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7 Questions on Leadership with Lahiru Jayasinghe

Name: Lahiru Jayasinghe

Title: Chief Operating Officer/Executive Director, Non Executive Director

Organisation: St Anthony's Industries Group/ Sanasa General Insurance

Lahiru Jayasinghe, is a graduate from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and holds a Master’s degree in the field of Business Administration from Postgraduate Institute of Management. He is also an Associate member of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (CASL), Associate Member of Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM UK) and Associate member of The Institute of Certified Management Accountants of Sri Lanka (CMA) & Holds Lean six sigma black belt (CLSSBB) as well.

Currently holds the position of Chief Operating Officer/Executive Director at St. Anthony’s Industries Group & Non-executive director & Audit Committee Chairman of Sanasa General Insurance Limited.

He is Council Member of Sri Lankan Economic Association and Member of Sri Lanka Institute of Directors and AAT Sri Lanka.

Professional Involvement is as follows.

• Alternative Chairman of Exemption Committee, CA Sri Lanka [2018 – 2019]

• Committee Member of Exemption and Reciprocal Arrangement Task Force (2020-21)

• Committee Member of Student Registration Committee (2020-21)

• Committee Member of Examination Committee (2020-21)

• Committee Member of CAPA International Conference Committee/National Conference Committee CA Sri Lanka [2020 – 2021]

• Committee Member of National Conference Committee, CA Sri Lanka [2015 – 2016, 2016

– 2017, 2017-2018 & 2018-2019]

• Committee Member of Professional Accountant in Business Committee, CA Sri Lanka [2014 – 2015]

• Committee Member of Education & Training Committee, CMA Sri Lanka [2014 – 2015]

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Lahiru's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

In leadership roles, particularly as Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Executive Director, proficiently navigating relationships with diverse stakeholders—such as shareholders, customers, employees, and industry leaders—constitutes a formidable challenge. Striking a delicate equilibrium amid disparate interests and expectations necessitates the application of refined communication and negotiation skills. The ability to adeptly manage these relationships is paramount to the successful execution of executive responsibilities in a dynamic business environment.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My leadership journey is distinguished by a stellar academic record and a decade-long professional career spanning finance, sales & marketing, and operational management. Commencing as an Audit Junior, I progressed through key roles including Finance Manager and Head of Finance, culminating in my appointment as Chief Operating Officer. Notably, achieving the role of Chief Operating Officer at St Anthony's Industries Group and subsequently taking on positions as Non-Executive Director and Audit Committee Chairman at Sanasa General Insurance by the age of 33 represents a significant milestone in my professional trajectory.

My leadership contributions extend beyond executive roles, exemplified by my responsibilities as a Council Member of AAT Sri Lanka and active participation in various committees. This underscores my unwavering commitment to contributing meaningfully to the professional community. Grounded in academic prowess and a diverse range of professional experiences, my leadership style is characterized by strategic vision and operational excellence. This background positions me as a dynamic and accomplished professional, well-equipped for leadership roles and poised for continued success

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Commencing my workdays at 8 am, I meticulously plan the week's agenda over the preceding weekend. Each day is dedicated to adhering to this agenda, encompassing strategic decision-making, executive meetings, and operational oversight. My commitment extends to prioritizing personal well-being, incorporating evening exercise, family time, and a thorough task review before retiring to bed around midnight. This holistic approach enables me to navigate the challenges of leadership while preserving a satisfying work-life equilibrium

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Recently, I was reminded of the critical importance of seeking input from ground-level personnel when making key operational decisions. In a specific instance, we were faced with a complex operational challenge, and I initially relied on higher-level reports and data for decision-making. However, recognizing the need for a more nuanced understanding, I decided to engage directly with frontline employees to gather firsthand insights.

Through open dialogue with the team, I gained a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the situation, uncovering valuable perspectives that were not fully reflected in the initial reports. The frontline employees offered practical insights, highlighting potential obstacles and proposing innovative solutions that had not been apparent from a higher-level view. This experience reaffirmed the significance of tapping into the firsthand knowledge of those directly involved in the operational processes.

The lesson learned is clear: while data and reports are essential, there is no substitute for firsthand information from the individuals on the front lines. In complex operational decisions, incorporating the ground-level perspective enhances the accuracy and effectiveness of the decision-making process. This underscores the importance of fostering a culture that encourages open communication and values the insights of all team members, regardless of their position within the organizational hierarchy.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Good to Great" by Jim Collins has significantly influenced my leadership philosophy, particularly during my role as Chief Operating Officer at St. Anthony's Industries Group. Collins' insights on assembling the right team and embodying Level 5 Leadership became integral to my approach. Focusing on talent acquisition and fostering a culture of humility and determination, inspired by the book, played a key role in achieving a notable turnaround and successfully implementing transformative initiatives, reflecting the enduring impact of "Good to Great" on my leadership journey.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I could offer one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be to cultivate a potent combination of determination to achieve goals and humility. Determination fuels the perseverance needed to overcome challenges and drive success, while humility ensures openness to learning from others, acknowledging mistakes, and fostering collaborative relationships. This balance not only propels personal growth but also strengthens leadership effectiveness, contributing to a resilient and adaptable approach in the dynamic landscape of leadership.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A pivotal story from my leadership journey involves assuming the role of Chief Operating Officer at the age of 33, tasked with leading over 500 employees and steering the company to profitability during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn. Faced with an unprecedented set of challenges, the company's financial health was at risk, and swift and strategic action was imperative.

In response, I spearheaded a comprehensive transformation initiative that included rigorous cost management, operational optimization, and a digital overhaul to enhance efficiency. The team's dedication and resilience, coupled with strategic decision-making, resulted in not only weathering the storm but achieving a significant turnaround, bringing the company back to profitability.

This story encapsulates the transformative power of effective leadership, adaptability, and strategic vision during times of crisis. It underscores the importance of decisive action, collaborative efforts, and a resilient mindset in navigating challenges and steering an organization towards success, even in the most challenging economic climates.

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