Leading a Better Life

How can we make our own life and the lives of those around us better? 

  • What principles get us there? 
  • Why is understanding character so important?
  • Why do we need to learn to lead?
  • How can we differentiate the character of other leaders?
  • How can we realise the potential of our teams?

What is needed to make life better is simple! Life is better when we have great self-realisation, and this comes about when we are better able to use our head, our hearts and are guts. Our humanity increases and our society gets better when others can do the same.  

For this to happen, we need to adhere to the classical principles of progress…

  • Being open to thought, reason and persuasion 
  • Having the courage to act 

We also need to be vigilant regarding the two enemies of progress, being closed to thought reason and persuasion, often called arrogance or hubris, and brutality, that is acting when closed minded.  

These are the underlying principles of a democracy, where citizens can cooperate with each other to thrive and to flourish together. But these principles cannot hold when people cannot assess other peoples’ characters. Understanding character is a prerequisite to make your life and the lives of those around you better.

“We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiving good from them. This makes our friendship all the more reliable, since we want to keep alive the gratitude of those who are in our debt by showing continued goodwill to them: whereas the feelings of one who owes us something lack the same enthusiasm, since he knows that, when he repays our kindness, it will be more like paying back a debt than giving something spontaneously. We are unique in this. When we do kindnesses to others, we do not do them out of any calculations of profit or loss: we do them without afterthought, relying on our free liberality.


Take the example of being kind. Different characters behave and react differently when it comes to being kind. 

citizen understands that we are in life together and that the best possible happiness can only be achieved when we work well together. They are actively willing to play their part.  

An egoist sees kindness in a narrower way, as an opportunity for useful reciprocation. If they considered that they received kindness from a citizen but none was looked for in return, they might decide that since they do not gain more for being kind in return, they will take their unexpected gain, and probably look down on a citizen considering them to be too generous, and to be not minding their own business as well as they should be.  

conformist can see kindness as a child can see kindness from their parents, in a narrower way than the egoist. Kindness for them can be a piece of random good fortune that they would like to see happen more often. Parents usually learn the difference between being a ‘kind parent’ and a ‘good parent’. Kind parents try to protect their children with kindness, sometimes excessive kindness. This can give their children an unrealistic perspective on the world, that ultimately harms their ability to engage effectively with the world. A good parent can be kind, but can also teach reciprocation and helping others who are less fortunate.  

A brute usually sees kindness as a sign of weakness. This is the greatest character difference regarding kindness. If you do a genuine good deed for a citizen, they will likely not only remember it, but want to pay it back many times over. But if you do a good deed for a brute, they will consider it as an opportunity to victimise the giver.  

Our attempts to make life better and our society better become sabotaged when we cannot differentiate character. As Aristotle reminds us “if the citizens of a state are to judge and distribute offices according to merit, then they must know each other’s characters; where they do not possess this knowledge, both the election to offices and decisions of lawsuits will go wrong”. 

The same idea holds for groups of people, communities and companies. Unless they people can differentiate by character, they risk promoting the wrong people to positions of power and the functionality of their groups will become corrupt, driving out constructive behaviors and driving away those with better characters. 

To lead a better life, a citizen need to understand how to lead. Change requires leadership, and change for the better requires citizen leadership .

Educating leaders 

The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.

Steve Jobs 

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.

Seth Godin 

Leadership is about creating stories. A leadership narrative is one that helps others advance towards their goals. Most people find it very difficult to engage their thoughts so they have trouble creating their own narrative but are usually open to following narratives offered to them by leaders. 

Educating the head without educating the heart is no education at all.


Becoming a leader is mostly about learning to how to engage our hearts to create narratives – narratives that help followers create better lives for themselves. 

Historic citizen leadership examples: 

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, some might have felt that justice was revenge on white South Africans. But Nelson realized that for South Africa to reach its full potential it needed both black South Africans and white South Africans and it needed them to act as friends and to work in harmony together. His powerful narrative enabled more people to think within this story, instead of only within stories of them versus us. He declared, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”. 

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert F Kennedy told a similar story showing those listening how they can move forward from the event, rather than acting in a manner that might make things worse. He gave his speech in Indianapolis. While all other major US cities experienced riots, Indianapolis remained calm. 

What lessons can we learn to become better leaders? 

Leaders can remember the three-step rule. If as a leader you are telling a story to people about how they can move one step forward, people will probably follow you. If, as a leader, you are two steps ahead, some will follow you, but not all of them will understand or see where you are trying to lead them, and the experience can become like trying to herd a bunch of cats. If as a leader you are three steps ahead, they mostly won’t see you.

Reduce the violence of the passions to that pitch of moderation, in which the impartial spectator can entirely enter into them

Adam Smith  

Leaders need empathy and this is supported by the leader knowing themselves, as by knowing themselves, they will know those following them too. 

Cheerfulness is important. Happy people generally want to be around other happy people. So telling a positive story in a cheerful way can be very helpful. While misery often loves company, even when people are miserable they will probably prefer to follow a positive or cheerful leader. Cheerfulness is contagious and it helps enlarge our hearts. Leaders who can keep cheerful are more likely to be forgiven too. Take the example of the Greek leader during the Financial Crisis, Alexis Tsipras. He always had a happy and almost beaming smile on his face and won an election despite arguably costing the Greek state huge amounts of money by poor financial handling of the crisis.

Suppose, as a leader of a team, that you have a team member that has hit a rough patch, after a period of well-deserved success. As a leader, what can you do to help lead them forward? 

When we are struggling, it is usually because we are struggling to engage our hearts. You cannot tell a team member to engage their heart, because we cannot willfully engage our hearts. We can only create the right conditions to help and to encourage others to engage their hearts. 

