There are actions and strategies you can adopt to enhance your competitive position. You can develop a business plan. You can read business magazines and make a list of ideas gleaned from the articles you have read. You can go to conferences and see what other companies are doing, and you can speak to other business leaders to pick their brains.

These are all good options, but I think good business books can provide more substantive insights than magazines and conferences.

Although I have written five books, I tend to read a lot of other people's books for ideas that I can apply to the companies I run and advise. The books I like most are books that take a totally different approach to solving a problem, how-to books by experienced professionals and biographies -- not autobiographies. I don't like autobiographies because the CEOs that write them are not very forthcoming about their failures and shortcomings.

Each quarter, I will make recommendations on books that I think can improve your competitive position.

If you are a company leader, you are thinking about three components to success: First, how are you going to build sales? Second, how are you going to differentiate your business from your competitors' to attract and retain customers? Third, how are you going to attract and retain the right employees that will help you succeed?

Here are some of the books I think you should pick up to improve your competitive position.

How to Recognize and Reward Employees, by Donna Deeprose. Retaining employees is critical to long-term success. How you reward those employees will determine whether you are able to keep the most-talented people. This book provides ideas and ways to motivate employees through actions, compensation and written and vocal praise.

Your Attention Please, by Paul Brown and Alison Davis. Written communication has become more important now than ever before because of businesspeople's high reliance on email and Web sites. This book provides advice on how to improve written communication to attract customers, prospects, referral sources and the media, and offers tips to motivate employees.

Crunch Point, by Brian Tracy. Brian Tracy is one of the world's premier motivational writers. This book deals with how to pick yourself and your organization up off the ground when events go wrong. Anyone over the age of 40 knows that bad times follow good times, but how you handle the bad times will play a significant role on future prosperity.

Word of Mouth Marketing, by Andy Sernovitz. Incredibly, this author created a national organization out of this concept. As any businessperson knows, word-of-mouth recommendations are more powerful than multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns -- and cheaper to execute. Good examples are Myspace.com and YouTube.com, which became overnight sensations from users' buzz. You probably know of other examples of businesses in your town that are very successful despite a small marketing budget.

Small Business Book of Lists, by Gene Marks, a business consultant. This is an absolute must-have book because it provides small businesses with advice on finance, marketing and sales. It tells how to select a bank and reduce your taxes, and suggests Web sites to visit for new ideas.

Consultative Closing, by Greg Bennett. I have sold financial, marketing and sales services. I have sold memberships to trade associations, sponsorships and advertising. If there is one thing anyone with sales experience learns, it's that the salesman in the movies isn't reality because people don't like to be sold or conned into buying something they don't want or need. They want an advisor to go through the options and determine what they need and how that will best fit into their business. This book provides a process, methodology and examples on how to do it.

Instead of vegging in front of the Golf Channel or overdosing on endless

Law & Order

episodes, take the time to read. Books give you practical, focused, fully formed ideas with examples of how to make the concepts work. Every successful business leader -- from Jack Welch to Bill Gates to Warren Buffett -- will attest to the power that books have on his or her decision-making process. Without the ideas books offer, many businesses would have never reached their potential.

Marc Kramer is the author of five business books on topics related to venture capital, management and consulting. He is a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the veteran of over 20 startups and four turnarounds.

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