6 Wise Success Tips From Top Leaders at the Davos Forum
Alibaba's Jack Ma, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and even Elton John shared inspirational lessons at this year's World Economic Forum.
At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, heads of state, business leaders and even entertainers doled out wisdom.
Some of their remarks were timeless, while others were particularly timely, but all were backed by the intention of inspiring the world’s future leaders to achieve success.
Click through for six pieces of advice the attendees and speakers shared last week.
Hire and empower women.
Both men and women drove this point home throughout the week in Davos, from activist Malala Yousafzai to Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained that women face a variety of barriers to career success, and that providing the same pay to men and women is just one step toward equality. Women do more part-time and unpaid work (such as in the household) than men, for example, and employers need to take this into account when considering (or passing over) female employees for certain opportunities.
"I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” Trudeau said. "Not because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do."
Ma echoed these sentiments during another talk:
“Thirty-seven percent of senior management in Alibaba are women,” Ma said. “Part of the 'secret sauce' of our success is because we have so many women colleagues.”
Prepare for an automated world.
Robots could replace 800 million jobs by 2030, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Children and adults alike will increasingly need a grasp on learning skills rather than retaining knowledge and information -- skills such as independent thinking, teamwork, creativity, research and information synthesis and analysis.
“If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble,” Alibaba's Ma said at the World Economic Forum. He also said: “If you don't want to lose quickly you will need a high IQ, and if you want to be respected you need high LQ: the IQ of love.”
Know that ‘there is never a straight line to success.’
Pursuing a music career brought Elton John “joy and material abundance beyond [his] wildest dreams,” he wrote in an essay published by the World Economic Forum.
“But once I attained these bounties, I began to lose them and, even worse, I began to lose myself,” he continued. “My essential humanity began to dissolve into an excess of drugs and alcohol. Fame, which at first sight looks like a blessing, soon revealed itself as also a curse. I am afraid I reacted very badly. I became a loathsome person -- selfish, self-centred and disconnected.”
John emerged from this period after meeting a young man named Ryan White, who had AIDS, as well as his mother, Jeanne.
“Their ability to cope with real adversity helped inspire me to turn my own life around,” John wrote. “Ryan White was the spark that helped me recover from my addictions.”
The performer received a Crystal Award in Davos last week for his work against HIV/AIDS through his foundation.
“There is never a straight line to success,” John wrote, “and there wasn’t for me.”
In a politically relevant talk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against protectionist policy. But her arguments are applicable beyond global affairs, toward any setting in which collaboration is possible.
“Shutting ourselves off, isolating ourselves, will not lead us into a good future,” she warned. “You also need good cooperation with your neighbours, you need good agreements, valid agreements, that are respected.”
World Economic Forum honoree Elton John also spoke about unity in a reflective essay published in conjunction with the conference, in which he encouraged readers to understand the power of the “embrace of our common humanity.”
Alibaba's Jack Ma was a third voice who spoke to this theme.
"You don’t need to know a lot of things, but you need to find the people who are smarter than you are,” Ma said. “My job is to make sure smart people are working together."
Learn from failure.
Studying the paths others have taken is one way to approach a pursuit of success. But it’s not the only way, or even the best way, Ma argued onstage in Davos.
“My thinking is that, if you want to be successful, learn from the other peoples’ mistakes, don’t learn from success stories,” Ma said. “The book I want to write is, Alibaba: 1,001 Mistakes.”
Ma also shared a story from his early career: He applied for a job at KFC among a group of 24 candidates, and he was the only one who got rejected.
Elton John also alluded to overcoming his own personal failures in his essay, noting that “a good leader has a moral integrity that survives both success and failure.”
Focus on the long term.
Short term gains don’t always translate to long-term success. PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi made this argument about appeasing shareholders and adopting a macro-level strategy.
“I always said, I have the results to show for long-term management but the scars to show for short-term management,” Nooyi said of her first five years in her lead role, when Pepsi’s share price was lower than Coca Cola's.
Ma touched on the role of large technology companies to grow mindfully and sustainably, with the livelihoods of people around the globe in mind.
"Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba -- we are the luckiest companies of this century,” Ma said. “But we have the responsibility to have a good heart, and do something good. Make sure that everything you do is for the future.”