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7 Questions on Leadership with Samila Fernando

Name: Samila Fernando

Title: CEO/Director

Organisation: Ceylon

Vast experience in the Banking and Finance industries for almost two decades and holding Dual Master’s degrees; an MBA from Asia e University, Malaysia, and an MSc in Finance from Asia e University, Malaysia. The pioneer of the move from traditional banking methods towards digital forms of financing in Sri Lanka. Continuously developed the career alongside the growth of the Fintech Industry and considering the contribution made towards the Economy in Sri Lanka being the pioneer in the Fintech Industry, a Professional Doctoral Certificate was awarded by European International University Paris. Equipped with impeccable commitment and dedication towards achieving the set goals.

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

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


Jonno White

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

External challenges

External leadership challenges derive from outside sources, such as other employees in the workplace, the company itself, economic events, or political events.

Such as

Insufficient resources

Shortage of funding

Employee objection and resistance

Social issues among employees inside the company

Internal Challenges

Internal challenges are difficulties any leader may face in improving their professionalism. These challenges may include:


Lack of self-confidence


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

Situation: I coordinated a team of business development Managers, a whole operational team, a project manager, etc in Sri Lanka of a startup company five years ago. We all together were in this start-up project, all bits and pieces had to come together for a successful project and good results.

Problem: The team was very diverse in skills, age, seniority, culture, etc. Also, the outcome is not set in a research project and you need to stay flexible. This was especially seen in communications and expectations. I had to manage those separately while keeping the main goal in mind.

Action: We had a rough project and budget plan, I asked for expectations and input, merged this into a detailed plan with ambitious goals, and communicated it continuously and concisely. I gave everyone room for their tasks while giving enough guidelines to meet the end goal, I gave public credit to all members in the consortium which they very much appreciated because they benefit from public appearances too. By managing the resources carefully, I could fill in the gaps where needed, pushing for better results.

Result: We managed to go beyond expectations, won a prize for one of the best start-up projects in the region, and got additional appreciation. Overall, this job drew my attention to differences in the team which is also now very valuable working with an international team.

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

I would like to be more productive. Hence, the first step is to have a structure for my day. It will help me to get everything done every day without feeling stressed or overwhelmed by creating an outline of what needs accomplishment and when. It's much easier to get things done quickly and efficiently when my day has structure and a plan for how to do something.

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

Talk Less, Listen More. This is the recent lesson I have learned.

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?

“First, Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

This book inspired me to shift my leadership style toward focusing more on the strengths of an individual/s. Finding opportunities for a person to effectively use their strengths is impactful in creating a highly engaged employee. And once you do this the employees will be retained with us for a longer period which is the most important when managing a big team of people.

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

"Lead with purpose"

Have a clear vision of the impact you want to make in the world and let this drive a sense of purpose and meaning

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

The Coronavirus pandemic may be the biggest political test facing world leaders for generations. Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style in a crisis has resonated with people. In March 2020 she hosted a Facebook Live ahead of New Zealand’s lockdown. Her messages have been clear and consistent and people have listened. New Zealand has been one of the very few countries in the world to have appeared to have successfully managed the pandemic.

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