Jack Ma Leadership Style

Jack Ma is responsible for founding one of the most visited online companies in the world – Alibaba (BABA). The company’s foundation is built upon Jack Ma’s ever-evolving leadership style.

Born in September of 1964 as Ma Yun, Jack founded the Alibaba Group in April 1999. In 2014, Forbes ranked Ma the 17th richest person in the world.

He received Asian Award’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, and in 2017, he made Forbes’ list of World’s Greatest Leaders.

Ma had a dream of evolving how China does business and, thanks to his leadership qualities, he has made quite the impression.

What Type Of Leader Is Jack Ma?

Over the years, Ma has employed various management techniques while at the helm of Alibaba – the combination of which have strengthened the company, as well as bolstered employee loyalty and motivation. We’ll examine in more detail below the many evolutions of Jack Ma’s leadership style.

One thing is clear from analyzing Ma’s leadership style, he is not an autocratic leader – even though his roots were closely aligned with this approach. This type of leadership approach limits employees as Jack sees it. It gives them little freedom to creatively come up with ideas or make autonomous decisions. Certainly, it spurs employee action but it’s overly restrictive.

Is Jack Ma a Laissez Faire Leader?

The term laissez-faire is normally used in economics and political policies, but it’s also frequently used in business. It basically means “laid back”. A laissez-faire leadership style translates to a hands-off approach in which more trust is bestowed upon employees.

Jack Ma’s approach is one without micromanagement. He believes in not getting too involved in the day-to-day decision-making of employees but instead empowering them to thrive in their own creativity, and to depend on their own experiences and resources as they strive towards goals.

By definition, this approach to leading a team has a foundation of confidence in the abilities of employees. Ma trusts their judgements, but is willing to provide guidance. Still, it is the employees who must take full responsibility for outcomes of their choices.

While a laissez-faire leader doesn’t fully relinquish full decision-making to a team, they are more hands-off than an autocratic leader.

Is Jack Ma A Transformational Leader?

Jack Ma and other transformational leaders possess four specific elements in their nature. These are:

  • Inspiration
  • Influence
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Individual consideration

Ma is famously charismatic, which translates easily to being an inspirational figurehead for his employees. He has shared personal stories of how he was rejected from Harvard ten times, and how he was the only rejected applicant of 24 to apply for a job. For others hearing his stories, the takeaway is clear: “if Ma has made it in spite of the numerous rejections he has received, so too perhaps can I succeed if I persevere too.”

He also believes in investing in his employees, both monetarily and otherwise, as a fundamental principle of business.

Characteristics of Jack Ma Leadership Style

What qualities make a person a powerful leader? Jack Ma’s leadership abilities boil down to six must-have attributes. These are:

  • Authenticity
  • Empathy
  • Mission-driven
  • Unifying
  • Humility
  • Tenacity

Let’s take a look at these qualities a bit closer:

  • Jack Ma is an authentic leader. His sense of strong character helped him build Alibaba on a strong foundation of loyalty.
  • Jack Ma can see things through the customer’s eyes. Rather than coming at business from a technological standpoint, Ma can see his products the way his customers do. By doing so, he can provide the best service.
  • Jack knows how to create a mission – and continuously strive to meet it. His goal was almost outlandish: to give China a renewed sense of purpose. When the company succeeds, so too do employees, who share in the company’s ownership.
  • Jack Ma knows how to unify people. Regardless of how long or hard you try, you’ll never get every person involved in your company to trust or listen to you. Ma’s approach was to unify employees, partners, and investors under common goals. Basically, if everyone is striving toward the success of a single person, people won’t necessarily be on board – but when everyone strives toward the success of a single, common goal? Something beautiful happens.
  • Ma knows when to be humble. He doesn’t look to hire those with subordinate skills – rather, he hires those whose technical skills and otherwise are greater than his own. That’s how to grow – as a person, leader, and company.
  • Jack possesses an unwavering tenacity. Business leaders should go after what they want with a clear vision and unrelenting perseverance. Time and again, Ma has demonstrated the capacity to do just that.

