopped kidding myself exactly so I could evade it.
But you have to take care of your people. You have to take care of your people. And if that means you have to face up to and use alpha qualities about which you remain seriously conflicted, that’s what you have to do.