The Alibaba founder has left his role as a chairman of the e-commerce giant in way that can provide some tips for other founders on how to create their own succession plans.
Jack Ma announced his departure from the role back in 2018 and will officially leave the company’s board of directors at Alibaba’s annual shareholder meeting in 2020. The current CEO Daniel Zhang will take his place.
But Ma is not leaving the company he founded in 1999 entirely. He will remain a lifetime partner of Alibaba Partnership, a group drawn from the senior management ranks of Alibaba Group’s different businesses.
Speaking with FinTech Global, Simon Hayward, CEO of leadership consultancy Cirrus and author of The Agile Leader, said, “When it comes to leadership succession planning in our own organizations, there are some valuable lessons we can learn from Jack Ma.”
For instance, while many business leaders and founders may struggle to hand over control of their ventures to others, Hayward believes this is important to ensure the longevity of the company. In fact, this is something they should start doing before they plan on leaving. “To secure sustainable, long-term success leaders need to devolve decision-making across the organisation while they’re still in charge,” Hayward explains. “This prevents an over-reliance on people at the top. Think about the decisions only you can make and delegate the rest.”
Pointing at Alibaba, Hayward notes that Alibaba is managed by a network of senior leaders. “The spirit of partnership and collaboration has always been strong across the organization and Ma has long been renowned for his inclusive style of leadership,” he said.
And, Hayward argues, leaders must dare to give others the tools to lead the company. “Some leaders cite colleagues’ lack of capability as a reason not to empower them,” he says. “As a leader, it is your responsibility to develop the leadership capability of others – to nurture talent across the business and encourage others to step up and drive growth and performance improvement.”
To nurture the future leadership of a company and pave the move for smooth successions, Hayward says it can be a good idea to challenge them to grow. “Although most organizations understand the importance of developing a rich leadership pipeline, many could do more to offer the sort of challenging experiences that take future leaders out of their comfort zones so that they develop new, more innovative ways of working,” Hayward says.
And business leaders should not be afraid of being transparent with their exit plans, he argues. “Perhaps most importantly, Jack Ma has been completely open about his succession plan,” Hayward says. “This is reassuring for colleagues, customers and stakeholders. It builds confidence and removes uncertainty, which ultimately can help avert dips in share price, lapses in loyalty and bad press.”
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