The aim is to study, analysis and compare
while making recommendations for the applicability of the leadership styles of
great leader General J E Denis Perera for the present day context.
Outline of the leader
Joseph Everard Denis Perera was born in
Gampaha on 10 October 1930 to Mudaliyar Maurice Perera and his wife Trisette,
as the youngest of the family with an elder sister. He educated at St. Peter’s
College in Colombo, where he excelled in the academic field whilst showing to
be an outstanding sportsman, mainly in Athletic, Rugby and Tennis. He was also
a member of the College Cadet Platoon. He was married to Ranjini Perera and had
When he turned 19 years, he joined the
newly formed Army of Ceylon in 1949 and attended the Royal Military Academy of
Sandhurst. He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Army of Ceylon.
After that, he served few period of time a unit of the British Army of the
Rhine. After that on his return, he was assigned to the garrison of Diyatalawa,
contributed in the formation of the new engineering unit. In 1957 he attended
the Royal School of Military Engineering and in 1961 he graduated from British
Army Higher School, Camberley.
During his career he had been attached
to various Sri Lankan High Commissions and had been the Attaché of the Sri
Lankan High Commission in London for three years. He was the Commandant of the
Army Training Centre from 1969 to 1972 and during the 1971 uprising he served
as Southern Command. He had served as the Chief of Staff prior to being
appointed as the commander of the Army in 1977. He was the youngest Officer to
be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and post of commander of the Army
at age of 46. And also he was the first engineering officer to be posted to the
commander of the army. He had served as the commander of the Army till 1981
when he retired from the Army.
When he became the Army Chief, he played
a vital role in creating the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA) after
receiving Kandawala from Sir John Kotelawala to create a Defence university.
The KDA awarded him an honorary degree and became its first Chancellor.
After his retirement from the Army, he
spent a very active life, designated as High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in
Australia, which also includes accreditation to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea
and Fiji. He was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ceylon
Tobacco Company. And also he was chairman of the National Rifle Association and
the Sri Lanka Badminton Foundation. In
2000 he was awarded the Deshamanya title by the Sri Lankan government, and in year
2007 he was promoted to the rank of General. He passed away on
his 83 years of age in Colombo on 11 August 2013.
Decisive. In his career, he was a commander who
had an extraordinary knowledge. His greatest contribution to the Sri Lankan
Army took certain measures that would become the foundation of a professional
Army. It is relevant to understand how his vision has strengthened
professionalism in the Sri Lankan Army. General Perera, as Commander of the
Army, has tried to develop the effectiveness of the combat in the Army, to face
future threats to the country.
Considering the depth of his thought
process; I could safely say, he envisaged the future requirements and took
measures to develop the conceptual component of the Army. The pinnacle of his
vision towards developing thought process was the establishment of the Sri
Lanka Military Academy and General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA)
which has now become a world class Defence University.
Sincerity. This the most important factor in
Military what stood out were his personality and character, which so
effortlessly drew people to him, his ability to inspire and enthuse others, his
fairness in all his dealings while maintaining compassion and understanding and
his moral strength that made him standing up for what he believed was right
especially when it affected his subordinates. He was fearless but not cavalier
when dealing with national issues in situations where weaker leaders would have
played to the gallery. His sincerity and charm made people trust him and feel
he meant what he said. He produced results of rare quality that have endured.
Initiative. As a leader to achieve his future aims
he should have to exercise his skills. According to that Knowing the importance
of the Moral Component for a professional Army, General Perera took a few
remarkable steps to boost up preparation, enthusiasm and the inspiration to fight.
He conceptualized and initiated action to introduce, design and award Gallantry
Awards as well as Awards for distinguished service in the armed forces of Sri
He is also credited with formulating and
introducing the dress codes and ceremonial procedures of the Army. He
emphasized the need to have a perfect appearance and insisted that pride in
uniform was a fundamental need to uplift morale amongst soldiers. Such measures
promoted professional ethos, self-esteem and traditions. He was able to bring
back lost glamour to the rank and file through the re-introduction of Colour
Parades, the award of colours and mess functions in to the routine of the Army.
to Communicate. General Perera viewed the future in a
broader perspective, which enabled him to see the need for expansion and
professionalism in what was then a small organization. As the Commander, he was
instrumental in re-introducing overseas training and overseas courses. Starting
with India and Pakistan, he was able to re-negotiate with the United Kingdom
and the United States followed by Malaysia and Bangladesh to have sent on staff
college courses as well as other training courses for both senior and junior officers.
