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Although A Force For Good is not strictly a leadership book, it is more of a call to action for all people, there are some excellent leadership lessons to be drawn from the wisdom of both the Dalai Lama and the author Daniel Goleman (who is a popular name here at The Self Leadership Initiative.)

The Dalai Lama blends his spiritual background with his curiosity for science in order to draw the two together and increase our understanding of human nature and how to show up as a positive force in the world. And who better to lead that force for good than leaders? Here are some of the key take aways from the essence of the book.


Studies have shown that humans across the world share a common emotional map, experiencing six major emotions of fear, anger, disgust, joy, surprise and sadness. (Eckman, 1999) (Obviously more nuanced emotions can be felt too but these may differ across cultures). Every emotion has a healthy place in the ecology of the mind, but each also has a destructive side.

For example, anger may lead us to take action against injustice but it can also lead us to be hurtful and violent towards others. Looking after our emotional hygiene means being able to recognise when our emotions are destructive and showing better restraint. That doesn’t mean preventing the emotion, rather taking control of ourselves and being mindful of the decisions that we make whilst in that state. We can use techniques such as mindfulness or cognitive therapy, to talk to ourselves, name emotions, practice self compassion and get back to a sense of balance which allows us to make a constructive decision about how to respond.

What does this mean for leaders?

It is easy to recall examples of reactive managers who have made rash decisions based on fear or given critical feedback from a space of anger. Practicing emotional hygiene allows leaders to step back and make decisions which have the best long-term benefits (rather than short term emotional relief / outbursts). This can feed into effective strategy and positive workplace cultures.


Once again, research shows us that we are naturally compassionate creatures. As infants, when we are shown cartoons where characters are struggling and one character helps another, we show preference to play with the kind character or look at it for longer (Hamlin, 2010). We have an innate sense of what it means to be good and generous to others but somehow, in our adult lives, that can be lost. We are taught about competition and individualism as sources of success.

The Dalai Lama notes a number of studies in which he shows that compassion can be taught (Weng, 2013). People may be asked to engage in simulations where they have the option to distribute money or reflections where they rate their likeliness of helping others. They then go through a programme of compassion training which teaches them to recognise another’s situation and cultivate a desire to wish them well and take action. These meditative and practical tools are developed over a few weeks. People then replay the same simulations and exercises and are consistently found to be more generous.

Teaching compassion is not purely altruistic. Instead the Dalai Lama talks about ‘wise selfishness’ – knowing that our own wellbeing lies in the wellbeing of everyone else. This means that being compassionate towards others benefits us because it breeds inner happiness and builds a happier world which we can operate in.

What does this mean for leaders?

It’s not uncommon in the world of business for companies to compete, or even to pit employees against each other in the form of sales commissions and performance metrics as a driver to increase excellence. These kinds of competitive cultures can quickly become toxic and foster a ‘me versus you’ attitude. This can breed unhappiness, resentment and event corruption as people try to ‘win’ at all costs.

Leaders should be highly wary of using competition in their toolbox. Instead, opting for cultures of compassion sharing, equality collaboration and psychological safety is better for people and for business. When people have this positive and safe environment, they are more able to show up authentically, share, bond and take the kinds of creative risks needed for innovation.


One aspect of being emotionally intelligent is empathising with others – this means understanding their feelings and perspectives and imagining what it may be like to ‘walk in their shoes. Alone, empathy can be problematic, especially in industries like social care, health or working with vulnerable groups. This is because continually feeling the pain and problems of others can lead to empathy fatigue and eventual burnout.

Compassion is an excellent remedy to this because compassion involves feeling the suffering / challenges of others AND being motivated to take action. Psychologically when we take action, the feeling of control that it gives us alleviates the sense of burden and overwhelm that we may have felt with empathy alone. Doing our bit to help others and tackle the situation, however small, increases our happiness and well being because we’re not just sitting with the negativity – we are creating some good in the world and taking steps to be part of the solution.

What does this mean for leaders?

How many times have you been in a team meeting that escalates into a round of complaining? Whilst there is some value in a bit of ranting and ‘clearing the air’, teams that frequently get caught up the negative can become toxic. As a leader, you can drive the conversation into positive problem solving. Once you identify the pain or challenge, encourage people to identify practical steps that would improve the situation AND commit to carrying out actions.

This attitude of action and service can also be important in helping your organisation to identify its mission. It is often not enough to be successful just to have a product to sell or a service to provide. If your business comes from a place of compassion, seeing a genuine need and being motivated to make someone’s life better, then this forms the basis of a compelling vision.


Goleman notes three principles for compassionate action.

  1. Fairness – making sure that everybody is treated the same (although one may argue that equity is more important; treating everybody according to their need.)
  2. Transparency – being honest and open
  3. Accountability – being answerable for your actions

All three are important and inter-related. You can’t be accountable without the transparency of knowing what was supposed to happen. Individuals and organisations may adopt other core values too such as fun, understanding, innovation and many more. Goleman and the Dali Lama argue that these three are key in order to uphold a compassionate culture.

When people experience acts of unfairness, this can break trust and quickly ruin a reputation or destroy a culture. For example, in the classroom if most children are well behaved one person is seen to get away with cheating (lack of accountability and fairness) then other children may no longer see the point of being truthful and cheating can quickly become commonplace.

