Five people management tips to win at life.

Find out how you too can master the art of management.

person in management shuffling papers
Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA, courtesy of Unsplash

I find watching ducks relaxing.

Not the opening sentence you were probably expecting. It’s true though. It’s what I might consider to be a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ (along with complaining about the weather

Anyway, a few months ago- when going to duck ponds was the sort of pastime you might engage in- I had the pleasure of spending a very relaxing Summer afternoon in the presence of a particularly picturesque pond. There I sat, throwing nuggets of dried bread and watching the inevitable scrap for the largest pieces. I felt like a Roman Emperor in a gladiatorial arena. Only with less bloodshed. And more quacking.

A you wouldn’t be surprised to read, an elderly couple were engaged in a similar pastime on a bench across the pond. I was in my very own modern day John Constable painting.

It was all so calm. All so serene.

Two screaming shapes appear over the crest of a nearby hill. They sprint down the slope, shrieking. They reach the water’s edge. Still shrieking.

They proceed to splash each other (it goes without saying there was lots of shrieking here). After drenching their clothes, they notice the ducks. Que more shrieks. Rather than bread, they decide to introduce some stones into the diet of the local mallards. They scream some more and roll around on the grass.

They are followed, approximately 20 minutes later (which might be a slight exaggeration on my part- it was a long time, though), by a man and woman I am going to assume were their parents. To the casual observer it would be hard to tell for sure.

By the time they reach their (assumed) children, the ducks have flown away to the nearby cafe. The elderly couple have left. The parents, no doubt marveling at their good fortune at having snagged a pond-side seat, sink into the recently vacated bench.

Around them, the children continue to scream. Gone is the peace. Gone are the ducks.

Despite my fondness for ducks I am, what you might consider, to be a bit of an old grump. A lot of things irritate me: people not acknowledging each other on a walk (is it too much to expect to say hello?). Sales assistants who are too pushy in shops (is it too much to expect not to say hello?) You get the idea- an old grump.

Scenes like this, though, I’m sure I can’t be alone in finding them irritating? Because I was seething.

Now, I’m not saying for one second that the children were the source of my anger. After all, children often can’t help shrieking. As a matter of course, they tend to find it hard to see the world from beyond the confines of their own minds.

Some find this particularly difficult, for a whole host of perfectly legitimate reasons. Should they be denied access to public spaces? Absolutely not.

No, my seething irritation on that afternoon was not directed at the children. It was at the two people happily chomping on Waitrose ciabatta. The two people happily ignoring their (again assumed) children as they ran wild.

It still angers me when I think about it. All these months later.

Despite my annoyance, however, it got me thinking about a really important quality in life. A quality that is vital for our day to day lives, yet isn’t given the nurture and attention it deserves. The ability to manage others.

Say the word ‘manager’, and your mind probably jumps to a few candidates: a faceless suited office drone, perhaps? Jurgen Klopp? Michael Scott? Basil Fawlty? You get the idea.

The point is, you probably immediately associate the term management with employment. Being a manager is a job description. It’s something you can put on your C.V.

A quick google is all it takes to confirm this mindset. There are hundreds of posts about how to effectively manage a team, all seemingly written by the woman who ‘tripled sales in a boutique ready meal company’. There are courses coming out of your ears in good people management. All produced by self-proclaimed gurus. All incredibly corporate.

Let’s shelve jobs for the time being, though.

Effective people management is a key component of everyday life. Were those parents more clued up on how to be a people manager, they might have decided that preventing their children drinking pond water was probably worth acknowledging their presence.

As it happened, they didn’t.

If you haven’t got the idea by now, I believe that there are a lot of lessons that can be learnt from the classroom. I have already posted about the valuable skills obtained from the classroom (you can have a look at parts 1 and 2 of those posts here and here).

When you read corporate management posts such as this, there emerge stark similarities between these and the world of teaching and behaviour management.

When I started teaching, like many teachers new to the profession, I struggled with managing my classroom. I think back to some of my earliest encounters with tricky Year 9 classes and shudder. Letting them sit where they want? What was I thinking?!

In my darkest moments, I even resorted to reading ‘Mr Ready Meals’ and their 8 tips to management success. Needless to say, their conflict resolution strategies didn’t work too well on teenagers.

Fast forward a fair few years, though, and I can look back on having successfully managed several thousand people. I still make mistakes- getting, on average, 600 students a week on the same page (sometimes literally) will naturally result in some challenges. Having said that, I have a pretty good idea about what works in management.

So, what helpful tidbits have I gleaned to help those who wish to become the people manager of your dreams? Read on to find out.

1. Weigh up and committ

There is a management phrase I learnt from an ex-warden at a jail. Grizzled- the vetaran of many years keeping order in the clink, he accredited the following mantra to his survival:

Don’t intervene if you’re only going to make things worse.

