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Leadership: the trick is not to be afraid - Dian Gomes

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.

Dian Gomes

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about how times are changing and how his education in CIMA, ACCA and Harvard Business School (among others) has become outdated and how Sri Lanka's traditional rigid, hierarchical attitudes need to be done away with, to suit the changing times.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 "What I learned is outdated now.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 Lankans.

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 spirit."

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 first.

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 Wanniarachchi.

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.

 

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