Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying started his 'first 100 days' even before his first day in office. Ever since his election in March, the media has been buzzing with stories on his grand plans for reform.
For those angered by the influx of pregnant mainlanders, Leung promised a quick fix - he warned he could not guarantee the right of abode for their babies next year and the number of arrivals plunged. Leung scored immediate applause for his gutsy, decisive response.
As for Hong Kong's much-decried 'structural' problems, Leung boldly announced he would dip into the city's to-kill-for HK$600 billion reserves to invest in society and the economy, addressing long-standing problems affecting the environment and the elderly and poor.
In making his sales pitch to the Legislative Council, Leung repeatedly indicated he was relying on his massive government restructuring plan - creating six more political posts, 51 new civil service posts and requiring extra annual expenditure of more than HK$60 million - as the chief instrument for implementing his grand vision of remaking Hong Kong. Leung's team, led by his chief supporter from the civil service, former commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fan, had been engaged in a hard-hitting battle with legislators to secure the necessary approval. Yet the chances of the package securing Legco approval in time for the new posts to be created by July 1 are now next to zero, after a motion moved by the chief secretary to enable Leung's package to gatecrash the legislature was defeated by just one vote on Thursday.
How did the newly elected chief executive, thronged by enthusiastic citizens whenever he hits the streets, hailed by major pro-establishment parties as the next saviour and positively and extensively covered by Hong Kong's major tabloids, get humiliated by a legislature with well nigh nothing but vetting powers so quickly after his elevation?
A post-mortem examination sheds interesting light on the powers a leader has - the powers at Leung's disposal and the powers he lacks to govern effectively in Hong Kong.
The fact is that Leung has vast powers at his disposal: billions of dollars in the government's fiscal and foreign exchange reserves; tremendous administrative and statutory powers at the disposal of the current administration, which pledged its co-operation; a vast bureaucratic machinery (though yet to be taken over); and, last but not least, the backing of the authorities in Beijing.
By comparison, Legco basically has only vetting power. The opposition is outnumbered by the proestablishment legislators, on whom the administration has always relied to muscle through unpopular legislation. Yet legislators have media coverage, and know how the power of words can maximise their influence.
If power is the ability to affect the behaviour of others to get the outcome you want, Leung's team immediately needs to take a crash course in leadership, influence, negotiation and intervention.
In particular, Leung and his team need to learn to differentiate between hard and soft power, and to recognise that sometimes soft power, or power without formal authority, is more effective.
History is full of examples of those who succeeded in leading without formal authority - Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr are two prominent examples of activist leaders who provoked the people to challenge authority, and who succeeded in doing so by taking responsibility for the stirrings they provoked.
The formal leaders of Hong Kong, especially those elected without a true popular mandate, must learn to work with those without formal authority, but with considerable influence on society - whether by the power of their words or the number of votes they have inside and outside Legco - to achieve the outcome they desire.
Leung's setback shows that such an outcome cannot be achieved by adopting an adversarial relationship with the legislature, sending troops to storm the citadel in the absence of unassailable arguments that the restructuring package must have approval before the swearing-in of the new team on 1 July.
The Achilles' heel of Leung's argument is that while periodic restructuring of any organisation is no doubt necessary, tackling Hong Kong's structural problems takes time, and a delay in creating additional top posts will be unlikely to affect the outcome.
Even if Leung had won, it could have been a pyrrhic victory, in the sense that he might have won a battle but lost the advantage in a long-term relationship with Legco. The fact is the administration needs Legco's support for its agenda to be implemented. And support is necessary not just from the pan-democrats, but also from within the fractious proestablishment camp.
Recent 'successes' in legislation show the pan-democrats can work with the administration on issues they care about, notably the recently enacted competition law, which was opposed by many in the pro-establishment camp, but won the necessary majority because of firm support from the pan-democrats.
Leung and his team should not agonise over the defeat - despite the humiliation - but should focus on analysing why the opposition manages to win from time to time in asymmetrical warfare, and how to work with it to secure outcomes that would benefit Hong Kong as a whole.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party