Much has been written about leadership. Most of it is useless. But there are things you can do, and some books you can read, that are helpful to learn to be a better business leader.

Copy Somebody Else.

There is no substitute for a real life example. If you have somebody or several somebody’s in your life – a mentor or boss that you can model yourself after – then do so. Think hard about what it is they do that you admire or that inspires you. What words they use, how they treat people, even their body language and facial expressions.

Try to incorporate these behaviours into your leadership style. Don’t worry about being “fake”. Your own authentic voice will start to shine through once you have some practice under your belt.

If you don’t have anybody in your life that to emulate then you might have to take the “counter-example” route. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a file, mental or otherwise, of things NOT to do. But take this one step further: think about what you would do instead. For example, if your counter-example is somebody who loses their temper, then your challenge would be to never lose your temper, even when you really really want to. Then observe what effect this has on those around you, and adjust accordingly.

Read Biographies.

Put aside the “how to be a leader” books, and read biographies of leaders instead. It doesn’t really matter who. Pick somebody you admire, or even don’t, and read their life story. See their challenges, examine their choices critically, be skeptical. This “case study” approach also has the advantage of expanding your mind and making you more interesting at cocktail parties.

Read These Two Books.

Most leadership books are drivel, full of non-specific, un-actionable, un-reproducible pablum. But there are two books I know of you can and should read if you want to be a better business leader. The difference? They’re based on rigorous, reproducible research asking interesting, specific questions that give actionable conclusions:

The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner) asks the question, “What are you (the leader) doing when you’re at your best?”, and finds the answers in ten actionable, understandable traits that can be measured and improved. Not a bad question to ask yourself either.

First, Break All The Rules (Buckingham & Coffman) asks, “What questions correlate to good leadership, team performance, and best-of-class organizations?” The questions give insight into what the best leaders (and what the best organizations) are doing to be the best.

The top three are: Can I come to work every day and do my best? Do I have the tools and training to do my job? Does somebody at work care about me?

What would your employees say in response to these three questions?

What actions are you going to take this year to learn how to be a better business leader?