As a leader, you could help by providing some Schole time. You could encourage them by telling optimistic stories that require little imaginative effort for the team member to consider them to be realistic. The team member could benefit from going for a walk, but being told to go on a walk might not help. But offering to go for a walk with the team member, to help get their hearts pumping, can help lead the way for them. It could give an opportunity to add some gentle and kind cheer and to offer some kind word of encouragement to help them regain their self-belief. This approach would be wise if you judged the team member’s character to be that of a citizen.

How can we distinguish between brutish and citizen leadership? 

In his book, “How the mind works”, the psychologist Eric Berne set archetypal differences between citizen and brutish leaders. Excerpts from his book are set out below… 

“A competent leader knows that morale is more important than butter, and a feeling of security and satisfaction more inviting than a fine banquet. An evil leader, such as Hitler was, knows that there are three types of people with three different goals, all of them selfish and largely useless to society, but which can be turned to advantage by unscrupulous men who know how to use other people’s selfishness, a field in which Hitler was a genius”… 

“1. Egotists, the cold and power-hungry, of whom he was the leader. The others went with him because they saw, and he made it plain, that following him was the most likely way to get what they wanted.” 

“2.The Ego-searchers [conformists], those who were weak, and searched for security in leaning upon a stronger personality.  

Any strong or unswerving leader can win some following among these two groups. To the first he promises power, to the second, he offers support and a feeling of security, if only by making their decisions for them and saving them this tedious and distressing task for which they are so ill-equipped.” 

“3. He was now ready to attempt the Egocentrics [brutes], those who sought not power and not decisiveness, but approval; the human sheep. This meant that they would be not join his organisation willingly until by doing so they would win approval from their neighbours. Thus the larger his organisation became, the more attractive it appeared to the egocentrics, and so it fattened like a snowball; the bigger it was the faster it grew.” 

“The egotists are the executives, the ego-searchers are the machine, of any political party, but this is only the nucleus. No political party is a success until it starts to attract the egocentrics for only then can it grow by geometric bounds.” 

“…There are also good leaders, who are interested in the common welfare, and appeal to those of like mind, and those much have similar groups of followers. The leader is the one who determines the policies of this disciples, and can only get most of them by appealing to their unconscious minds.” 

“The policies of his group are determined by whether he takes the easy way of the ‘Id’ (always with a valid excuse): rape kill, grab; or the harder way of the ‘Superego’, which needs no excusing: love, help, give.. ” 

“The masses of humanity, the ego-searchers and egocentrics, will follow their leaders and not the rightest, but the strongest, will win for the moment. It is our task, therefore, to make the leaders of the Superego stronger than the leaders of the ‘Id’” 

“A ‘good’ leader holds his followers by demonstrating the truth of his teachings through the Reality Principle, and by continually appealing to their Superegos and their Physis, their desire to do the right. He convinces them that only by keeping the common good in mind can they attain maturity and happiness for themselves.”  

“An ‘evil’ leader holds them differently. He first changes their Superegos to suit his own ends, so that they will think it a duty and a “should and ought” to do as he wants them to. This is the harder part of his task, and the more important one for this own stubborn interest. He keeps them interested by supplying them with opportunities for crude Id satisfaction. With their Superegos they would not have allowed themselves to indulge in the infantile and selfish gratifications which he now offers or if they did, they would have felt guilty and uncomfortable”… 

“Life is complicated, and the ‘evil’ leader holds his followers by making it appear simple. Hitler stated the principle of his kind of leadership as follows: “The great masses receptive ability is only very limited, and their understanding is small, but their forgetfulness is great.” ” 

“The evil leader knows that there are many ignorant people who are unhappy because they feel their own stupidity and must remain silent and obscure while the learned speak. But they have votes, and their votes are as good as anyone else’s and their shillelaghs as strong. So he lulls the already drowsy intelligent ones to sleep while he woos the ignorant. He woos them by giving them answers to that they become convinced that they too are intelligent and they fear the enlightened no more. He raises them in their own estimation and brings them a happiness they never knew before: the happiness of the sure and informed.” 

“The answers he gives them are simple: so simple that even the dullest can use them to answer all questions, new and old, they who never dared answer a new question before, but waited first for the enlightened to speak. He gives them an image of the world and a sureness about this image, and sureness is what they want above all. Once they accept this image, they act in accordance with it, even in the face of reality to the contrary. So the poor, ignorant, beaten down fellow becomes a superman.” 

“The evil leader does all he can to use his power to twist reality so as to make it appear like the images he gives his people to go by….. He wants to kill off all intelligent people as fast as he can before they can ask any questions about such a silly way of looking at things”. 

The Know Your Team Test 

The Know Your Team Test helps a team realise their combined psychological potential by helping both the individual team members know themselves better, and by helping them know their team dynamics better. 

We see the world partly the way we are and partly the way the world is. When we are part of a team, we also see the world partly the way our team is. 

Just as knowing ourselves helps us see the world more the way it is, knowing our team helps our team see the world more the way it is . This helps our team to engage more effectively with the world. The key to getting the best out of our teams is to know our teams better. 

The Know Your Team Test helps to show how well each member is contributing to the team. It helps show how well those in leadership positions, either directly or indirectly, are influencing the team to see life clearer and help make it better team. It also shows why the team might be unknowingly acting in a way that unnecessarily limits the potential of the team. 

The Know Your Team Test provides encouraging feedback designed to acknowledge and affirm what is making the team work better together. The feedback constructively highlights improvement opportunities to help the team reach their full potential.