The head that wears the crown…
2010 was a decisive year for Pony Ma (Well, 2020 was even more decisive and eventful, but that is an entirely different story).
Born in a humble background, with his father as a port manager, many didn’t expect his rise; he pursued entrepreneurship by opening his own company in 1998 and four more people. His company Tencent had been of the most successful companies in his homeland, China, by reaping revenues of nearly 2 billion USD at the time.
The company’s core product was the QQ instant messaging service, which had an active 650 million users per month.
The company’s market capitalization was estimated at 33 billion USD and boasted of having more than ten thousand employees.
However, as it happens with every product cycle, the demand for QQ instant messaging service was now stagnant.
The messaging service was invented in the late 1990s as a product compatible with the desktop. While the product had ripped the markets in the past, it had found a few takers amongst the current generation of smartphone users.
Pony Ma knew that he had to do something innovative– and as soon as possible. If he held on to the product’s popularity, it was only a matter of time wherein the product, and the company would be considered obsolete.
It is said that sudden messages arriving at midnight are often fateful and tragic. Likewise, Pony Ma received a message late into the night that would be responsible for the company’s fate.
Thinking out of the box
Allen Zhang, the sender of the message, was in charge of the company’s Guangzhou R&D division. In his message, he proposed the invention of a social messenger for smartphones.
He had been studying the advent of the social messenger Kik, a rage among the youth. He felt that a messenger product like it would prove to be a boon for the company.
However, just like Achilles’ heel, every great idea accompanies a drawback or a risk.
While Zhang’s idea seemed fantastic, the consequences could result in a devastating loss.
The new messenger service could push QQ to oblivion. Also, Tencent had partnered with the country’s leading mobile carriers to receive 40% of the SMS charges arising from QQ. The decline of QQ also meant the souring of the relationship between some powerful companies in China.
The situation seemed akin to that of the eponymous fable wherein the goose laying golden eggs is slain.
However, Pony Ma was a man of action, who gave the green signal to pursue the idea. The result was the service ‘Weixin,’ which, sixteen months after launch, had a hundred million users.
By 2018, Tencent had a market capitalization of over 500 billion USD, making it one of the world’s most valuable companies. Two years earlier, in 2016, the revenues of the company were estimated at 22 billion USD.
The service, ‘Weixin,’ is popularly known as WeChat outside China.
Importance of leadership skills
There are many takeaways from the above case.
No success story in the world can be merely achieved without an able leader at the helm. A leader should be able to perceive and estimate things and skills in people. Any individual who aspires to be a leader should possess the following essential qualities:
Pony Ma was able to take the big decision as he was able to communicate with his peers and employees and was open to any suggestions. His communication skills helped him know the goings-on in the trade and the environment setup.
The ability to have transparent communication without prejudice and ego; it is the most desirable trait in a leader.
The individual should be open and broad-minded about any aspects or ideas discussed and should be willing to communicate back with clarity.
Have you wondered while reading the above case that, what if, Ma had shut down the suggestion given to him? After all, Zhang was his subordinate; the former was the CEO, and he had no obligation to follow through with it. However, Ma had the rationale to analyze and take up Zhang’s suggestion, which teaches us the importance of proper feedback.
The subsequent action following communication is the ability to take feedback. A leader should be conscious enough to accept the activities’ input, whether it is positive or negative.
The core product of Tencent was a service based on desktop. If Ma had decided to stay in his comfort zone, he would not have reached the heights he attained.
While the pandemic was at the peak, Tencent launched online classrooms as a means to impart education – as well as to stay relevant.
Creativity is not just applicable to artistic fields; it applies in daily life as well. A leader should possess a creative outlook to think outside the box, to be unconventional to solve the latest problems arising, which are nowhere near the case-studies discussed in management classes.
There is a beautiful Zen story about the power of motivation.
There was a general who once was about to lead his army against an enemy who had a much larger army. The odds were enormous, yet the army moved on to do their duty. On the way to the battlefield, they stopped at a small temple to pray. Then, the general took out a coin and placed it in front of the deity.
He said, ‘Today, we will face an enemy much stronger than us in numbers. However, our strength has its source in our courage, skills, and the Almighty himself. The gods have always looked out for us, which is why we have been flourishing this long. Now the gods will decide our fate.’
‘I am now going to toss this coin; if it is headed, we win, else, it means we lose. The Almighty will decide what is in store for us.’
Saying so, the general tossed the coin, and- wait for it- it showed heads.
The smaller army then went on to butcher the larger army and had a glorious victory.
During the victory’s celebrations, the general and his close friend, who fought alongside him, were talking about the war. Then the friend cried out, ‘Nobody, just nobody, can change the fate determined by the gods!’
‘Is that so?’ the general asked, as he slyly reached and showed the coin, only to his friend.
The friend, to his horror, realized that the coin had heads on both sides.
This just goes to show; Bollywood was, is, and will still be a copycat (Hint: Sholay movie).
Sarcasm aside, perseverance is an essential virtue during any time of distress. The individual who can pull through it and motivate others to do the same is heralded as a good leader.
Perhaps the most underrated quality of leadership is staying positive. While the mentality of seeing the cup to be half full is not always palpable in cut-throat competition, one can try to be positive by morphing the adversity into an opportunity by balancing creativity as well as a positive mindset.
The battle of Longevala, held during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, was fought between 120 Indian soldiers accompanied by 4 Hunter fighter aircraft and 2000-3000 Pakistani soldiers accompanied by 30-40 tanks; the battle site being Longevala, Rajasthan – right in the Thar desert.
The Indian army was heavily outnumbered, and adding to the grief; the unit was not sufficiently equipped.
However, they did not lose heart. Barbed wires, minefield markers were put along at strategic points, where there were no minefields.
The Indian army was in a defending position, and they made fair use of defensive tactics, forcing the enemy troops to unfamiliar grounds.
The result was a full-blown victory to the Indian army, with two casualties. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military reported a loss of 200 soldiers and 36 tanks.
A positive mindset can help you to overcome many things.
There are different styles of leadership, out of which roughly four can be elaborated as follows:
1) Democratic: The leader makes the decisions based on the input of each team member. Although he or she makes the final decision, each individual has an equal say on the matter.
2) Autocratic: The leader makes decisions, solely on his knowledge and thinking, without taking input from anyone else. Subordinates are expected to obey the decisions without any objections.
3) Laissez-Faire: The least intrusive form of leadership, it means ‘free reign’, allowing the subordinates to carry out their responsibilities with their discretion.
4) Strategic – Strategic leaders sit at the intersection between the top and lower levels, accepting the burden of executive interests while ensuring that current conditions remain stable for everyone else.
Based on the workplace and individual working style conditions, it is up to the individual to choose the kind of leader he or she wants to.
If the problem with communication skills is related to language barriers, then try to read and study the stuff related to it as much as possible. Speak without hesitation to your dear ones; practice makes one perfect. See videos and even movies in your spare time to get over the language barriers.
If this problem is related to your confidence, shyness, or anxiety, remember that nobody is perfect as much as it sounds cliché.
The guy who is the life of the party or is the loudest trumpet may not be equipped with the knowledge you possess. Perhaps, they can attract a crowd, but they may not lead them or address them.
On the other hand, if you are well-equipped and knowledgeable, you have fewer things to fear. If you are addressing a large crowd, then practice beforehand. You can try practicing interactions in social situations either alone with a mirror or with an understanding friend or a family member.