Leadership: the trick is not to be afraid - Dian Gomes
by Thulasi MUTTULINGAM
Leadership is about giving pride of place to people, enabling them
with optimism and hope, said Group Director of MAS Holdings, Dian Gomes.
Gomes was a guest speaker on leadership at a forum organised by the
Sri Lanka America Society (SLAS) on Tuesday, sponsored by Nations Trust
Bank and Softlogic Finance.
Gomes, an international award winning corporate leader spoke about
how times are changing and how his education in CIMA, ACCA and Harvard
Business School (among others) has become outdated and how Sri Lanka's
traditional rigid, hierarchical attitudes need to be done away with, to
suit the changing times.
"I still stand up when I see a former teacher from Royal College.
Whenever my former boss from KPMG calls me, I stand up and answer the
phone because I came from that milieu. But times are changing now.
I might have to listen to 24-year-old Harvard graduates tell me,"
Dian, this is bullshit. "What I learned is outdated now. The only edge
we have over the new graduates is our experience." He also said that
part of his policy in management, was to hire people who were better
than him. Sri Lankans hate to hire juniors who are better than them.
They think, "These recruits will one day topple me and sit in my
chair". "Learn to move on. There are a lot more things in life than the
current position you hold, learn to see that and move on.
My life is not about making bras and panties (for Victoria's Secret).
I employ graduates from some of the best business management brand
names, and delegate. Sixty percent of my time is spent talking to
people, motivating them and encouraging them to do better, on the shop
floor. A five percent increase in their productivity can mean millions
more in revenue."
He spoke about how everybody is a leader at some level: Parents,
teachers, siblings as well as managers.
A leader should empower those around them using the 'You Can' motto
instead of the 'You Can't' which he said was far more typical of Sri
He cautioned that losses in life were much more than the victories,
but that was only to be expected and the trick was not be afraid, or if
afraid, to lose the fear.
I've lost far more in life than I've won, be it boxing, athletics,
exams, love or corporate relationships. Can anyone of you say that
you've had far more wins than losses? It's simply the way of the world.
"One of the hardest things I've to do is empower my boxing mentees in
the rings, between rounds. Just imagine, he's sweating, bloodied up and
has taken a pummelling; When he looks up he sees an animal in the other
corner. And I have thirty seconds while he freshens up to motivate him
again, lose his fear and go back onto the next round with a fighting
Dian who was a National Junior Flyweight Champion, in 1975 gave up
boxing after he was pummelled by a fellow Sri Lankan boxer.
That boxer apparently later said that Dian, who came from a
privileged background as opposed to him, lost because he was simply
playing for his school and without the determination to get over his
circumstances and make something better of himself. That struck a chord!
Sri Lanka had not sent a boxer to the Olympics in 40 years when in
1999, Dian was asked if he could mastermind a strategy to find an
Olympic winning level boxer within the next 10 years.
He accepted the challenge but admits, he had no idea what to do.
"If you have to win a Formula 1 race and you have only a Morris Minor
car, what do you do?" One of the first things he did was to convince the
government to sponsor a Cuban trainer, Russia and Cuba being world
champions in boxing. Then he went about selecting the most promising
boys at school level from the island.
"Just because I am from Royal College, I didn't look in Royal College
In fact, I was more interested in the rural, underprivileged areas. I
wanted boys with that extra hunger and determination to make something
of themselves." Two of the most promising candidates chosen were
Anuruddha Ratnayake, who made it to the Olympics in 2007 and Manju
Dian centered his talk on leadership around his mentoring and years
long journey with these boys.
In 2003, at an international championship, they had clearly won the
matches they participated in, as the videos show but the judges said
they had each lost by one point. "The world is not a fair place, you
have to learn that, said Dian.
He had to control his own disappointment as well as comfort the boys.
Over the years, there were several more wins and losses as he left his
work and family to fly off on weekends to be with the boxing team. He
talks about sitting in airports, exhausted and crying with dejection but
he still kept going and kept the boxers going.
His worst disappointment was when Manju Wanniarachchi had his Gold
Medal from the Commonwealth Games recalled because of testing positive
for a banned substance.
The review is still pending but meanwhile it has been the most bitter
pill to swallow for Gomes. He blames the doctor who gave the shots.