Ma knows what his goals are and how to achieve them by utilizing a combination of these six leadership attributes. Buttoning them all into one is Jack Ma’s leadership style. The only failure is never trying again. Difficulties and obstacles are lessons.

Is Jack Ma A Servant Leader?

A servant leader aims to enrich individual lives and build better businesses that ultimately create a better world. 

Ma began with a vision to give China even greater purpose. He wanted to show that China could produce a company as great as Ebay (EBAY) or Amazon (AMZN), and arguably even better. 

As Alibaba (BABA) has grown from strength to strength, rivaling the market capitalization of those companies, it’s clear that he possesses the traits of a servant leader.

Is Jack Ma a Visionary Leader?

Jack Ma is a unique leader – often, it’s all about the boss. Not with Jack Ma. His integration of various leadership styles is rare.

From the early days, Ma dreamed of a vision so big that few would dare to believe in it. Legendary investor Masayoshi Son was among the few who Jack Ma convinced of his bold vision to build not only a company but a flagship enterprise that would inspire other Chinese to realize they too could transform the world.

Jack Ma Leadership Quotes

From such an inspiring leader come the following non-exhaustive list of Jack Ma leadership quotes:

  • “Leadership is your instinct, then it’s your training”
  • “A leader should incentivize, but not with money”
  • “Education is challenging. If we don’t change how we teach, we’re going to be in trouble 30 years from now.”
  • “You don’t have to sacrifice your sense of humor just ‘cause you’re the boss.”

Jack Ma Leadership Style: The Bottom Line

The art of letting go

All too often, leaders at the helm of a company don’t know how to step back and let others assume responsibility. For sustainable success, a leader must foster decision making skills and abilities throughout the company. This helps to prevent relying too much on top-of-the-food-chain managers.

Consider decisions that can only be made by leadership and delegate all the rest. By working with a team and building confidence, they will be capable of making decisions autonomously.

The art of developing others

Some business owners cite a lack of capability on the behalf of their employees as reasoning to keep decision making at the top. But true leaders cultivate that capability and responsibility by nurturing innate talents throughout the company and encouraging others to have the gumption to step up, grow, and improve.

A lot of businesses understand that fostering a pipeline of rich leaders is beneficial, but few do it well. It’s important to challenge the status quo by offering experiences that stretch both leaders and employees outside their comfort zones. This is true development – true innovation. This, with a focus on philanthropic efforts and rural education improvements is important to Ma.

The art of transparency

When Jack Ma stepped down as Alibaba CEO, it didn’t come as much of a surprise because he was transparent about the entire process.

This transparency in all aspects of business reassures employees, customers, and investors. It builds confidence.

When people feel they are valued enough to know the whole story, there’s no backroom, water cooler office gossip – everyone is unified.

It also helps to remove worry regarding loyalty lapses, and bad press.

The art of agility

While Alibaba began as a small ecommerce business, it quickly blossomed into the Amazon of Asia under Jack Ma’s leadership style.

Today, Alibaba is involved in:

  • Financial services
  • Mobile payments
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cloud computing

Consumers may change their shopping habits and brand interactions – but Alibaba has always been able to pivot. Almost as if it knew where the ball was going to land…

China’s ecommerce growth rate may not be as fast it had been but it’s still rising at a fast pace. Ma believes in corporate agility and offering the public what they need, when they need it, and being there when these decisions are made.

Alibaba may be facing increased competition, but Jack Ma built the ecommerce giant with a strong foundation. He encouraged up and coming leadership, such as current CEO, Daniel Zhang, to A/B test without fear. The only failure is a failure to dream. Dreams don’t instill fear, mistakes, or setbacks. So, if you were asking Jack Ma for advice, he’d probably tell you:

Dream BIG. 

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