Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic Leadership September 23, 2014

Hao Wu knows why people are blown away by Alibaba Founder and CEO Jack Ma. As an employee of the company, Hao Wu was awed from his first management meeting in 2007:

“I heard founder and CEO Jack Ma say that Alibaba is a great company, not because it has the best product or technology (it doesn’t, Jack openly admitted), but the best culture and people. He spoke for more than an hour without any notes, and he charmed (‘You must have an extraordinary aesthetics if you consider me handsome’), cajoled (‘We will invest 200 million in this new strategy’), threatened (‘You are a counter-revolutionary if you don’t want to start a revolution’) and trumpeted (‘If not now, when? If not me, who?). He moved the room from laughter to awe and back like a master orchestra conductor.” He is the Steve Jobs of China, whose “pithy, witty and audacious quotes are widely circulated, discussed and memorized.” 

Wu admits, “for a brief moment, I thought I understood why so many before me had followed Mao Zedong, the great helmsman, in the communist revolution.”

For Ma, what makes Alibaba unique is its culture and ritual, the tremendous effort and drive of its employees, all overseen by the charismatic leader. But for Wu this is the “crack in the legendary Alibaba armor” because “culture can’t remain static.” Jack Ma’s charisma may ultimately keep Alibaba from having the flexibility that it needs to compete outside China.

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