30 Books all Manager Needs to Achieve the Six Levels of Unicorn Teams
At Unicorn Labs, we combined multiple leadership studies and created six simple but effective steps to help any manager foster a winning culture and build a high-performing teams.
These six levels are: psychological safety, empowerment, effective communication, culture of leadership, sense of purpose and an all encompassing vision.
Below is a list of 30 leadership books that will help you as a manager or as a talent aquisition recruiter understand each level and how you can apply them so your startup can go from good to Unicorn status.
Before we dive into the Six Levels of Unicorn Leadership, we need to be on the right mindset, a leadership mindset.
Table of Contents:
Books to Adopt a Leadership Mindset
Our mindset sokhapes whether we believe we can learn, change, grow or not. It's that powerful. It's deeply ingrained in our being, and most of us aren't fully aware of it.
A leadership mindset is about the attitudes, beliefs and expectations we show at work. These create a foundation of who we are, how we lead others and how we interact and influence our team members.
The three books below will help you understand the concept and position your mindset into leadership development.
1. Humankind A hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
Human Kind by Rutger Bregman advocates for the decency of most people and proposes a new outlook on life in spite of prominent ideas deeming man egotistical and malevolent.
His argument says that innate goodness and cooperation of human beings is the greatest factor in our success.
As a manger, this book will reorient your thinking toward positive and high expectations of our team members.
2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
In Mindset, Carol Dweck talks about the power of beliefs, both the conscious and the subconscious and how changing even the simplest things in our mindset can have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives—especially on how we lead.
Fundamentally to succeed as a leader and to succeed as a Unicorn Leader you're going to have to work on adopting a growth mindset. Understand that you can grow as a leader, that you can improve your emotional intelligence, that you can improve your leadership capabilities from how you lead, to how you coach, to how you create a safe environment, to how you empower people, to how you create a vision.
All key components in developing a high-performing team.
3. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
I actually just finished reading this book. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek is a great book for VPs of talent, recruiters, and those at the higher levels of management.
Finite games, like football or chess, have known players, fixed rules, and a clear endpoint. The winners and losers are easily identified.
However, in infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint.
Employers who adopt an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative and inspiring teams, organizations, careers and lives.
🧠 Speaking of mindset, read this blog, How a Growth Mindset Can Positively Impact Your Startup and Ways to Cultivate It, to understand the importance of having a growth mindset as a manager.
Books to Achieve the Six Levels of Unicorn Leadership
Before we go into the next 27 titles, I recommend you watch the video below to get a general sense of what these six levels of unicorn leadership are and why they are important.
Then, continue reading the article for leadership development book recommendations for each level.
Creating Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is defined as an individual's perception of the consequences of taking risks and being vulnerable in front of their teammates.
In other words, psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished when you mess up.
It empowers employees to take risks and speak their minds; and it helps to encourage creativity and productive discussion.
These four books will help you understand the concept and how to foster it with your startup’s teams.
1. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth by Amy Edmondson
With so much riding on innovation, creativity, and spark, it is essential to attract and retain quality talent—but what good does this talent do if no one is able to speak their mind?
Success requires a continuous influx of new ideas, new challenges, and critical thought, and the interpersonal climate must not suppress, silence, ridicule or intimidate.
The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson explores this culture of psychological safety, and provides a blueprint for bringing it to life.
2. Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, and U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six—and reveals what makes them tick.
He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation, and explains how diverse groups learn to function with a single mind.
No matter the size of your startup or the goal, this book can teach you the principles of cultural chemistry that transform individuals into high-performing teams who can accomplish amazing things together.
3. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Daring Greatly by Bene Brown offers an interesting and powerful new vision that encourages us to dare greatly: to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to stop being afraid.
In a world where being afraid has become second nature, vulnerability becomes daunting. And without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt.
This book is a great practice and has a powerful vision for letting ourselves be seen.
4. Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
The 5 dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni is a business book that will help you empower your employees.
Discover how effective communication can transform team culture. Build trust, strengthen teams, and transform culture in your organization.
This book explores the fundamental causes of organizational politics and team failure.
