Jack Ma is the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, the giant ecommerce company. He's reportedly the richest man in China. His company employs more than 50,000 people and is currently worth more than $420 billion - a valuation that rivals (and some predict will soon exceed) Amazon's.
Ma wields an enormous amount of influence in his home country and he's positioning Alibaba to be a powerhouse in the U.S. In 2017, Ma was ranked second on Forbes Magazine's list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders and third in a KPMG survey as one of the world's most visionary tech leaders.
This is a man who is literally respected and admired by millions of people and whose actions are studied and analyzed. So naturally, last week, he dressed up as Michael Jackson and danced in front of 40,000 of his employees. Don't believe me? Just watch the video. He literally sat on a motorcycle wearing a Michael Jackson outfit and then rocked it to Billie Jean and Dangerous. Oh, and this isn't the first time he's done something like this. Back in 2009, he wore a long blonde wig and sang Lion King songs at another corporate event.
What the heck was he thinking? Can you imagine a respected CEO doing this? A political leader? Your dad? OK, well probably your dad. But these things aren't done by today's executives. What would the world say?
The world laughed. Some made jokes about him. Others didn't approve. But Ma certainly doesn't care about those things. And maybe, as a leader, you shouldn't either. Sometimes making a fool of yourself is a very smart move.
You are not so special. You are not so great. Like most CEO's and business owners I know, we're reminded of this every day when we come home to our families. We may be masters of the universe at our companies, but at home we're just the dad who likes to burp at dinner or the mom who snores loudly at night. We're just people with faults and weaknesses and fears. We're doing our best.
Like the rest of us, Ma is just a normal guy with fears and problems. He can't really demonstrate these human characteristics to 50,000 people. So instead he gets up on a stage and looks like a fool...on purpose. It's fun and its funny. It's refreshing to see the big, important, rich, powerful CEO do a bad impression of Michael Jackson. It demonstrates that this same rich, important and powerful CEO isn't so great at everything. He's just a guy that likes to dance - badly -to pop music.
Ma truly enjoys performing in front of a crowd and he knows it's all in good fun. But he also knows that, like every day that he's walking around the office and being the important CEO, his employees are watching. The more human he is, the more empathetic he becomes - and the more enjoyable it is work for a guy like that.
More importantly, Ma is challenging himself. He's doing something out of his comfort zone not only because he enjoys it but because he wants to test himself. Can he actually do this? In front of 40,000 people and with smartphones? He's knows he'll be abused, ridiculed and joked about. His message: put yourself out there. Take a risk. Don't be afraid to look like a fool. Do what you enjoy. Ma is rich enough to never have to challenge himself like this. But you can tell he doesn't want to forget what it's like to take a risk.
I'm not saying you should dress up like Michael Jackson and do a rendition of Thriller at your next company party. In fact, please don't. But as the leader of a company what are you doing during the day - how are your behaving - that makes yourself approachable and likeable to the people who work for you? What are you doing that's out of your comfort zone? What risks are you taking so that you can stay edgy, fresh and...well...Dangerous?