By Kenny Lau

Dr Rosanna Wong
Dr Rosanna Wong

Dr Rosanna Wong, DBE, JP, is a highly accomplished woman, a dedicated public servant, and a role model reminding us of the importance of trust-building in a time of disturbing change. Since an early age, she has been heavily influenced by two individuals: her mother and Dr Sun Yat Sen. Her mother, a very open-minded individual, was her role model and life-long teacher. The story of Dr Sun gave a young girl who would one day achieve a distinguished record of public service sitting in both the Legislative and Executive Councils.

“My mother had always put tremendous trust in her children. She told her children to do what they wanted to achieve and to bear responsibility; I am always grateful for her generosity,” says Wong, speaking in the opening keynote address of AmCham’s 2016 WOI Conference. “I learned the whole lesson of trust from my mother. And we should trust our young people before they learn how to trust us.”

Today, Wong is Executive Director of The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference as well as HKUST Business School Advisory Council, Chairperson of the Education Commission, Housing Authority, Commission on Youth, and Social Welfare Advisory Committee. She also serves as an Independent Non-Executive Director of HSBC, CK Hutchison Holdings, Hutchison Telecommunications HK Holdings and The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, among others.

“When I was young, I also read a lot about Dr Sun Yat Sen. The one thing I learned from his life is passion. Passion is a driver and is very important for leaders; it is something that leads you to do what you want to do,” Wong explains. “He undertook numerous attempts to drive change in China despite his own assertion that all the revolutions were never completely successful by the time of his passing in 1924; but his passion drove him to continue. I was inspired by his story of attempts to make change.”

“The word ‘change’ is a very popular word, particularly in the current time. Everybody wants change, and politicians say they can lead you to change,” she says. “I can see that change is very attractive because people are not happy and they want to see change. That’s why leaders promise change; but the question is, to what extent can they deliver? Promises are easy, but at the end of day whether they can deliver is another matter.”

“The word, therefore, is not ‘change’ but ‘effectiveness’ – how leaders can bring change effectively,” she emphasizes. “And what kind of leadership qualities do we need to truly and effectively bring change? I can tell you that sometimes I want to do certain things or fix certain problems in my organization, but it doesn’t mean that I can effectively bring change. This is something I’ve been learning myself throughout my career.”


The first is humility, Wong believes. “A humble leader, in my view, always gets things done better. The traditional way of differentiating leaders is by how confident a leader is, how strong-minded he or she is, and how outspoken. Yes, these are top qualities, and I don’t disagree; but at the end of the day, if a leader learns the lesson of humility and is humble, it’s far more effective.”

“What do I mean by humility? They are the ones who are ready to learn; they are not arrogant because they understand that they don’t all the answers to all the problems and that they certainly don’t have all the solutions for everything,” she explains. “They admit that they simply don’t know, but they always keep pace of what’s happening because they understand the world is changing very quickly. If they can’t understand certain things about IT, then they’ll simply say they don’t know.”

Humble leaders are ready to listen, she says. “This is challenging because leaders always feel they know everything and they know it better than anyone else; they tend to stick to what they believe is totally correct. But humble leaders always find time to listen because they understand that the world is diverse and that people have different views on different things. We need the open-mindedness to listen and the generosity to adjust our own views.”

Humble leaders are ready to engage, she adds. “Engagement is critical because success is often not the result of an individual but that of a team. If I claim all the credit and feel I am the reason for success, people will stop listening and being engaged; if I can engage people in every way I can and give credit where due, people will have a strong sense of ownership.”


Leadership is far more effective when a leader can make sacrifices at their own expenses, Wong says. “Sacrifice is a commitment, and if a leader doesn’t put forward himself or herself and be ready to sacrifice, it is very difficult that people believe you can make change. When you commit to certain things, you need to be ready to sacrifice your time; when you work with people, you need to invest the time in them. There is no short-cut.”

“Sacrificing your time is something to which all women can easily relate,” she says. “I’ve also had to do this when I was in the Legislature and taking on different roles in public service while running my family and my office; and I had to sacrifice all my time – personal and private time. This is how you build your trust and relationships with other people, and you need to invest your time.”

The most difficult sacrifice to make, by far, is that of one’s ego, she stresses. “Our ego can sometimes be the most testing thing. While we are taught to be confident and to stand high, we also need to learn to admit our mistakes and to be able to tell the world that I am wrong. This is particularly difficult to do when it isn’t directly because of you. However, leaders need to have a broad shoulder to take on responsibility and sacrifice their ego.”

Values & Beliefs

It is strong values and beliefs that people are seeking in leaders across different organizations, platforms and societies of all kinds round the world, Wong points out. “No matter what you do – be it in the financial sector, political sector, education sector, or whatever – a very important one is: no leader can be too self-centered; no leader can be too self-interested; you always hold onto the belief of doing good for other people.”

“Doing good for other people other than yourself is a very important value because it lets people trust that you are not for self-interest but for the wider interest of other people,” she explains. “It allows a leader to build trust. Leadership is trust. No trust, no leadership. If there is no trust, we are all restricted from what we could achieve. But trust is also a very tricky thing. Why do I trust you? Why do I not trust you? It is certainly not because you look better or worse than others.”

“It is all about the people, the person and the leader – whether the leader gives you a sense of trust and whether the leader exemplifies integrity,” Wong says. “I’ve spent a large part of my life learning how to earn the trust of others. I think about what I might have done that I could not gain their trust and why. Trust is a very testing lesson for any leader. If you want to transform yourself, you need to see who you are as a person and what drives you to do what you do.”

“Humility, sacrifice, and values & belief are very important qualities – and I am learning as well,” she adds. “For those who want to become a leader one day, and when you promise people for change, this is a very good benchmark to review yourself. A leader isn’t a very good leader when he or she promises everything but doesn’t deliver on anything. I’d rather have someone who can commit to one thing and can actually get it done.”

Reflecting on her role working with and for young people in Hong Kong throughout the years, Dr Wong only enjoys it very much but also sees a purpose of nurturing many young leaders who learn to be humble, ready to sacrifice, and have strong values and beliefs. “I am sure our younger generation will bring change, not only to their family, to their organization, and to our community, but also to the world. We have a lot of young and upcoming leaders who are very bright, and they are ready to serve Hong Kong.”