What does this mean for leaders?

Leaders are the role models for individuals, teams and communities. People are constantly looking to them as the role models of the wider culture and so it is essential that they uphold the three principles of fairness, transparency and accountability. In practical terms this may mean:

  1. Fairness – pay structures, diversity & inclusion, constructive feedback and reasonable measures of performance
  2. Transparency – clear mission statement, open management processes, setting clear expectations, handling conflicts / dialogues openly, compliance documentation available and up to date
  3. Accountability – challenging inappropriate behaviour, effective feedback processes, complaints procedures, creating accountability for tasks in team meetings


The Dalai Lama speaks to many audiences; students, activists, scientists, educators and business leaders. When talking to corporate audiences, he often comments about his concerns with capitalism, as it assumes that people are self-interested and motivated by making money. In short, it can lack a compassionate moral outlook. He encourages business leaders bring a sense of altruism into the work in order to shift to a model which has been called conscious capitalism or purpose driven business.

What does this mean for leaders?

Firstly, take the focus away from making money. Money is necessary and useful but it will not bring happiness alone. Material living may dull or distract from pain, but it rarely is the solution to whatever challenging feelings we experience. Really, in order for a business to be successful and to breed happiness and fulfilment it has to be run for the benefit of others. This links back to the knowledge that when we take action it makes us feel good.

Business leaders should ensure that the core of their business is compassionate and that the products or services they provide benefit people and the planet. Start by asking what problem do you solve or how do you make people’s lives better? This will lead to a more compelling vision, staff feeling motivated that their work makes a difference and may even lead to wider movements of social good.


In his 80 years the Dalai Lama has closely followed many international and individual conflicts – getting involved in peace processes and advocating for nonviolent solutions. He notes that if you really want to change people’s attitudes away from violence, it takes place at the individual level. When two people connect on the human level and consider each other to be brothers and sisters, that is when compassion happens and that is when dialogue can occur. Dialogue doesn’t mean agreeing with the other person or giving up your needs, rather it is about understanding the other person’s viewpoint enough to see them as a valid human being. Instead of clinging to ‘us and them’ attitudes and our own sense of identity we have to see the common thread of humanity that runs between us.

What does this mean for leaders?

In a business setting, there is sometimes a place for labeling differences. We may collect data on nationality, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and so on in order to ensure that we are creating diverse and respectful work environments. However, if we are not careful those labels can emphasise differences. It is important that leaders both model and foster genuine dialogue by practicing active listening, suspending judgement and encouraging people to authentically share their feelings, needs and drivers.

Leaders may need to facilitate this process for others who are less familiar with these skill sets, using coaching questions to structure conversations and act as a mediator in order to help two sides to genuinely listen to each other. This will reap benefits as team members who understand each other more deeply will be able to work more harmoniously, collaborate better and see each other’s differences as a strength and resource.


Action is a common theme throughout the book, and has already mentioned once in this blog post. However, it is repeated as the Dalai Lama is aware that when it comes to being a force for good in the wider world, we can be tempted to feel helpless. We can look forward and see the size of the task at hand and become so overwhelmed by its ‘impossibility’ that we get paralysed into inaction.

He encourages us to look back on human history to instill ourselves with a sense of hope. Things that may have seemed radical or even impossible 50 or 100 years ago such as banning child labour, harnessing solar power or accessing world knowledge form our home computers is now commonplace or taken for granted. At the time, the people working on those projects would have felt the same looming sense of impossibility, but pushed on anyway.

“The bigger, more important goals are almost impossible to achieve immediately. We should plant the seeds of a better world even if we will not see the fruits.”

What does this mean for leaders?

Interestingly the Dalai Lama says that the world will not be changed by the actions of individual leaders and governments – instead collective action is needed. However, this is important for active and inspiring leaders to bear in mind as it means that our responsibility is to encourage more people to take action. The job of leadership is the creation of more leaders.

Knowing that working on an ambitious mission can be daunting also means that leaders are tasked with stoking the fire of the vision – keeping teams motivated to chip away at the impossible, be persistent and continue to serve their purpose so that eventually people will benefit from the results. This requires leaders to be excellent communicators and to genuinely have the heart of an optimist in order to role model to others.


+ Great read for leaders with a sense of social and moral responsibility
+ Lots of scientific examples to back up the benefits of compassion and kindness
+ Warm stories and personal examples to bring the main points to life
+ Consistent messaging throughout the chapters
– Readers may be left lacking concrete tools about how to develop their compassion in action
– Not strictly a ‘leadership’ book

Buy A Force for Good as a paperback or ebook.

Do you want to build a more compassionate culture in your team? The Self Leadership Initiative provides bespoke training and workshops to Charities, Universities and Corporates to empower more self leaders to lead from a place of emotional intelligence and purpose.  Get in touch today to discover the power that a team of self leaders could make for your organisation. 

Ekman, P. (1999). Basic emotions. In T. Dalgleish & M. J. Power (Eds.), Handbook of cognition and emotion (pp. 45–60). John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Goleman, D. (2015). A Force for Good. The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hamlin, J. K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2010). Three-month-olds show a negativity bias in their social evaluations. Developmental science13(6), 923–929.
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C., Rogers, G. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological science24(7), 1171–1180. 
Photo by WebTed: The Dalai Lama