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Comparing Leaders: Desamanya Ken Balendra and Sarath Fonseka

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Published: 22nd May 2017 in History

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This particular assignment concentrates on comparing on two individual leaders, where one individual is a leader at present and the other has been a great leader in his time. This assignment is not only based on to understand about the particular individual’s leadership traits and styles but also to gain knowledge and experience on how they have developed themselves to their positions in life and society they are in today.

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According to Dubrin, Dalgish & Miller (2006, p.3) leadership is the principal dynamic force that motivates and coordinates the organization in the accomplishment of its objectives. Appannaiah & Reddy (2006, p.261) says that leadership is an influence process of inducing a subordinate to behave in a desired manner. Therefore in order for us to practically understand the reality of the leadership theory, we have analyzed the leadership qualities of two different leaders that are in the fields of Business and military/politics.

The first leader that we selected was Desamanya Ken Balendra. He was the first Sri Lankan Chairman of John Keells Holdings Ltd. (JKH), a highly diversified blue chip company and the only Sri Lankan Company to be listed amongst the world’s best 200 small companies by Forbes Global magazine. In year 2000, on reaching the age of 60, he retired from his position.

Our next choice was a simple and more popular choice, which was General (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka. The former general of the Sri Lankan army who lead the armed forces of Sri Lanka to victory over the war against the Tamil rebels which dragged on for over 2 decades.

A detailed analysis on each individual leader is included in the report, as well as a comparison of their leadership traits and styles through a theoretical background.


The major reason for choosing Mr. Ken Balendran for this assignment is because he is one of the most successful chairman’s of Sri Lanka to ever be successful in a blue chip company like John Keells Holdings. He turned around things for JKH to reach higher objectives and become a well known people oriented company. And he indeed succeeded. After retirement his ways and pace of business is still been conducted at JKH. The present Chairman is also following the ways and footsteps of Mr. Balendra to bring out the best in John Keells. The reason why we selected him as the current leader is because he is still the Chairman of various other companies. He still runs his companies the same way he used to run JKH. With his experience and his visionary ways he is the most respected man in the corporate world today.

He is also the holds the current positions of,

Chairman of Brandix Lanka Ltd. A leading manufacturer and exporter of apparel.

Director of chevron Lubricants Lanka Ltd., a subsidiary of Chevron Texaco.

Chairman of the investment committee of Aureos South Asia fund

Honorary Consul-General for Poland

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Council for Mental Health.

Trustee of the Royal College Union


Deshamanya Ken Balendra was always a Team player. At the interview with him, these were the first words he spoke to us. Saying “I’m a Team Player. When analyzing his history he was a good sportsman playing sports like Rugby. He was the vice captain of his team in royal college. Also he was in charge of the most important aspects of running a rugby team. Although he never became a Captain, he was determined to lead the team in to greater heights. He also played for the Ceylon Barbarians and captained the team for four years. He also received colors in doing so and is a very successful sportsman as well.

When Mr. Ken Balendra was immerged to be a leader in the future, the question of role models and inspirations came in to considerations. Mr. Ken Balendra did not quite have his role models or Inspirations like most of us do, but he would recall his role models to be his bosses when he started his working career. He started his carrier with Tea. His family was in to planting and so into planting he went. Having finished ‘creeping’ at Halgolla estate near Avissawella, he was transferred to Hapugastanne Group. Where he worked for the most part under the late Sepala Ilangakoon. He still reckons Ilangakoon to be ‘Sri Lanka’s best ever planter’.

Mr. Balendra learnt readily by Illangakoons account, he was a model planter. Through this he gave Mr. Balendra experience of both tea and rubber planting. This would stand him in a good stead during his early years at John Keells. Illangakoon later put him in charge of welfare and social activities such as the annual sports meet, a sizeable responsibility considering how many families were employed and housed at Hapugastenne. He continued to play rugby as he had at school, turning out for the Ceylon Rugby & Football Club as well as for the national team, the Ceylon Barbarians.

