Jack Ma celebrates 18 years of Alibaba by dancing to Michael Jackson … so what are his leadership secrets?

September 17, 2017

Jack Ma, from former English teacher to China’s richest man, and CEO of Alibaba Group, donned his dancing shoes last week to perform a Michael Jackson routine in front of 40,000 employees at the Alibaba 18th anniversary party.

Sitting on a motorcycle and wearing an outfit that closely resembles that worn by Jackson during his Dangerous World Tour, the Alibaba CEO danced along to a medley of Billie Jean and Dangerous.

Jack Ma is the richest person in Asia with a net worth of $38.8bn according to Forbes. Thanks to his success and philanthropy, he is hugely popular in China and was ranked at number two in Fortune’s 2017 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list.

Jack Ma is no stranger to performing at Alibaba’s annual parties. In 2009 the business tycoon wore a long blonde wig and sang along to the The Lion King soundtrack.

The CEO has much to celebrate, with the e-commerce site now the largest retailer in the world, surpassing Walmart in April 2016. The company now handles more transactions than Amazon and eBay combined and has more than 529 million monthly active mobile users across its platforms.  In the quarter to March 31 2017, the company’s revenue was $5.61bn, an increase of 60pc year on year.

Ma gave a brilliant speech recently on what he believed to matter most as a leader, focusing on three messages:

1. You have to have love

Ma spoke about the three types of IQ you need as a leader – IQ and EQ, which are well known, but also LQ, which is the love quotient. You have to genuinely love your team and what you’re working towards together, because as you grow and the world gets more intense, there needs to be a larger purpose than just what’s happening in your office day to day.

And on a really practical level, you have to love your team because their lives are in your hands. I’m writing this from a snowstorm on a day when I’m responsible for making sure my entire staff is safe. On many occasions over the last eight years, I’ve had people say, “Aren’t you in charge? Why can’t you make your own schedule?” And I’ve always joked that being a leader is the exact opposite of that. It’s actually being the humble servant to the talent, to make sure they get what they need and you understand where they need to go.

2. Being the chairman is not the fun job.

He is the chairman of tens of thousands of employees. Though he makes it look easy, his life is not. He said it simply: “If you want your life to be simple, you shouldn’t be a leader.” My scale is much smaller, but the pressure is still there. The second anything goes wrong, I have to fix it, whether it’s 6 a.m. on a Wednesday, a Sunday, or during my best friend’s birthday party.

In the early days of LearnVest, I was the one who cleaned up our office when it was messy. I didn’t want to be embarrassed when people came over. One investor arrived and saw me scrubbing the bathroom with Clorox wipes. She laughed and said, “That is someone who literally rolls up her sleeves to get things done.” No one ever wrote that up in my leadership plan.

3. You must push people.

When it comes to solving really hard problems, Ma has a famous quote that I love: “Today is hard. Tomorrow will be worse. But the day after that will be beautiful. Most of your talent won’t make it past tomorrow.” But as a leader, you must inspire people through those hardest times: to stick with it, to move through it, and to see past it, so they can make it to the day where things are beautiful. That’s when you’re really innovating. You have get your team there.

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