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Management advice that works

(MoneyWatch) I always question management advice books because I think, "Does this really work, or did the author just dream up a theory just so he could write a book?" The only useful advice is, of course, advice that helps people become better managers.

I asked readers about the best management advice they have received, and here is what 10 of them had to say: 

- "For those times when you tell someone to do something just because you're the manager: Every time you hit someone with the 'management' stick, it breaks in half." 

- "Getting bad news early is good news. I've found it applies to nearly all walks of life." 

- "Never tell or ask someone to do something you're not willing to do yourself. Always remember how it felt to be the one managed, and take that into consideration when managing others."

- "My boss tells us all the time that the reason we are successful as a clinic is that she has made a point over the years to hire people smarter than she is." 

- "Remember the people reporting to you have their goals, dreams and vision for their future. To the best of your ability -- and their willingness to share -- learn what these are. When it comes to coaching, mentoring and managing your direct-report staff, you can incorporate this understanding into your message. Even if the mission doesn't directly correlate with or even contradicts their own vision, they will hear that you considered their point of view." 

- "Never value bureaucracy and process over people. This is what gives HR a bad name (and often unnecessarily). When you have a problem with an individual person, deal with that person or problem and don't push out some wimpy policy to try to 'stem the tide' of people who wear orange Crocs to work (or whatever other lame HR policy you can imagine). If you put people first and deal with them clearly and honestly, you'll find that most of your policies are unnecessary."

- "Start every work conversation by asking a variation on the following: 'What can I help you with/how can I help you?' That may sound corny, but it is amazing when you see the stress on someone's face melt away because they 'get' that you 'get' that you're in it together. It's also a positive way to identify roadblocks; find areas where additional training or professional development would be helpful; and get a quick handle on staff workloads and priorities, helping readjust if needed. I've found that starting with, 'What do you need from me?' or 'How can I help you?' also gives you valuable insight into how a person is doing mentally, physically, professionally and personally."

- "The best management advice I ever got was from a school counselor who was talking about breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, and only later did I come to apply it to managing work relationships: Understand that your primary goal when making management decisions is not to earn the concurrence of the employees you manage. You will never get employees to agree that they need to be reassigned, demoted, reprimanded, laid off or fired. Because those are some of the hardest actions to take as a manager, it is smart to keep in mind that you can lay out your case to the employee for why it is the best course of action for everyone (the employer). Employee buy-in is always a secondary goal." 

- "Don't treat your employees like idiots. It demeans them and you. It is especially true when you have unsettling news to share, [like] a company shakeup and changes in management -- really changes to anything. If you try to put a nice, 'everything is still wonderful,' Pollyanna gloss on the news you are trying to break, your employees will quickly lose confidence in you and your ability to determine when a situation needs more care and gravity."

- "My brother once told me (while standing in line waiting for our kids to go on an amusement park ride) that all people really want is respect and to know that what they are doing is important. He was talking about the 'carnival ride guy' who was explaining to him that the ride was safe and this guy really took pride in making sure that the ride was indeed safe. His statement has stayed with me ever since, and I use this philosophy all the time."

What's your best management advice?  

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your question or great suggestion to

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