Mr. Balendra then moved to the capital and started his work as ‘a fairly senior executive’ in the tea department of John Keells. He did as well at Keells as he had at planting. Mr. Sepala Illangakoon was gratified to learn from Mark Bostock that the new recruit had graduated to auctioneering in a record time of three months, when most others took at least six. Because of his bosses’ visionary thinking of diversifying one’s ability to handle business, Mark Bostock assigned Mr. Balendra in to touring operator companies and also gem miners and merchants. Here Ken Balendra discovered his true vocation.

With all the problems with the JVP and at the height of the war Mr. Ken Balendra was finally appointed Chairman of John Keells. He was on set on a course to chair JKH for the next 10 years. As chairman of JKH he worked hard to strengthen and disseminate the values that had built John Keells. Management meetings were opportunities to pass along some of the old spirit, Which Balendra did in extrovert fashion, using humor, irrelevance and a listening ear to encourage people to speak their minds with eh frankness and lack of formality Keells demanded. His main technique however remained that of handing people more responsibility that they thought they could handle and persuading them that they could handle it.


Mr. Ken Balendra when answering a question of what a leader should be a person who is down to earth and knows exactly what goes in peoples’ minds. His leadership skills are still respected today because he knew how to handle people and most of all how listen to his followers. He was also able to motivate his followers and guide them in their journey without discouragement. But a leader would not be existent if there were no followers. Mr. Ken Balendra suggested that one’s followers should be courage’s and able to take risks and believe in something that may not look colorful now but if thought correctly it would be in time to come. Therefore to enhance his followers to become the leaders in the future he developed a team called the “2020 Team”. Whose members were outstanding young executives deemed likely to be among those running the group in the year 2020. Gatherings of the 2020 team were the most informal of all.

As I quote,

“I used to encourage them to speak up, criticize the board and so on, and that brought out a whole lot of good ideas. Two of the groups are now Chairman and Deputy Chairman: Susantha Ratnayake and Ajit Gunawardene. They were in the 2020 Team in the early nineties and jumped over several heads to join the board at such a young age”

Even at his time he made it a point to attend every seminar possible and was heavy reader in various books and magazines published both here in Sri Lanka and internationally. And later his art of management came in play of handing responsibility and being accountable for ones actions. This is one of the ways he was able to get his results. But he would never sack someone due to not meeting targets, but would do so if the norms and ethics were breached by anyone. Therefore he was a visionary person who was very much People oriented as oppose to Task Oriented. He was more interested in the welfare of people more than the company itself. After all the companies existence is because of the people who work for it.

Mr. Balendra’s efforts, combined with those of his colleagues, were effective at preserving the Keells Spirit.


Named Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka born on the 18th of December 1950 is a former commander of the Sri Lanka Army and a former Chief of Defense Staff of Sri Lanka. As the Commander of the Army General (Rtd.) Fonseka played an instrumental role in ending the two decade Civil War Sri Lanka, in 2009. Thereafter he became the first serving officer to be promoted to a four star rank in the Sri Lanka Army. (“Sarath Fonseka the future leader”, n.d.)

Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka joined the Sri Lanka Army way back in 1970 and witnessed all action throughout the 26 year civil war, culminating in a term as commander from December 2005 to July 2009. As commander, he oversaw the final phase of the civil war of Sri Lanka which end resulted in the defeat of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization (LTTE). Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka has been described and viewed as Sri Lanka’s most successful army commander by local and foreign nationals alike, and his run of significant military victories against the LTTE during Eelam War IV led the Indian National Security Advisor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan to describe him as the “best army commander in the world”. (“Sri Lanka Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka”, n.d.)

After having chosen a career in the Army in 1970 to serve this great nation, Sarath Fonseka met his life partner Ms. Anoma in 1972. They entered wedded life in 1979 and thereafter have had two daughters named Apsara and Aparna. While a career in the Army meant that Gen. Fonseka had to spend time away from his family, he always made sure that he was a devoted husband to his wife and a loving and caring father to his daughters. (“Sarath Fonseka the future leader”, n.d.)

In mid April, 2006 Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka survived an assassination attempt when an LTTE suicide bomber attacked his motorcade, where he suffered critical abdominal injuries. Following the end of the war he was appointed Chief of Defense Staff, a post from which he retired on November 16th, 2009. (“Sri Lanka Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka”, n.d.)

