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Top business authors share their greatest leadership advice


If there's one thing great business leaders have in common, it's a voracious appetite for reading.

From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates, top business execs frequently espouse the benefits of making time for reading in their daily routines. Not only does it help them self-educate and come up with new ideas, they say, but it also enables them do a better job of leading others.

However, making the time is not always easy — nor settling on where to start. So, in time for some holiday reading, CNBC Make It spoke to the authors of some of the best business books to find out their greatest advice to set you on the path to becoming a successful future leader.

"The Leadership Challenge" by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

James Kouzes and Barry Posner's 1987 hit book "The Leadership Challenge" continues to receive critical acclaim from business chiefs for its guidance on what the authors describe as the "five practices of exemplary leadership."

Based on tens of thousands of interviews over a period of more than three decades, the pair identified those as the ability to: model the way; inspire a shared vision; challenge the process; enable others to act; and show sincerity.

But, said Kouzes and Posner in an email to CNBC Make It, the underlying rule of leadership is even simpler: self-belief.

"Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It's the assumption that you matter," they wrote.

"Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself. You have to believe that your words can inspire and your actions can move people. You have to believe that what you do counts for something. Leadership begins with you."

"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey

First released in 1989, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" endures as one of the most notable leadership books in the U.S.

Author Stephen Covey outlines his tips for achieving success both at work and at home. The work earned him a host of high profile fans, including "Shark Tank's" Daymond John, as well as recognition in 1996 as one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans.

Following Covey's death in 2012, his sons, Sean and Stephen, took up the baton to continue his teachings. In a note to CNBC Make It, Sean said his best advice for aspiring leaders is to determine the full requirements of your current role and then figure out how to surpass them.

"What you can do today is to understand what's expected of you in your role in the organisation and how your values, skills and abilities line up with those expectations. Then, see how you could make the biggest difference in your current role," said Sean, himself a best-selling author.

"Focus on making a difference where you are to show that you are capable of achieving more. By aligning your expectations with those of your organisation and understanding how you can best contribute in your role, you set yourself up for success."

"Blue Ocean Strategy" by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Leading business book "Blue Ocean Strategy," and its sequel "Blue Ocean Shift," show how top companies succeed by identifying uncontested markets and then making them their own.

Authors Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne said the same strategy can be applied by individuals if they can differentiate themselves from their peers and thereby dodge the competition.

"Adopting a blue ocean perspective can be helpful to (individuals) in making career choices and progress," the pair noted in an email to CNBC Make It.

"For example, when it comes to career choices, young people tend to look at what is hot in the marketplace. This is like selecting a hot and attractive industry to enter. The question is, is this just an admirable job in other people's eyes or does it really appeal to your heart?" they said.

"If the answer is no, it will be a journey without passion and will likely be un-enjoyable."

"The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset" by Linda Brimm

Written by Linda Brimm, emeritus professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD Business School, "The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset" explores the increasingly global mindset of leaders.

Citing the likes of former U.S. President Barack Obama and the ex-CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi, Brimm says that leaders these days benefit from varied life experiences and a broad outlook that helps them compete in the global jobs market.

That constant transition can be difficult, but it can also make leaders better able to manage change and rally support from others, she said.

"When everything is changing, you have to be able to transition to another place. You have to come to terms with that and find new ways to process things," Brimm told CNBC Make It. "It's an incredible source of resilience."

"I think these are skills people need for leadership," she continued, likening the changing jobs landscape to a kaleidoscope. "Know that when the kaleidoscope shifts, things will change. Leaders need to be sensitive to that and need to manage the change."

"Good to Great" by Jim Collins

Considered a core pillar in Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' reading list, Jim Collins' "Good to Great" looks at those companies that seemingly "defy gravity" and transform good — or even mediocre — ideas into enduring powerhouses.

Part of that, according to Collins, is down to who their leader is. He describes the best ones as "Level 5" leaders. What sets them apart from "ego-driven Level 4 Leaders," says Collins, is their ability to inspire others to adopt a vision.

"Ego-driven Level 4 leaders are really good at inspiring people to follow them. Level 5 people inspire others to follow a cause. And therein is all the difference," said Collins in a video series.

"The deep, inner lesson of Level 5 is the idea of service — of leading in service to a cause," said Collins. "We are talking here about ambition ... a channel out, away from yourself, into a cause, into an enterprise, into a purpose, into something that is bigger and more important than we are."

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."

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