Frans de Waal is a primatologist whose talk on alpha males establishes clear parallels between human and primate behaviors. The keynote offers an educative glimpse into communal dynamics and is based on the speaker's research.
Frans de Waal attempts to challenge the mythology that alpha males need to be strong, tough and ruthless. Drawing attention to the fact that many business books illustrate alpha males as domineering and bullying individuals, the primatologist seeks to shake this inaccurate perception by setting the term into the context of a chimpanzee society.
The speaker identifies the highest ranking male as the alpha male and the highest ranking female as the alpha female. In this sense, the term is incredibly straightforward. Frans de Waal explains that in a coalition system between chimpanzees, there is no requirement to be the strongest or most assertive male or female to secure such a position. In fact, the smallest individual from the group can reach the top of the order should he have the right connections, attitude and leadership qualities.
The talk on alpha males goes on to highlight important behavioral responses as necessary. Frans de Waal sleekly sets up parallels between high ranking chimpanzees and people in positions of power in human political institutions. The primatologist calls attention to the desired qualities in a good leader — impressive, intimidating, displaying strength and vigor. Of course, having the right connections, being social and generous are qualities that are extremely essential, as well.
The talk on alpha males also highlights the privileges and costs of being highest of rank — from the abundance of females and enhanced reproductive success to the accompanying stress of maintaining the position and ensuring that you are supportive of your partners.
It is extremely important for alpha chimpanzees to maintain the peace in their society, display unity and be incredibly empathic. For example, standing up for the undergod makes alpha males "extremely popular in the group, because they provide security for the lowest-ranking members of the group."
Finishing up his talk on alpha males with broken mythologies and the true meaning of a good leader, Frans de Waal makes successful allusions to certain behaviors in human societies.