General Foneska’s experience in military matters made him a very popular figure amongst all Sri Lankan citizens. Many statesmen admired his courage, stance on military matters, and his astute policy insights into governance and strengthening democracy. As a moderate he has been able to achieve what was once thought the unthinkable in Sri Lanka’s political history. Due to his determination and commitment to put his country before himself, he has been able to unite major political parties and ethnic communities to work with him to guide our beloved motherland to a prosperous future; a place where every citizen regardless of their ethnicity, religion and identity can live freely with pride and dignity. (“Sarath Fonseka the future leader”, n.d.)


According to Mr. Fonseka there are many characteristics of a good leader. One is that he/she needs to be very transparent & should be unbiased and be able to provide good strategic direction to his followers. And Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka is a strong believer of discipline and abiding conduct. These are some of the main qualities which influenced Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka to be a good leader.

Another element of his characteristics is that he was able to clearly handle the pressures of political influence and his own leadership demands and act accordingly; people were called effective leaders because they had followers who trusted them and would go that extra mile for them.

An important quality he possesses is the ability to understand his subordinates and realized that influencing others alone is not sufficient in order to be a good leader. In most incidents he tried to lead by example and create a role model of himself to others. However it is a must to influence others, when and where it is required.

Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka portrays a high degree of legitimate power as a Commander of the Sri Lankan armed forces. However a point which he mentioned was that some of his leadership qualities were hindered because, according to his position; he is under obligation to the president and he doesn’t have the full authority to handle things his own way. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009) Therefore we can say that situation also plays a vital role in bringing about leadership qualities.

Another quality that he possesses is that he has a high level of motivation. He doesn’t believe in isolating his team and he delegates power and authority to them. Delegation and follow up is his method of working. Following up is how he attempted to keep his control, where as delegation is how he empowered his team in order to take challenges and complete their tasks. However, in an interview with Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka, it was evident that he was a courageous person. We can say this clearly because when we confronted him about his strengths and weaknesses he said that his only weakness is that he doesn’t wait for the opportunity to come to him. He goes behind the opportunity or tries to create an opportunity himself. It would appear to work at times but also vice versa, at times it doesn’t. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009)

Gen. (Rtd.) Fonseka also maintains positive work life balance though it is tough to keep up with the different changes in his life. Hence, we view it as, a leader should also know how to strike that type of work-life balance even when their engaged in long, gruesome and tireless line of employment.


Problem solving and intellectual skills could be identified as cognitive factors. In order to be a successful leader, the leader must have the mental ability to inspire people, bring about constructive changes and problem solving creativity. The cognitive factors of a leader can be classified in to several parts, and these are a few identified with regard to Gen. Fonseka.

Knowledge of business

In order to establish a relationship with group members, the leader must have knowledge of the business and technical and professional competence related to the business.

Considering the army commander, who has been working with fellow comrades before he was appointed to the position of General, it is obvious that Gen. Fonseka has the relevant technical capabilities, professional competence on operations and more than enough experience.

Insight into people and situations

This simply means that the leader should have the required level of intuition and common sense to make wise choices in selecting people for key assignments, enabling the leader to make the assignment work better and a better dob training and development.

When appointing senior military officers to different areas, the commander acted in a way that is expected by a leader who has that required level of intuition and common sense needed. As an example, the Brigadier Walagama who previously acted as the chief of Diyathalawa army academy was identified by the commander to have brilliant experience regarding Trincomalee area and he was immediately appointed as the commander of the Trincomalee area. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009)


In order to establish a corporate strategy and vision, the leader must have the farsightedness and understanding of the implications in the long run.

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With regard to the commander, was known to be a thinker and an extremely farsighted individual. For example when the commander had the opportunity to clear the Kilinochchi town are before clearing the Poonarin area, he restrained himself from doing so, because he knew that if he did that the army forces would be undoubtedly ambushed by the LTTE. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009)

Openness to experience

The commander admits that he still learns something new every day from his subordinates. And this statement was made of national television.



