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Speech by CE at the Leadership Conference 2011 (with photos/video)

Following is the speech by the Chief Executive, Mr Donald Tsang, at the Leadership Conference 2011 organised by Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre at Run Run Shaw Hall, Academy of Medicine, Wong Chuk Hang this morning (July 30).

    Anthony, distinguished guests and speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

    Thank you very much for this opportunity to join you today, and to share with you some of my thoughts on leadership.

    Leadership is but a single word, and yet it encompasses so much.

    Anyone who is married íV in particular those who have shared a long and happy marriage íV will know that even in the home environment leadership is required on a daily, sometimes even hourly, basis. Now, many of us men like to think that we are the head of the household and the family leader. And thatíŽs certainly trueíK but only for as long as our wives let us think we are!

    And anyone who has had the good fortune to enjoy a happy married life and a loving family environment will also know that it involves a lot of love, a lot of trust, a lot of patience, a lot of communication, a lot of perseverance íV basically a lot of hard work. But the results far outweigh the effort. And I think it is true that many of the lessons íV sometimes hard lessons íV we learn at home can be applied in any discussion on leadership. Confucius once said:  ížThe strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.íĘ

    I mention this because, in discussing leadership, we need to frame the context of what we are talking about. History is full of great military and political leaders íV but the leadership required during war is different to that required during peace time. Captains of industry and enterprise are often held up as leadership role models íV but the leadership required of a multi-national chairman of the board may not be the same as that needed by an eager entrepreneur hoping to start a cha chaan teng franchise. What lessons can we learn from the leaders of great sporting teams? What are the secrets of leadership in the cultural sphere? What makes a good headmaster at a local school?  

    As we see also from the excellent range of speakers you have today, leadership is required in every sphere of our daily life íV in politics, in business, in community work, in civil society, in arts and culture, in urban development, in the creative industries íV just to name a few.

    The Bauhinia Foundation itself is a leader in the sphere of public policy research in Hong Kong íV and here I must congratulate the Foundation on its 5th anniversary this year, and for providing such a wealth of policy perspectives during that time. The work of the Foundation and other think-thanks is not just a useful reference point for the government íV it contributes significantly to the knowledge bank of experience and ideas on which the public and media can draw when discussing important issues facing our society. So, on this occasion, I must thank the Foundation and its members for all of the thought leadership you have provided for Hong KongíŽs benefit since your inception in 2006.

    Leadership is a subject that has featured in the news quite a bit lately íV and I am sure it will continue to be featured even more in the next nine months or so as we choose our next Chief Executive. So, this conference and workshop today and tomorrow come at a rather interesting time.

    Indeed, having heard and read so much lately about my style of governance for Hong Kong, some might say that the Foundation have been charitable in asking me to talk to you on the topic of leadership. Or perhaps it shows the FoundationíŽs perceptiveness and objectivity in trying to study this subject against a larger canvas of global political evolution from the past, to the present, and peeking into the future.

    I have been careful in framing the context of what I am talking about today. I do not want there to be any doubt that what I say is anything other than my own personal reflections on leadership in the public sector of Hong Kong. It is not a recipe for success for universal application.  It is not a list of pre-requisites. It is a distillation of my own experience over almost 45 years of government and political work in Hong Kong íV my hopes, my failures, my disappointments and, dare I say, my occasional triumphs in my own home town.

    This distillation of thoughts has been further concentrated by my service as the Chief Executive of this great city for the past six years. My thoughts on leadership have been very much shaped by Hong Kong and its people íV what I have learnt and experienced from living and working in a free, open and pluralistic society, and a free and open economy, that is under the ever-watchful eye of a free and unfettered media environment.

    And on that note, I would like to share my thoughts with you.

    The leadership of a politician, I believe, is founded on the personal qualities that he possesses and projects by his actions and words. Integrity comes first. You need the highest moral and ethical standards because without them you will never be able to build trust with the community that you lead and serve.

    Next comes passion íV passion for the people of Hong Kong. Passion to understand their aspirations and changing moods íV at the grass root levels, through the middle class to the well-to-do. Passion to establish empathy with them. Passion to work with them, to identify the real life situation we face today. Passion to make it a better place for our children and grandchildren. Without passion you just woníŽt have the drive to do the hard miles. Passion also means that you believe in this place, you must have passion for Hong Kong, you believe and trust in its people, and you believe in its future.

    In the broader context, passion for our country, or patriotism, is just as important for a leader of Hong Kong. We are part of China. Our futures are forever linked. I strongly believe that Hong Kong people love their country and want to see it prosper. But I also feel that after a separation of one and a half centuries, we need to understand her more deeply. Without that understanding Hong Kong can never discover fully the unique role that it can play in the development of our nation. And what changes that development can make to the lives of people on the Mainland and in Hong Kong.  Not just in terms of dollars and cents, economic benefit or what we get out of it. Our community and our leaders need to look for ways in which we can contribute more to the national agenda by bringing into play our experience, skills and international outlook. Any such contributions will be richly rewarded. The Chief Executive must always remember that he is responsible to the Central Government as well as to the people of Hong Kong.

    I also feel that humility and self-reflection are very important personal qualities, if you want to be a leader in Hong Kong. Great leaders are not known to be shrinking violets, or to have much self-doubt. What I have learnt throughout my career is that the higher you go, the more humble you need to become. That is because the burden of responsibility also increases íV there are more people relying on you and your judgment. There are more views that need to be considered and to be reconciled. There are different ways of approaching a problem than perhaps you alone may have considered. This does not mean that you put aside your vision, convictions or principles íV it just means that in pursuit of your objective, you must try to put your ego to one side and acknowledge and admit that other people may have a better proposal to achieve your own objective. Humility also means that if you get knocked down you accept that setback, get back up again, and move on.

