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Becoming a great manager requires the development of both inner and outer management skills

By Janice Kaye, Managing Director, Thrive4Life

The origins of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ management training skills

Peter Drucker  is considered one of the great founders and world experts in  management training and devised some of the original theories and principles around effective management training and practice.

One of Drucker’s key principles was that all work has an aim or an end goal;  and it is the outcome of this work that defines the success of a manager. As an example, the work might involve growing the number the customers or contracts for a business, or ensuring that his/her team fulfils the tasks that are assigned to them, or completing a critical sales tender in a designated time.

However, to be a great manager and achieve great results, Drucker advocated the need for managers to develop two critical baseline skills: inner and outer management skills. He also emphasised the importance of managers being able to  manage themselves effectively, before they can manage others.

Jeremy Hunter, PhD, is the founding director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute and associate professor of practice at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management. In a recent talk, where he addressed the 2023 Inner MBA cohort,  he outlined the difference between inner and outer management skills and emphasised the importance for leaders of today to develop both skill sets:

What are Inner Management Skills?

Inner management skills relate to what’s happening inside of ourselves at any given moment of the day. This skill focuses on our mindset. How a person feels at any given moment, what are their emotions telling them, and what are they feeling in their body (tense? stressed? tired? frustrated? angry? scared?). What emotional reactions are they having to situations and circumstances that arise in their working and personal life, and having an awareness as to how they project themselves outwardly to others. What are the judgements, assumptions, justifications, rationalization and expectations that a manager or leader brings into the room and his/her outward management style and approach?

What are Outer Management Skills?

Outer management skills relate to all aspects of the role  of a manager, and their responsibilities within that role and the relationships they are involved in; so all the outside forces. It could be project management, ensuring KPI’s are met, managing the employees within their team, ensuring their team’s motivation and commitment. Outer management skills might relate to the management of a client, their expectations on the delivery of a service, or dealing with a customer complaint effectively.

The importance of developing both inner and outer management skill sets

Hunter outlined how inner  leadership management skills were first introduced to management training programmes around 20 years ago. However, many businesses (and indeed the delegates themselves) didn’t relate to why there was a need for training in inner management awareness and emotional intelligence. Hunter then spoke about the 2008 financial crash, and how the great uncertainty of those times became exponential, with the reaction to this of personal and collective heightened stress and anxiety.

We are now a little more than a decade on from the 2008 financial crash and leaders/ managers find themselves working in another world collective crisis. This has highlighted, yet again,  the need to develop self-management skills to help navigate these difficult times.

Living in our modern day ‘VUCA’ World

What does the acronym ‘VUCA’ mean?

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity

The term ‘VUCA World’ is a phrase that is increasingly being used to describe the turbulent modern business times that all businesses currently operate in. Most of us can relate to the words in the VUCA acronym: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.*

*The acronym ‘VUCA’ was first used at the end of the Cold War by the US Army War College. Until March 2020, there might have been significant debate over the use of this term, but now there is no debate, and we are undoubtedly living in a ‘VUCA world’. 

Hunter emphasised how living through these incredibly turbulent ‘VUCA’ times has affected all of us both personally and  professionally and will continue to do so. Beyond and entwined with the individual, there has been significant changes to families, organisations, and communities. It’s worthwhile taking a few moments to reflect  on this fact, and to acknowledge and take stock of the enormity of this shift.

Hunter emphasized that we need to address quality learning for our management teams now more than ever. Leadership management is measured by results and he re-emphasised that ‘if a manager is unable to manage themselves then they won’t be effective at managing other people’.

It seems a simple, easy-to-achieve formula, doesn’t it? Select managers and ensure that they are given training in people management skills and self-management skills, and a business will thrive and achieve the results they are looking for. But is it as easy as that?

Hunter, commented that in these times of extreme uncertainty: ‘the one thing that you can control is your own response to things and your own mindset and then the actions that you take from there.’

The practice of Zen

Inner management is a concept that originates from Japan from the practice of Zen and was first introduced to the western world by Philip Kapleau, in his book the Three Pillars of Zen. Zen practice develops skills to manage and calmly see through strong emotions such as fear and anger that can arise. It was a practice used by warriors to manage strong emotions in the face of uncertainty and their own mortality.

Let’s set a scenario

A senior sales manager is holding a critical client meeting. Another attendee present at the meeting brings up an inflammatory comment which disrupts the meeting and generates a loss of trust, anger, and agitation for the client. The executive looks over and sees the client’s reaction, who is on the point of gathering their things and leaving the meeting. Instead of letting the situation get out of hand, the manager first turns their attention quickly within themselves to their emotions so as not get swept away with the anger and agitation that was spreading around the room. They take a slow, steady breath, and then quickly turn their attention back to take on the situation in the room, and then steadily direct the group’s attention in a more productive and positive direction. The client calms down and puts his papers back on the table, and the meeting continues. For this executive, playing the inner and outer game saved the day.


If we only pay attention to developing outer management skills, without paying attention to what’s going on inside of ourselves, all the things going on inside of ourselves can have the effect of hijacking the way we outwardly interact and manage our outer lives.

There is a concept that developing your mindset skills and how you respond to situations will support and direct the actions that you take from there.

So, inner management isn’t about learning how to fix things outside, such as your team, or your relationships outside of work, it’s about managing the inner you.

Research has shown that if managers apply the concept of self-management and focus on developing their inner and outer management skills, they will become significantly better leaders.

How Thrive4Life can help!

Thrive4Life can provide customised Line Manager training as well as MHFA and Wellbeing Champion training. We offer health promotion in the form of an extensive library of engaging content with well-designed articles / ePublications, wellbeing newsletters and monthly specialist talks on all aspects of health and wellbeing.

For companies who are looking for support with a strategy and ongoing process of health and wellbeing engagement that they can build over time, Thrive4Life has used a backdrop of over 30 years’ experience of delivering specialist health, safety and wellbeing guidance across multiple industries to develop an innovative, cost-effective solution that can help any size of organisation in the form of a fully customisable Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub.

For more information about Thrive4Life services and training courses, get in touch or call us on 020 8972 9675.

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