Self confidence

Mr. Ken Balendran: – Self Confidence through the analysis of the interview has outlined that the fact of climbing the ladder to being the Chairman of John Keells requires more self confidence than any other factor. Being a Leader would be mostly based on how confident you are in your actions and opinions. Therefore through analysis Mr. Ken Balendra indeed is the most self confident Chairman Sri Lanka has ever experienced.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka – Gen. Fonseka is a self assured personality without being bombastic or overbearing, he instills confidence in his team members. He always states that it is possible for the army to reach a position of strength not only to achieve its objectives according to a well conceived plan but also to retain the areas cleared.

Trust worthiness

Mr. Ken Balendra: – Mr. Ken Balendra always believed in his visions. He was able to foresee the future because of the exposure his bosses put him through. He was always the faithful and trust worthy character in John Keells right from the start. This is why he became the chairman of John Keells. He still remains chairman of many other companies due to the fact that he is able to take up responsibility and is trust worthy in his actions to making the company succeeds.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – In Riviresa operations General Fonseka had to face many accusations on fraud due to over use of a satellite phone. The bill was raised up to 10 million rupees. However ultimately the court recovered the reason behind this to be; that the commander had given his phone to soldiers to contact their parents. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009)


Mr. Ken Balendra: – Mr. Ken Balendra always wanted to know what each employee in the company thought about. He even would see the worker of factory at anytime he can. He was always assertive and didn’t quite hold his head up high because he was the chairman of John Keells.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – In a television interview Gen. Fonseka once stated that it is his task to eliminated terrorism as practiced by the LTTE leader while the Sri Lanka Government will resolve the political problem with a political solution, which statement sows the assertiveness and of his mind. (“I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country”, 2009)

High Tolerance For Frustration

Mr. Ken Balendra: – Although he was able to be calm at any stage, he mentioned that he would have any person accountable for their actions. He was also lenient on the other side of encouraging them to take up responsibility. Through this he was quite tolerant and knew how to take up problems or anything that could frustrate the company. He handled them quite well. Because of these aspects he is the most respected man in Sri Lanka today.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – The major factor which enabled the LTTE to increase its strength and influence was because the Government during the earlier periods did not act accordingly and they were undecided whether “to fight or not to fight”. This gave the terrorists time to motivate and build a nexus. Gen. Fonseka observed and frustrated that due to the lack of a strategy to defeat the LTTE areas which were cleared would soon be lost due to the absence of direction and commitment. However he tolerated that. He thought that the day would eventually come when he would lead the defeat of the LTTE. (“Sri Lanka Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka”, n.d.)


Passion for the work and people

Mr. Ken Balendra: – In developing the 2020 team as mentioned above, he was quite visionary and interested in the small man. He was interested to educate young recruits in to being the future leaders of the company. And is still motivating young employees of Brandix Ltd. to enhance the future leaders of the company.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – Extremely passionate for his work and for his country. The commander identified group members, their interests and attitudes and the way which can use to reach and to best communicate with and influence them. When the time where he was engaging in operations he would let his personal phone be given to his subordinate to contact their families.

Emotional intelligence

Mr. Ken Balendra: – His emotional level was quite down to earth, sharing his experience and passion often motivated his followers and the young executives at his time. When suggesting his ways of doing things it was clear that his position in the people and task grid was on the far right suggesting that he is indeed a people oriented person. He is definitely interested in the people who make things happen for the company rather than the tasks which are done for the company.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – His staff members and followers always observed his emotions. He always used his emotions to persuade his followers.

Flexibility and adoptability

Mr.Ken Balendra: – Since the 2020 team was quite informal it is clear that he was flexible in his thoughts and tasks. With his adoptability to conflicts in Sri Lanka at his time at JKH he is able to handle any situation when necessary. He is now handling the recession with Brandix very well produces the same output. Therefore his adoptability is no doubt at the best of standards and is flexible because of the fact that his ego levels and his demand of respect are extremely low.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – Considering the behavior of the commander, who changed the structure of the army and established a clear coordination among different forces such as the army, navy and the air force to match with the modern and required level of specifications one could say that Gen. Fonseka was indeed flexible and very much adaptable to new technology and other. Furthermore he went out for new technology and aircrafts such as M27 to battle against the terrorist when the terrorist went for air attacks. These can be identified as evidence of flexibility in his leadership.