👉 To learn more about psychological safety and to begin your startup's journey to high-performance and thriving team culture, check out my article, High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety: Here's How You Can Create it on Your Startup Team
Empowering Team Members
Once you establish psychological safety on your team, team members understand that they can trust one another. But it's not enough to trust. The team must also act on that trust.
To show your team, you trust them, you must empower them through structure and clarity.
Each team member must understand what role they play on the team and what the requirements are of that role.
When team members clearly understand how their contributions affect the team, they feel empowered to act and make decisions as they recognize they're the expert in that role.
Here are four books to help you in your leadership role:
1. Team of Teams by Gen. Stanley McChrystal
In periods of unprecedented crisis, leaders need practical management practices that can scale to thousands of people—and fast.
In Team of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be relevant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and organizations today.
Organizations need to be robust and adaptable. Old reductionist management is robust but not adaptable. Adaptable is less efficient but essential in a complex world.
In this book, you'll learn that every individual needs to know other people to build trust and to maintain common purpose. Empower and strengthen the relationship between individuals on your team by connecting them with others.
2. Measure what Matters by John Doerr
In Measure What Matters, John Doerr explains how transparently setting objectives and defining key roles can align organizations and motivate high-performing teams.
This book is great for managers, especially when onboarding new team members, which is arguably the most crucial step of building team culture and an effective team cycle.
3. Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
In Thinking in Bets, Annie Duke teaches you how to get comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions as a result.
Even the best decision doesn't yield the best outcome every time. There's always an element of luck that you can't control, and there is always information that is hidden from view.
So, the key to long-term success—and avoiding worrying yourself to death—is to think in bets: How sure am I? What are the possible ways things could turn out? What decision has the highest odds of success? Or is my success attributable to dumb luck rather than great decision-making?
By shifting your thinking from a need for certainty to assessing what you know vs what you don't, you'll be less vulnerable to reactive emotions and destructive habits.
Read this book to become a more confident, calm, compassionate and successful leader in the long run.
4. High-Impact Tools for Teams: 5 Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust, and Get Results Fast by Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Alexander Osterwalder, et al.
High-Impact Tools for Teams by Stefano Mastrogiacomo and Alexander Osterwalder, et al, explains a simple, powerful tool that helps team leaders and members align while getting clarity on exactly who is responsible for each part of the team's important activities and projects.
This is a great book for teams who want to work together to develop great products.
💪 To understand more about the importance of empowerment on team culture, and how you can empower your startup team, read my article, Three Ways to Empower Employees to Do Their Best Work.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is defined as your ability to identify and manage your own emotions along with the feelings of others around you.
When you have a firm handle on emotional intelligence, you’re able to understand other people’s reactions.
This is an essential skill for successful business leadership.
Emotional intelligence enables leaders to understand better and motivate people who follow them.
Here are three books to boost this skill so you can do wonders for the productivity, performance, and management of team members and profitability for your business overall.
1. Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
Primal Leadership by Coleman explains the business application of "Emotional Intelligence." It frames is as the capacity of the leader to rouse and focus strong positive emotions in their followers and focus that energy on a specific direction.
In the current climate of uncertainty, people need leadership that offers them a level of re-assurance and certainty about the direction in which they are being led.
Leaders excel not just through skill and knowledge, but also by connecting with others, using emotional intelligence competencies such as empathy and self-awareness.
Managers, this one is for you.
2. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Greaves Greaves Jean and Travis Bradberry
The whole point of this book is to improve your emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by by Greaves Greaves Jean and Travis Bradberry delivers a step-by-step program for increasing your emotional intelligence using the four core EQ skills—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
Not only will you be able to elevate your own success, but also build those around you.
3. HBR's 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence — with featured article "What Makes a Leader?" by Daniel Goleman
Whether you're a recruiter or a manager, HBR's 10 Must Reads will inspire you to: monitor and channel your moods and emotions, make empathetic decisions, manage conflicts, and react to tough situations with resilience.
If you read nothing else on emotional intelligence, make sure you read this one.
💡Don't stop at just these three books. Read this blog which serves as A Manager's Guide to Improving Emotional Intelligence at Work.
All good leadership comes down to communication.
