People work for people: 4 skills you can train to become a good manager

Dr Amanda McNamee
February 20, 2023
min read
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Think about your worst ever boss. You can picture them, hear their voice and list exactly why they were terrible. Now picture your best boss. They’re as easy to picture and hear but often harder to describe. “They were just lovely” comes to mind but it’s both hard to explain and to role-model. 

When I think of my best boss, “lovely” definitely applies, but so does available, fair, compassionate and human. I never felt uncertain, directionless or unable on Bryan’s team. He seemed to have endless time and I just knew I was “better” when I worked with him. 

Responsibility of managers

“Better” translates to feeling more included, engaged, motivated and performing to a much higher standard . But was it Bryan’s job to make sure I felt this way? Research suggests yes.  We know people work for people and that managers have as much impact on people’s mental health as their spouses (both 69%) so managers must assume responsibility for the impact and influence they have. 

This seems easier said than done as managers are often in sandwich roles where they are leading a team while being themselves answerable to their own managers, and often in fast-paced, high pressure organisations. But the qualities that make good managers are the same as those that make good friends, partners, and parents and don’t require organisational buy-in or permissions. Most of us already know how to be a good manager as it requires awareness of your own humanity and that of each individual on your team. 

Typical manager training 

When we look at our research around managers in the UK, we found 50% of employees didn’t trust their manager all the time, 72% didn’t feel able to open up about work challenges at work and 56% didn’t always feel included by their manager. On a more personal level, 61% reported not always feeling comfortable to be their full self at work and 76% didn’t always feel able to open up about personal challenges at work. Traditional management training isn’t going to address these challenges. 

Instead of focusing on personalising management, organisations prioritise training the processes of managing. But the awareness that makes us great managers doesn’t come from a one off manager training course but from daily moments where we practise good communication, compassion and inclusion. And most importantly, knowing we need to practise these skills when we’re stressed and pressure is high, not just during the good times. 

Skills Good managers have

So instead of focusing on good management training, what skills should we focus on when training managers? At Fika we have created a series of exercises that identify 4 trainable behaviours that help managers to support themselves and their people. But before we explore these we need to recognise that at the root of each of these behaviours is a need to practise them on ourselves or role-model. Treat yourself how you want your team to be treated.  Being open about your own challenges, taking time off, prioritising breaks even when workload is high lets your team know you are ok with them doing the same. 

4 trainable behaviours

  1. Celebrate success: managers regularly celebrate success, say thanks and recognise efforts. Finding everyday opportunities to acknowledge the contributions of others ensures team members feel valued and also helps managers by improving their own wellbeing.  Equally,  managers positively reframe challenges into opportunities i.e. use mistakes to create positive structures. When I worked for Bryan I was running a series of research studies. I didn't test the software on the morning of testing and we lost data from 10 participants who we still had to pay. I felt like a fool but knew it was a lesson learned rather than a punishable action. Bryan worked with me to create a quality checklist to use when running further studies. No blame, just a psychologically safe culture that showed compassion to me and taught me how to react in future situations when some of my team made mistakes.  


  1. Treat people like humans: To quote Dalai Lama  “When we are motivated by compassion and wisdom, the results of our actions benefit everyone, not just our individual selves or some immediate convenience”. Leading with compassion and care is proven to improve motivation and engagement alongside building trust. It also makes for a more enjoyable workplace as we take the time to know our colleagues and their interests and challenges.  This can be as simple as starting a conversation with no agenda other than to say “how are you?” or “what did you enjoy doing this weekend?”

  1. Help manage workloads: Great managers help their teams to manage, navigate, and prioritise their workload. They adapt to what their teams need (e.g. an umbrella to protect from what’s falling, a sounding board when facing a challenge, a crash mat to allow people to take risks without fear). A simple but regular “what can I do to help?” moves a manager from good to great. 

  1. Communicate inclusively: Actively listening (not multitasking) when people come to talk to you and keeping your tone calm and being inclusive when communicating (e.g. not excluding remote workers) are small but effective ways to let your team know you are approachable and open. 

Our 4 behaviours are not complex or time consuming. They’re small and integrable into your day-to-day, and easily accessed via the Fika platform. Taking some time to work on improving your behaviours isn’t just going to be good for you, but also good for your team and for the business. By starting to practise these behaviours now,  you can stay strong, and not slip into poor behaviours when you’re under pressure. Our Fika courses for managers have techniques to train these and other  micro-behavioural changes, so you can share them with everyone in your organisation. If you want help to be a great manager then drop us a line on to see how our behaviour training can help your people feel empowered and valued.

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Dr Amanda McNamee

Dr Amanda McNamee is a Senior Mental Fitness Scientist at Fika. Amanda is a chartered Behavioural Psychologist and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Amanda is passionate about developing Fika's scientific evidence base and rigorous evaluation process in both workplace and education settings. Before Fika, Amanda spent time at Ofsted as an Evaluation Lead and more than a decade in academia. Her primary research focused on positive and social psychology and their underpinnings in behavioural change.

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