Now, I am guessing that in the course of his job he probably had more intimidating levels of people management than a student picking the corner off a wall display. I’m inclined, therefore, to listen to his advice.

Having said that, he probably didn’t have to endure the daily bombardment of bewildering, and sometimes bizarre, judgements of students to deal with. Also, people tend to frown at teachers locking pupils away….Let’s call it a draw, perhaps?

Either way, the key to his management success was in picking his battles.

When managing, some people have a tendency to go looking for issues. I suppose it makes sense. After all, you want to be seen to be on the ball; nothing screams productivity like hawkishly watching your employees. The problem here, though, is summarised nicely by The Harvard Business Review. . Yes, digging your nose in may masquerade itself as being productive, but it isn’t efficient. The thing is, if you dig your nose too deeply into trouble, you’ll more than likely find it.

Let’s look at an example.

Student K turns round in their seat and mimes a strange, choreographed dance routine. Butting in, with raised voice, shouting ‘that’s enough’, without fully weighing up the appropriateness of your reaction is a recipe for disaster.

Two minutes later, you’re sucked down the rabbit hole of arguing with said teenager. Ten minutes later, the rest of the class get involved. It’s like Mutiny on the Bounty. Your grasp on composure abandoned, you decide to keep everyone in at break. Several students at the back of the class immediately begin to construct voodoo dolls and stick pins in you.

In case you didn’t realise, this is a case of a badly managed situation.

If you do need to intervene, do so in a way that is proportionate to the issue. Do so with the confidence that things will get better as a result of your involvement.

I am sure that, in the case of our ducks, the situation would have ultimately improved had the parents decided to step in. I’d struggle to think how they could have got much worse, anyway.

Treat your intervention like delivering aid following a natural disaster. You wouldn’t drop down in your helicopter, take one look around at the scenes of destruction and say to your colleague:

‘Actually, you know we’re supposed to help these people? Well it looks like it’s going to be a bit tricky. It smells funny too. No, I don’t fancy it now. How about I just leave this box of supplies here and get back home? Bargain Hunt is on in half an hour. I might be able to catch it if we get back quickly’.

Treat management with the same approach. Pick your battles, act proportionally but, when you do go in, go all in.

2. Be present: look after the pennies

Even if you decide not to wade in and intervene, though, the worst thing you can do is ignore indiscretions. Let your attention slip and before you know it, you’ll have two students playing catch at the back of the classroom whilst a third attempts to spit on the cars parked in the staff carpark.

People seem to assume acknowledgement of an issue is the same as acting upon it.

I have found that a tennis approach works pretty well when it comes to day-to-day management. Allow me to elaborate.

A student forgets their homework; they forget their book; they turn up late. Pick any one. This is the equivalent of a ‘dud serve’.

Just like a tennis umpire, you let them know that they’ve hit the proverbial net. You acknowledge their indiscretion. Crucially, though, you put the ball back in their court. You give them another shot. If they forget their homework, give them until tomorrow/the next day.

The best thing here is that you don’t actually have to do anything. Not at that moment anyway. And that’s fine. Sometimes management is just about acknowledging what people are doing.

Think back to those teachers who had ‘eyes at the back of their heads’. They were seemingly able to spot chewing gum at 50 feet, sense disturbances in the force to identify who had turned around in their seat.

In my experience, these teachers to my knowledge were not possessors of divine abilities (I may be wrong, of course. Give me another few years teaching and, who knows, my body may start to evolve).

They earned their reputation as divine soothsayers of disruption because they acknowledged everything. If they saw it, they let you know that they saw it.

The likelihood is they rarely did anything about it. Sometimes the acknowledgement is enough.

3. Trust people

From prattling on about prison wardens, an overarching management mentality of mine can be summarised in a handy acronym (take that Mr Prison Man!).


I’ll give you a minute to work it out.

If you said: doing triumphant things with potatoes, I’m afraid to say you’re wrong. Although now I’m incredibly intrigued about what triumphant things you can do with potatoes…

So, what does my secret mentality stand for? It’s simple, really:

Don’t take the piss.

It’s a touch blunt- I certainly don’t reveal it to the students- but I think this mindset can take you quite a long way. Fundamentally, it allows a certain flexibility to enter your management approach. It recognises that we all drop the ball. It embraces the fact that none of us are perfect.

People forget things. I am terrible for it. Every year, I attempt to use a planner. Every year it ends up slowly decaying in my bag.

Why should I hold students to standards I can’t meet?

Collected a set of books to mark, but ending up binge watching Downton Abbey instead of marking them? It happens.

Said I’d print off a series of revision sheets for Student H but got waylaid attempting to calculate my carbon footprint (check it out here — it’s great).

