To become a great investor, you have to have confidence in your ability to discover and invest in top stocks on your own. But that doesn't mean you can't get some good leads from proven leaders in the investment field.

That's one reason keeping tabs on popular gurus in the hedge fund and institutional money management industries has become so important. By keeping up with what top portfolio managers are doing, you'll have your finger on the pulse of the market and potentially have an inside edge in following tomorrow's hot investment trends before the herd piles on.

Fortunately, many institutional fund managers have to report their holdings on a quarterly basis, giving attentive investors a window into the thinking processes of top-performing management teams. With the help of AlphaClone, an easy-to-use tool that tracks the performance of hundreds of hedge funds and institutional investors, I tracked down a few top managers that you've probably heard of and what moves they've been making lately.

John Paulson: Paulson & Co.
John Paulson is well known as the man who called the housing bust. Making a bold bet when real estate experts were convinced that property values simply could never fall, Paulson rode his convictions all the way to billionaire status. More recently, he has participated in the bull market in gold, with 15% of his fund assets in SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD).

During the fourth quarter of 2010, however, Paulson has diversified his portfolio somewhat. Although adding Transocean (NYSE: RIG) to this resource-rich set of holdings doesn't take the fund into uncharted territory, his recent purchases of Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) and Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR) show a step toward a more defensive stance for the fund. Investors should still expect Paulson's fortunes to rise and fall with precious metals and oil, but his latest moves suggest a more open mind toward finding opportunities wherever they may be.

Jeremy Grantham: Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo (GMO)
Jeremy Grantham has bearish views of the market, and he hasn't been afraid to voice them. He thinks the S&P 500 is dramatically overvalued and believes the market is poised to drop by 30% or more in order to get closer to its fair value. Yet he's also finding value in certain parts of the market.

Watching his latest additions, you'll see a host of Brazilian stocks, most notably an investment in Vale (NYSE: VALE) as well as several bank stocks based in Brazil. Tech megastocks continue to dominate his overall portfolio, putting the lie to the notion that up-and-coming newer players will supplant industry leaders' dominant roles within tech.

George Soros: Soros Fund Management
George Soros has a long history of making money in innovative ways, ranging from the Asian currency crisis in the late 1990s to his early 2008 call of a "superbubble" that would collapse disastrously.

Like Paulson, Soros has a large position in gold. But recently, he's been buying U.S. stocks, with surprising picks in Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) and General Motors (NYSE: GM). The picks seem inconsistent with the view of a continuing collapse in the financial system, but the two companies have the benefit of selling products that are in high demand. Moreover, they add some diversity to a resource-heavy portfolio.

Walk your own path
Tracking what the world's greatest investors are doing with their money can be helpful in giving you ideas. But don't just mindlessly copy their ideas. By using the stock picks that money-manager gurus are making as a springboard for your own research, you can use their expertise to take your portfolio a step beyond theirs, adding your own insight and experience. Taking that step will vault you from being merely good to a great investor.

Keep your eye on all of these picks by adding them to your watchlist today.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger follows Wall Street's red carpet like an Oscars pre-award show. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Best Buy and General Motors are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy, Medtronic, and Transocean. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy gives you a paparazzi's view of our portfolios.