Hierarchies, Pack Dynamics & Communication: What can the Wolf Teach us?
The Strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the Strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
Within this post we will delve into the world of the wolf. The wolf never runs from its role, but instead takes pride in the hierarchy. From the Alpha to the Omega, EVERY wolf has an individual part to play within the pack. A wolf pack is an intricate social unit, comprising of extended family (parents, siblings, offspring and the like.) All these varying social elements, have the capacity to shift the dynamics of the pack. Social Dynamics and Hierarchies are a natural and confusing part of human life too.
Having established that the wolf and the human are both social creatures. What do these beautiful beasts have to teach us about our own social and work based standing?
Communication and Instinct
Humans pick up on, and respond to unconscious social cues. These cues assist when navigating everyday social situations. But in an emergency, we instinctively know who to turn to, and roles are assigned with few words. This instinctual decision making relies on body language as a form of nonverbal communication, much like the wolf. Wolves exert the following forms of nonverbal communication:
- Facial expression
- Ear and tail positioning
In our case, we mirror the body language of those that we are affectionate toward or agree with. Our neurons allow us to match another humans emotions with immediate effect. Those that walk tall with their shoulders back, appear self assured and confident.
Have you ever heard the phrase; it’s not what you say it’s how you say it? Voice tone, inflection and volume are all key elements when conversing. The same words said in a slow steady pace can become aggressive when spoken through gritted teeth. The actual content of what we say forms a meager 7% of a first impression. Vocal comes in at 38%. Whereas Visual forms a massive 55% of how people first perceive us as an individual. Body language displays by the wolf can are at times accompanied by vocalization in the form of howling.
There are so many more layers to both human and wolf social interaction. Somewhere in our subconscious we are aware of these complex social cues and underlying hierarchies. But when it comes to collaboration, have we lost touch with the natural instincts that allow us to better work as a team? Can benefit be found by being more conscious of and in tune with, the natural hierarchies and social dynamics within our own lives?
The Internal Structure of the Wolf Pack
Much like humans, the wolf shares knowledge across generations. Vital information, such as hunting strategies transcend generations; such inherited wisdom ensures the future lineage of the pack. Ultimate pack success is earned through displaying the most experience and competence.
The Alpha Pair
The Alpha pair (usually a male and a female) lead the pack and enjoy the highest level of social freedom. Though unlike humans, they do not give orders or make rules. They lead the pack like the head of the family.
The true role of the Alpha pair is reflected in the saying ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Being an Alpha has more to do with responsibility, as opposed to meaningless displays of aggression. They are charged with caring for the safety and survival of each pack member.
The Alpha male leads the hunt in some capacity. Having the most experience, he can select the most attainable prey. Younger wolves gain experience by conducting the leg work. The Alpha is also in charge of calling off the hunt if needed.
Checks and balances exist to regulate even those at the top. When one or both Alphas display extreme aggression over a sustained period, an internal uprising will occur to remove them.
In larger wolf packs, the Beta wolf is the second in command after the Alpha pair. As a result, they enjoy the maximum freedom (after the Alphas of course.) The Beta position is decided and maintained through a series of fights, in which the wolves must display their competency at battle. This inner warfare tests their ability for the hunt. As a Beta, you must always be ready to assume position of Alpha in the best interests of the pack.
The Delta is in training for the Beta position; however it is possible to remain a lifelong Delta. Making them third in rank. They are the sort you can rely on to get the job done. They do not hold authority to call medium or large hunts, this reserved only for Alphas and Betas.
If the current Beta is removed from their rank, steps down, changes rank or leaves the pack, the Delta may assume the Beta position by request of the Alpha.
Subordinates are wolves that are not Alpha, Beta, Delta or Omega. They represent the middle level of the pack. It is likely that subordinates are Omegas that climbed up the ladder by dominating others.
The Omega has an unpleasant load to bare. Although they are the bottom rung of the ladder, this doesn’t lower their value to the pack. Other members of the pack will often bully them, they are essentially the butt of the joke. But the Omega has a vital role in maintaining the overall stability of the pack. They help their pack mates vent off conflicts without acts of war which can hurt the strength and integrity of the pack. Their contribution goes beyond internal conflict resolution. Studies note, that when a pack loses their Omegas, they stop hunting and begin mourning them.
The Lone Wolf
Both male and female wolves may go through spells of time alone. Though they walk alone, they seek another wolf. No wolf would choose to live this way forever. Wolves are social creatures, maintaining lifelong bonds and cooperating within a community.
A wolf may find itself alone when the pack gets too big, and the food source is too small. They will be told firmly to make their own way, so that the younger pups have a chance of survival. If this is the case, they will begin the dangerous journey of finding a new mate and creating their own pack or attempting to becoming accepted within another.
Even the lone wolf still can play a vital part in the continuation of a pack. Outsiders are essential to strengthen the gene pool. They can be accepted into the fold on this premise. Although it comes at extreme risk to their own life, as they take part in a series of social interactions that could result in ‘death by Alpha.’
The Hunt and the Hierarchy
The ability to work together during the hunt is essential to the survival of the pack. Due to their primary prey being on the large scale, it takes a pack to tackle such a hunt. Working as a pack also means that there are more wolves searching for prey throughout larger territories. Once the pack locates prey from a distance, the pack begins stalking. They circle the herd looking for indications of potential weakness.
Younger wolves get involved in the hunt to some degree. They watch the behavior of the adults, they learn the rules and tactics of the hunt. They watch how the hunters handle different situations, such as adverse weather conditions, and adapt their strategies accordingly. When a wolf finally joins the hunt, they imitate the skills displayed by experienced pack members.
Every member of the pack knows the expectations of the hunt, and the expectations of their role within wider aspects of the pack dynamic. Although the Alpha male is the leader, no orders need barked, the pack work on instinct. They perform the task of the hunt like a well-oiled machine.
Further Common Ground
As alluded to in the introduction, Humans (much like wolves) are naturally prone to forming hierarchies and social bonds. Even the most introverted among us require social interaction, even if it is minimal. Despite the common perception that you can ‘buy’ your way to the top; for the most part these structures are formed based on competence and experience.
The human equivalent to dominance within a hierarchy, is a display of competence and experience. You can climb a given hierarchy by displaying competence in your field.
Humans come together when they have a common goal. For example, in a work scenario, separating tasks individually means you are assigning personal goals – if they are met, then individuals are not responsible for any lack of result in another field. Setting a common goal for your team is of high importance.
In a world in which EVERYONE is pushed to become the Alpha; have we lost sight of our true individual strengths? By becoming conscious of the hierarchies in our own lives, it is possible to gain insight into otherwise baffling life/workplace interactions. When you understand your personality in relation to your position in a hierarchy, not only do you know what is required of you, but you can work out where you really want to go.
If you don’t have the desire, or struggle to fit into a hierarchy, give freelancing a go. You may fair better as your own boss. But as depicted by the Lone Wolf, solo efforts are no easy fete. Ask yourself if you could be truly happy without being part of a team? Are you built to work alone?
Some of us are better able to carry the load of responsibility, while others are happy to hold a lower rank with less responsibility. Guess what? That’s fine too! This constant Alpha encouragement is not beneficial to all humans. Whatever you do, take pride in what you offer doing to the pack in your current capacity. Aim to do the best you can with what you have.