He was able to negotiate with the ministry of defence to obtain substantial
allowances for officers when they left for foreign training. The allowances
were brought on par with the allowances given to other government officials.
Moreover, he encouraged Officers to take their spouses along with them.
With his brilliant communication skill,
he persuaded Sri Lanka 3rd Prime Minister, Sir John Kotelawela, to gift his
magnificent Kandawela estate to the tri services to establish the Kotelawela
Co-operation. General Perera’s command, organizing
and administrative ability was seen by a wider audience than the Army when he
was given in charge of all the security forces duties for the 4th Non Aligned
Meeting in Colombo in 1976. Navy, Air Force and Police Officers, traditionally
slow to ever credit their seniors, acknowledged in him, an outstanding leader
of rare class, approachable to all as the Army Officers knew all along. The
outstanding success of the Conference owed much to the contributions of the Forces
and Police for whom then DIG (later IGP) Cyril Herath too made his mark and
When a year later 1977, General Perera
became Army Commander all three forces and the Police, for the first time.
Acquaintances turned into lifelong friendship that stood in very good stead
during the troubles where Tri Service and police cooperation were at their
highest when needed most. It may have been the glue that kept the forces and
the police united and buoyant during the worst of times.
During his military career he made
several lifelong contributions, starting at Diyatalawa (1968-1972). Here he is
the founding father of the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) which too he
raised later when Army Commander (1977-1981). The motto of the Royal Military
Academy Sandhurst “Serve to Lead” would have guided him. It meant serve your
men first to be able to lead them. The young officers who were commissioned
from there knew they were the promise of the future.
General Perera, developed the moral,
mental and physical qualities needed to meet the threats then fast developing
in the country. It met with few triumphs and more often with disaster but
eventually prevailed over a formidable terrorist group. The qualities and
competences he ingrained in those he led at the start of their careers endured
and made their impact during crucial moments in the battle against terrorism.
Those who were trained when he was Commandant of the Army Training Centre
Diyatalawa from 1968 – 1972 included Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka Army
Commander and Colonel Gotabaya Rajapakse, Defence Secretary, of the troika that
is credited with the victory that ended the 26 year old conflict.
General Perera provided leadership at a
very personal level. He always prepared to listen to others and accept their
advice. He was a great motivator, setting an example in everything he said and
achieved. His subordinates felt he cared for them and their aspirations during
and after their time of service. The new pay code introduced in 1981 which
virtually doubled the salaries of forces personnel was largely due to his
ability to convince an eminent commission on what “military pay” should be.
However he himself did not personally benefit from the increased pay as these
changes came into effect after he retired.
General Perera must have been very proud
of the Army he commanded as much as those who served under him were of him. He
was happiest to hear of the achievements of his protégés whether it was in
winning battles or doing well at the Olympic Games. At the worst of times even
though it was in his retirement he did much to help in restructuring the Army,
offering advice and giving it confidence in his unwavering belief of the
ultimate outcome. The success of the Army, the deeds of its Officers, men and
women and the performance of the many regiments and institutions he raised,
testify to the enduring nature of his efforts and achievements.
Professionally, as a military
engineering Officer, he showed that he had the wider knowledge to lead what was
basically an infantry army beginning to be threatened by an intractable
militant movement, which when launched with earnest the day after he retired,
cost the country dearly.
After service in both field command and
Army HQ staff positions, he served as a staff officer under the then Lt Col
Richard Udugama (later Army Commander) in Eastern Sri Lanka during the Gal Oya
The business world saw in him an
exceptional leader. There after Sri Lanka’s number one contributor to the
exchequer, the Ceylon Tobacco Company made him its Chairman, a significant
recognition of his leadership qualities, management ability, personality and
reputation. He was later appointed Chairman of the Securities and Exchange
Commission before he was tasked with heading the highly controversial Defence
Review Committee by the then Prime Minister.
When he became the President of the Sri
Lanka Ex Servicemen’s Association (SLESA) it was nearly bankrupt. He initiated
a scheme, with the ready concurrence of the Service Commanders at that time,
whereby serving troops were made nonvoting members. Their subscriptions went to
the SLESA welfare fund. That saved SLESA.
He also inaugurated the local branch of
the world wide Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers (ARFRO) which soon
became very popular with retired and serving Tri Service officers as a think
tank on the lines of Royal United Services Institute UK and similar
institutions in other countries .