Locus of control

Mr.Ken Balendra: – Mr. Balendra is a person with a high internal Locus of control. His ways and decision were based on what he believes in and is based on what his followers want need. His art of obtaining followers were automatic. Followers who were his needed to be able to take up responsibility for their actions and is able to be confident in what they believe. Therefore Mr. Balendra always exhibited his faiths and would allow his followers to make their own decisions.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – The commander once said in a television program, “I am confident that once the Tamil youth in the East see the advantages of peace they will not go back to join the terrorists. All communication in the East is cooperating with the security forces and the Government as they can visualize a bright and peaceful future for all communities.”Hence this would realize Gen. Fonseka to have an internal locus of control.


Mr.Ken Balendra: – Mr. Ken Balendra definitely is courage’s in turning around John Keells. And is also still making things brighter for the companies he is chairman to. Therefore is quite clear that his level of courage to make those changes going through various critics certainly has rewarded him in being the most successful chairman’s of Sri Lanka.

Gen. (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka: – He can be identified as a courages person. He had to face many barriers in reaching to his position but he never gave up his vision and his target of peace to his mother land.


The basic leadership styles can be categorized in to three main stages. And they are;


All the decisions of the group are made unilaterally by the leader. The leader does not give any aut hority to subordinates to make any decision.


The leader gives considerable amount of autonomy and authority to take part in the decision making and the leader applies being participative.

Laissez Faire

The leader has gives full autonomy to subordinates for decision making and to initiate whatever decision they see fit.

The leadership style of Gen. Fonsek a could be categorized into the participative style, because he shares the decision making process with the other members of his group and after the decision was made by the subordinates the general would give his consensus, if the decision is at a considerable condition.

The Leadership style of Deshamanya Ken Balendra could be categorized as a participative style. He is a down to earth person who likes to delegate work to subordinates and young people to help them gain experience for their future endeavors. His leadership style also reflected that he is quite charm and would listen to anyone and their ideas in any position. His change management is successful and visionary and has made sure everyone was happy in the company. He has been the most suitable man to any company to occupy the chairmanship position. He is still the most respected man in the country and is looked up upon by anyone.


In analyzing of this two great individuals who have made it big in their respective careers, it is evident that these two possess different leadership styles, but whereas the essence to it are almost the same.

Though various scholars have explained it in their own respective way, the question still remains; are leaders born or made? Looking at these two highly respected individuals it is quite hard to fathom of how a leader can be made, in fact if it is possible can another Ken Balendra or Sarath Fonseka made? Can you or I become one?

It is sometimes too good to be true but if we look into the characteristics and traits of all leaders we tend find common ground. Some may have a bit more on certain traits or characteristics and some less. But it isn’t about how good or bad these characteristics and traits are but rather how effective He/she is. Nurturing of these traits and characteristics can possibly make us a leader in our own field too and it’s quite sure it doesn’t happen overnight.


Appannaiah, H.R., & Reddy, P.N. (2006). Business management (2nd Ed.).Bangalore, India: Himalaya Publishing House ( p 260- 300)

De Janasz., Wood., Gottschalk., Dowd., & Schneider. (2007). Interpersonal skills in Organizations, NSW: McGraw Hill

Dubrin, A., Dalgish, C., & Miller, C (2006). Leadership (2nd ed.). Queensland, Australia: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd ( p 26 -95)

Hosking, D. M. (1988). Organizing, leadership, and skilful process. Journal of Management Studies, 25, pp. 147-166.

I Survived To Do My Duty by My Country. (December 13th 2009), The Sunday Leader, p.2.

Internet Referencing

Sarath Fonseka the future leader. [n.d.] Retrieved January, 2010 from http://www.sarathfonseka.com/about.html

Sri Lanka Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. [n.d.] Retrieved January, 2010 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/11514520/Sri-Lanka-Army-Comander-General-Sarath-Fonseka


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