Coaching Beta Leaders

Coaching Beta LeadersWhile Ludeman and Erlandson addressed the joys and tribulations of working with Alpha leaders in their book “The Alpha Male Syndrome” (2006), few authors have written about working with Beta leaders.  In “A Practical Guide to CPI Interpretation,” McCallister (1996) defined Beta leaders as internally oriented and supportive of organizational norms and values.  They demonstrate self-control, dependability, and a tendency to put the needs of others ahead of their own.  If well developed, Beta leaders can be quietly inspiring sources of insight and wisdom.  If minimally developed or under significant pressure, they can appear rigid, inhibited, and self-doubting.

In coaching Beta leaders, it is important to know what motivates them.  Unlike Alphas who are strongly driven to produce results, Betas are more concerned about delivering high-quality work.  They may demonstrate perfectionist traits.  It is important for them to be seen as competent and as having mastery over their disciplines.  As a result, they may tend to shy away from unfamiliar situations or assignments where their shortcomings could be exposed.  Under stress, Beta leaders frequently experience self-doubt and impose unrealistic self-criticism upon their actions and performance.  This represents an interesting paradox: Beta leaders can communicate self-doubt to others under pressure and create the very thing they fear – the appearance of incompetency.

In general, Beta leaders have strong internal critics.  They are very hard on themselves – especially when they make a mistake.  Poorly developed Beta leaders will suffer much shame when they make an error that is obvious to others.  Due to this shame being so painful for them, many Betas prefer a background leadership role to a highly visible one.  They frequently need coaching to take on a more visible role with greater impact in the organization.

Coaching Beta LeadersWhen working with or coaching Beta leaders, the following techniques may be useful:

  • Leverage the Beta leader’s natural desire to take things to the next level.  Most Betas are motivated by excellence and will be strong developers and “fine tuners” of tools and processes
  • Remember that Betas frequently assume the worst about their performance.  As a result, it is important to provide them with balanced feedback – both positive and constructive – so that they can develop an understanding of their own potential
  • Because Betas struggle with criticism, you may need to teach them how to take in and process difficult feedback
  • When turning over a project or delegating an assignment to a Beta leader for the first time, be careful to provide a clear initiating structure (i.e., desired outcome, process steps, thoughts about timeline, etc.).  Set up follow-up meetings as appropriate to address progress and concerns
  • Do not hover over Betas as they work!  This behavior communicates to Beta leaders that you see them as incompetent and will send them into avoidance around the very tasks you want them to complete
  • Do communicate your confidence in their ability to deliver the right outcome.  This “vote of confidence” will launch the Beta leader into a truly dedicated effort to produce quality results
  • Because the inner critic is so strong, ask the Beta leader to pay attention to the internal dialogue that emerges when they are under pressure.  Work with him/her to develop statements of rebuttal that can be used in response to the inner critic’s accusations
  • Help Betas to see when they are giving too much to others at their own expense – or when they are failing to ask for what they need
  • Explore the resistance to new ways of thinking and doing things that emerges within Betas when under stress and develop strategies to address it

Given that Alphas inhabit the greatest number of leadership roles in the western hemisphere, well developed Beta leaders can provide new perspectives and complementary skills needed by management teams.  Learning how to work with and coach Betas will allow them to bring their best contributions forward.   

Tamara has over 20 years of experience guiding and empowering leaders in transition - whether transitioning into new areas or greater levels of responsibility inside the organization - or transitioning from one company to another. She leverages strong assessment abilities, a talent for structuring process and action steps, a systems perspective, and well-honed coaching skills to assist clients in selecting and implementing purposeful behavior that will produce desired results.

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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  1. Megan Meuli's avatar
    Megan Meuli
    | Permalink
    This is an excellent article Tamara. So many times individuals who have Beta tendencies are overlooked for leadership roles, even by themselves and yet they add so much value to an organization and have so many hidden leadership capabilities. Thank you for helping us dig a little deeper.
  2. Michelle Bennett Stieglitz's avatar
    Michelle Bennett Stieglitz
    | Permalink
    Thank you for writing an excellent article. Based upon your article, I am a Beta leader. An internal contradiction consists for us - that is, the self-doubt you mentioned against the internal call to lead. Your coaching points are very useful and appreciated.

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