Gen Perera was also the founder
President of the Gen Sir John Kotelawela Memorial Association which
commemorates his birth and death anniversary with appropriate ceremony at
Kandawella. He launched a small scale scholarship scheme for under privileged
university undergrads there.
He was the best and a super example of
an Army Commander, leader, manager, visionary and achiever. Emulating him will
be a worthwhile challenge to the Commanders who now follow.
Analysis of leadership
Leadership Style. During his four-year tenure of Command of
the Army he had proved himself to have foresight and organizing ability of the
highest standards. He believed that the Army’s primary role was “Conflict
Prevention” and to this end troops were deployed island wide and though
there were threats, conflict was prevented. He also ensured Personnel
Management and Administration and carried out systematic inspections of units.
With extraordinary vision having been
much influenced by his visit to the Indian National Defence Academy
Kadakawasala and with a rare insight into the education levels needed of future
military Officers identifying the importance of joint operations and the need
to bring the education level of the three armed forces officers to a higher
standard he established Kotelawala Defence Academy in Kandawala.
General Denis Perera had with enormous followers due to his
leadership qualities. He always experiences that democratic leadership. He
always concerned about other desires.
Leadership Style. General Denis Perera was not
reluctant to embrace changes whenever a change was required. At a time the
commitment of the male soldiers was required for the battle field, he went on
to use his initiatives to establish a women’s wing which prospered over the
years. He had a strong and extraordinary influence over his subordinates. Under
his leadership much needed change was inflicted when he established Combat
Training Schools which was identified as a timely required
2. General Perera
directed a very small Army, essentially in time of peace, of about 12,500
soldiers. It was never “ceremonial” as alluded to by the Western
media that condescendingly coined such terms for many former colonial armies
dedicated to the fight against terrorism. This expression was listened to
slavishly by the local media after the eighties until the army of more than
200,000 forts was seen like winner.
3. General Perera also
raised the Commandos, SL Army Women’s Corps, the Rajarata Rifles (later
disbanded and amalgamated to form the Gajaba Regiment) and the Vijayaba
Regiment. He made sure the Commandos and the Women’s Corps were given the best
training possible by the world’s best, the SAS and the Women’s Royal Army Corps
respectively. Many of the Commandos also qualified as parachutists to give the
army a so far unexplored battle advantage.
4. On taking over as
Commander of the Army, General Perera
issued his famous 100 point ‘aide memoire’ for administration on his very first
day in command being very much well prepared as he was in everything he
planned. It was followed by group presentations for the re organization of the
Army, review of its weapons, communications and logistics where majors were
given their head.
5. Noticeably the
recommendation for 39 infantry battalions in 1978, when the army had only
three, (SL Light Infantry, Sinha and Gemunu Watch) was grudgingly increased
only by two more. (Raja Rata and Vijaybahu) by the government. Gen Perera’s
also created a much needed Combat Training School at Ampara. This in addition
to exercising troops for the first time as all arms combat teams (infantry,
armour, artillery, engineers and signals) and running battle courses for mid
ranking officers also trained the first batch of policemen who were the nucleus
for the later raised STF.
disadvantages in today’s environment
‘performance vs. followers ‘satisfaction
who wish to follow a Leader, Great philosopher and man of noble qualities,
recommended following this noble character.
and others who are in military services, recommended to learn and study his
Lankan youth whom lives had to be molded for a better Sri Lanka.
children, in order to educate them about the military history of the country.
42. In short, the definition of leadership has
nothing to do with the hierarchy or position of anyone in the organization; it
has nothing to do with imposing views but with listening to those who know.
Leadership is the attitude assumed by those looking for something different,
who are committed to achieving a goal and whose conviction they manage to
transmit to others through enthusiasm and optimism to reach a common goal.
43. The General Perera was contribution to the
Sri Lanka Army certain measures that would become the foundations of a
44. As a leader he sacrificed his entire
personal life for the betterment of nation, security and strove to develop
combat efficiency in the Army, to encounter future threats to the country.
was awarded the title of Deshamanya by Sri Lankan government in year 2000 and
in 2007 he promoted to the Rank in General. His name will be written in the
history books in Sri Lanka and the entire globe so that the future generations
will know that he was a born soldier, a true leader loved by all. True Sri
Lankans today salute him and accept him as a true General and a person with a
golden heart. In appreciation of his services to the nation, various medals and
gallantry awards were given by him, but the greatest award he received from the
people of Sri Lanka is that they accepted him as Officer and a gentleman leader
with honesty and integrity.