    Leadership indeed requires vision. But it must be a vision that is relevant to the people, relevant to the time, and possible to achieve. I have often used the word pragmatic to describe my approach to policy making, which is really all about how you bring your vision to life. A key aspect of this is to ensure that your vision íV your policies and your planning for the longer term íV are clearly explained and articulated. Why you have this vision. What it means for Hong Kong. Why itíŽs important for our future. WhatíŽs in it for the people of Hong Kong. Vision is nothing without discipline and perseverance íV you need to make good on your promises. To use an often quoted phrase: You caníŽt just talk the talk; you have to walk the walk. If you believe in your vision, you need to fight the good fight because, if you doníŽt, that will ultimately erode your credibility.

    Once you have your vision and set your agenda, then I believe leadership requires diligence. I recall that Bill Clinton once said something along the lines that íąevery day is an election dayíŽ or governance is íąa permanent campaigníŽ. That is, every day you need to work hard to deliver on your promises and vision, as well as deal with the myriad and varied issues that clamour for time and attention. Unless you are diligent, you caníŽt deliver íV because the devil is in the detail.

    Now, leaders caníŽt keep an eye on every little detail of every policy of every issue íV thereíŽs just not enough hours in the day to do that.  But what leaders can do is set the example for others to follow. Entrust your team to remain diligent in developing and implementing policy. Yet for major issues, or in times of emergency, you need to be there yourself attending to the details of the mission.

    Sensitivity to the changing world and sensitivity to the changing needs and priorities of the community is another aspect of leadership. Some might call it a radar system or even an early warning system. This is particularly important íV and challenging íV nowadays with such a multitude of avenues for people to express their views and opinions. I just mentioned the need for diligence in pushing forward your policy agenda. You also need to be diligent in listening to peopleíŽs views. ItíŽs not easy or pleasant to change your plans or approach because, of course, you already believe it has been well thought through! But in my experience, no plan is perfect and often you can improve it by taking on board some new ideas or perspectives; or by acknowledging that community priorities have changed or moved on.

    Another lesson I have learnt about leadership is that you caníŽt do it alone. You need a good team of people to work with you. No leader can survive without a good team. In my current role, I have a dedicated group of Principal Officials supported by a political cadre as my immediate team. And of course we have the support and input of one of the finest civil services in the world, which works hand-in-hand with the political team to undertake policy and administrative planning, and to see through the implementation of our policies and decisions. All along the chain of command there are teams of people attending to the details of the daily business of government. And every team, in every division, of every department is important for the smooth and efficient running of Hong Kong.

    As a leader of Hong Kong, you really have to be a team player. You set the strategic direction and make it known to your team. After that you need to spend time with your team, to share your views with team members, to make sure they understand what you want them to do, and to give ample room for them to contribute their best. While it is important to monitor the progress of that work, it is equally important to empower your team to just get on with the job at hand íV to trust them to deliver and to have faith in their ability. Leadership also means about standing by your team if something doesníŽt go quite according to plan; and working with them to rectify any problems or to get a project back on track.

    Communication is of course a vital aspect of leadership. We have to tell the community what we want to achieve. We have to explain our policies and decisions. We have to answer questions and address criticisms. We have to listen to what people have to say. We have to engage in a dialogue with civil society. Hong Kong is fortunate to have such a free and robust media that keeps the government on its toes. There can never be any doubt in Hong Kong that we do not know what the public thinks about any particular issue. Technological advances have made communication with the public both easier and more challenging in recent years íV not just here in Hong Kong but for governments around the world. We are trying hard to meet the publicíŽs expectations in this regard with greater use of social media platforms.

    If you talk about YouTube or Facebook or Twitter, then naturally you think about the younger generations íV the post-70s, or the post-80s, or the post 90s as we like to call them. This leads me to another important lesson about leadership and that is the need to nurture talent and to provide opportunities for our younger people to contribute their talents, and to develop their own leadership style and skills.

    It has often been said that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow íV and that is so true. New ideas, new approaches to problems, new ways of communicating íV all of these can be harnessed by a leader who brings on board young talent to the team. In Hong  Kong, we are still in the relatively early stages of developing party politics íV but we can see that more and more young people are becoming interested in politics and the issues which will shape the future of our city. I think that is a very positive development which augers well for the future of public administration in our city.

    Finally, perhaps most relevant for me at this point in time, is the understanding that change is inevitable and that all things must come to an end. Perhaps the word I am looking for is wisdom. History is littered with great leaders who stayed on too long íV from heads of state right down to the chairman of a local social club. My time is very limited. I have made good progress in delivering the pledges I made at the beginning of my current term in 2007 íV pledges set according to my vision for Hong Kong. Yet we can still feel the momentum for change building up in the community. I have no intention of winding down before my term expires on June 30 next year íV indeed that would go against all of what I have just said about leadership. But the last year of any political leaderíŽs term does throw up particular challenges as far as leadership is concerned. The most obvious, of course, is relevance. People will say: íž Donald will be gone next year so we need to start thinking about what we want the next CE to do.íĘ ThereíŽs nothing we can do to stop those types of discussions taking place íV and I would not want to.

    All I would say is that it is a tremendous honour and privilege to be the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and I pledge to continue serving the people of Hong Kong with the integrity, vision, diligence and sensitivity I have just spoken about. My team and I are now working on our last Policy Address in October, and we will not shy away from the important issues that are of concern to the community íV housing, bridging the wealth gap and elderly services. We will be starting our consultation exercise soon and I urge you all to provide your input. And of course, I am sure that the Bauhinia Foundation will have a submission or two to make as well.

    Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, July 30, 2011
Issued at HKT 10:53


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