Sometimes we have the best intentions, but just forget. Good management recognises this. They also recognise that the issue becomes when the exceptions become the norm. If you want to know when best to pick those battles, do so at the point when you ‘stray into the piss’.

4. Treat people how you would like to be treated

You know the saying: ‘I won’t give you my respect. You have to earn it’.

Well, I find it a touch abrasive.

It’s a bit of a ‘standoffish’ mentality. A mentality that, if everyone shared, would most likely result in a miserable world. I’m imagining a world full of the sort of people who complain at waiters when their food isn’t on the table within three minutes (as if it’s the waiter’s fault that the chef can’t cook a lobster in under 30 seconds).

The sort of people who should have ‘let me see the manager’ tattooed on their foreheads. Now that I think about it, I believe the term for these sorts of people is a ‘Karen’. I must apologise to anyone afflicted with such a name, and who must now live in eternal fear of ridicule…

The idea that respect has to be earned smacks of ‘guilty until proven innocent’. It implies your default position is lack of respect. No, it’s not for me.

I much prefer the much more equitable ‘treat people how you would want to be treated’ approach to respect. Moreover, in management- as it has in the classroom- I have found that such a mindset will get you far.

Yes, in the classroom it’s hard to ignore that you are the teacher. Job roles do have a tendency to muddy the water a touch. It’s hard to treat children as mature, respect-demanding adults when they’ve just tippexed a penis on someone else’s pencil case.

That aside, though, even here your default behaviour should be one of mutual respect for the person you are dealing with. A lot of writing about behaviour management is about stripping the behaviour from the person. I think this is sensible.

Think of actions here like clothes. Some days, you might get it wrong and look a bit of a mess. Sometimes, that leopard print top didn’t work wonders with those pinstripe trousers. It doesn’t change the person under the clothes, though.

I can assume that my duck pond parents didn’t share this mentality. Unless they wish to exist in a world containing only themselves. And benches.

5. Lighten up

This last one I think is really important. Perhaps the most important of my wisdom nuggets.

There are serious things in this world. I have alluded to this in a previous post.

In my experience though, not everything is life and death. Unless perhaps you are a surgeon. If so, please disregard everything I am about to say.

As I have done so throughout this post, the point that I am trying to make (in a roundabout way) can be summarised with a saying.

It’s easy to spot a yellow car when you’re always thinking of a yellow car.

It’s the sort of phrase you see printed on planks of driftwood and sold in ‘cutesy’ gift shops. Your mum probably bought one and hung it in the kitchen (alongside a plaque with a semi-humorous saying about alcohol consumption whilst cooking).

There’s even an interesting article dedicated to unpicking this phenomena in the workplace.

For those uninclined to read more about this, the idea is that you tend to notice things you are attuned with. Think of yellow cars, and you will see them everywhere. It’s a shame it doesn’t work with pots of gold, but there you go.

Obviously it’s not all fun and game

I will be the first to acknowledge that the weight of management is a responsibility. Getting that order out on time, delivering your annual report to the board of directors. It’s pretty serious stuff .

I do get it. In my time teaching, I have run trips abroad and, apart from the free flight and accommodation (which is pretty good) they are only really enjoyable when you think back at them. When you’re there, all you can think about is a 17 year old wandering off the edge of a glacier.

The vast majority of time, though, your management decisions are not as make or break or break as you might think.

In my experience, treating classes with this serious approach to management is counter intuitive. You just end up creating friction. Which creates more issues.

Even more annoying, if forgetting a piece of homework is treated with the same intensity as a life-threatening issue, then it dilutes the impact of when there are actually serious management issues to deal with. Like students hanging their heads out of the window, for example.

No, on the whole, do you want to know which classes are the easiest to manage? The ones I enjoy being manager for an hour of?

They’re the ones you can have a bit of a laugh with. The classes that you can channel all of the above management tricks into with a smile.

If you relax yourself a little bit

Ask yourself if the decision you are about to make will matter one year from now. Will it even matter in one month? If the answer is no, then relax a bit.

Final thoughts: should you really listen?

So, there you go. My four lessons gleaned from management.

I’m going to end this post by shooting myself in the foot.

Do you want to know the most important lesson of management? Lean in, and I’ll whisper it in your ear (in a non-creepy way of course).

It’s very difficult to ‘learn’ how to manage people. How you manage yourself and those around you is down to you. It’s personal.

The worst thing you can do is try to imitate people. You’ll only come across as ungenuine.

Develop your own style and apply it consistently and with clarity. But, hey, hopefully these points can give you some starting tips. At the very least, you’ll know what to do when at a duck pond.



Using educational insight and bad jokes to promote personal and professional development. Find out more at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alex Booth

Using educational insight and bad jokes to promote personal and professional development. Find out more at