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Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang’s 7 Leadership Principles Double as a Universal Roadmap for Success
Daniel Zhang CEO of Alibaba

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang’s 7 Leadership Principles Double as a Universal Roadmap for Success

In a recent article for CNBC Make It, Daniel Zhang outlined his seven key principles to help guide himself and his team since becoming the CEO of Alibaba in 2015.


Adhering to these principles, he says, has “help[ed] us think about big bets like creating 11.11 -- the world's largest shopping event -- or envisioning our "New Retail" strategy to carry Alibaba and our partners into the future.”

According to Zhang, these principles also “help keep us focused on what's important when we think about competition, hiring talent and making hard decisions.”

While Zhang and the Alibaba team use the seven principles for as a guiding ethos to ensure they’re always pushing forward in the office, they could just as easily apply to everyday life -- from relationships and friendship to college and creative pursuits.

See below for Zhang’s seven leadership principles:

Management is not leadership

According to Zhang, there is a key difference between managing and leading a team: “A manager runs a business and gets expected results -- those are the key performance indicators. But a leader's mission is to lead the team, not just to get results. A leader also crafts the future.”

Compete with yourself

Perhaps the most important of the seven principles, competing with yourself is vital to developing and growing as a person. It does not do to compare yourself to others, or to become complacent in your space. Zhang drills down the point by quoting himself: "If we don't kill our old selves, then we'll be killed by our rivals."

“You have to have the courage to reinvent yourself.” he elaborates.

Study the future, not the past

Here, Zhang is simply suggesting that we have to be results-driven, not just in the short term but in the long term as well. He dares us to be brave enough to shoot far in advance and to be willing to pivot in order to accommodate for critical opportunities that may arise.

Know when to go all-in, and don’t be afraid to do it

“Like players of the poker game Texas Hold'em, if you don't know how to go all-in, you can't play that game well.”

Zhang’s point here is crucial to living a fulfilling life -- one that requires you to go all in and commit 110% to what you believe in and what you aspire for.

Buy, don’t bet

Similarly, Zhang believes in going all in when it comes to making investments and critical business -- and life -- decisions.

“If you're going to win a race, it's more important to buy a horse than just bet on it. At Alibaba, for instance, we choose to acquire a company rather than take a minority stake when it comes to important strategic projects that require real synergies and integration.”

Find people who truly see the big picture

Here, Zhang is emphasizing the importance of keeping an open mind and always being receptive to the point of view of others. In fact, he believes it’s critical to see the full picture of any given product or initiative.

He quotes a Chinese poem that reads, “You can’t see the mountain from the mountain.” Then goes on to explain that in order to see the full picture, you have to find distance, or find people who see it from a fresh perspective.

Hire adventurers, not employees

“Some job hunters want only that – a job and a paycheck. They think in the short-term. Those with an appetite for adventure, on the other hand, are comfortable with risk and change. These people want to build things and make their mark,” Zhang explains.

This mindset is vital to any aspect of life that requires openness -- whether in a relationship or a business. It’s crucial to align with those who think as big as you do.

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