Today’s leaders achieve far more employee engagement and credibility when they take part in genuine conversation with people at work — either with those who work for them or with them.
A conversation, at its core, is a frank exchange of ideas and information with an implicit or explicit agenda.
Communifcating effectively, allows managers to set clear expectations, understand team members on an individual level, and avoid misunderstandings in the workplace.
The next five books will build on your effective communication:
1. Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull
This book is for managers who want to take their team to the next level. It acts as a manual for anyone who strives for creativity and innovation.
Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull gives you an all-access trip into the heart of Pixar Animation. You will learn about all of their processes, including meetings, postmortems, and 'Braintrust' sessions.
Catmull walks you through building a creative culture and shows you what to do on your team to protect the creative process and reach new heights of innovation.
2. Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Radical Candor by Kim Scott talks about a simple idea: to be a good boss, you have to care personally at the same time that you challenge directly.
When you challenge without caring it’s obnoxious aggression; when you care without challenging it’s ruinous empathy. When you do neither it’s manipulative insincerity.
This simple framework can help you build better relationships at work, and fulfill your three key responsibilities as a leader: creating a culture of feedback (praise and criticism), building a cohesive team, and achieving results you’re all proud of.
This book is perfect for managers and people who oversee managers.
3. Find Your Red Thread by Tamsen Webster
Brimming with step-by-step instructions, explanations, and examples, Find Your Red Thread by Tamsen Webster will teach you how to make the most powerful case for your ideas.
Communicating effectively is an extremely essential skill as a manager, employee, leader, anyone really.
This book will help you build strong communication skills so your audience can understand your thoughts.
4. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Influence by Robert Cialdini explains the psychology of why people say "yes"—and how to apply these understandings at work and in life.
You'll learn the six universal principles, how to use them to become a skilled persuader—and how to defend yourself against them.
5. Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
What is one thing all managers have in common? An endless list of meetings.
Meetings can be draining, but if done correctly, with effective communication they can be productive, and even energizing.
Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni is nothing short of a blueprint for leaders who want to eliminate waste and frustration among their teams, and create environments of engagement and passion.
🗣️ Conversations are the most valuable tool leaders can have. But not all employers, managers, and leaders know how to communicate effectively. Read this blog to understand more about Conversations: The Most Important Leadership Tool.
Becoming a Coach
The best leaders I've come across operate as coaches.
A coach understands that their role is to individually make their players better, which cohesively increases the overall performance of the team.
Instead of focusing on managing resources, budgets and timelines, your focus shifts to improving the people on your team.
A coach develops its people and creates a culture of leadership within each team.
The next five books will help you go from boss to coach:
1. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker identifies five practices essential to business effectiveness that can, and must, be learned:
- Managing time
- Choosing what to contribute to the organization
- Knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect
- Setting the right priorities
- Knitting all of them together with effective decision-making
Meant for executives, this book states the executive's ability to get the right things done—usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive.
2. Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
A business executive. A softball coach. A classroom teacher. A volunteer coordinator. A parent.
Whether you’re one of these things or all of these things, one thing remains true:
You are a leader.
But where are you on your leadership journey, and where do you go from here?
Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell describes each of these stages of leadership (shown above). In this book he shows you how to master each level and rise up to the next to become a more influential, respected, and successful leader.
3. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier highlights how coaching can become a regular, informal part of your day so managers and their teams can work less hard and have more impact.
He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how—by saying less and asking more—you can develop coaching methods that produce great results.
4. It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter
It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter equips managers with 52 of Gallup's greatest discoveries from decades of research into the science of management.
The workplace is changing faster than ever, and so are the issues facing your managers. Their daily challenges include managing employees from different generations with different needs, diversity and inclusion, matrixed teams, artificial intelligence, and remote workforces.
If you are an executive reading this blog, this is an excellent book to gift to your managers.
5. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell by Erich Schmidt
Trillion Dollar Coach by Erich Schmidt explains the Coach’s principles.
Bill Campbell helped to build some of Silicon Valley’s greatest companies—including Google, Apple, and Intuit—and to create over a trillion dollars in market value. When he passed away in 2016, “the Coach” left behind a legacy of growing companies and successful people, and an abundance of respect, friendship, and love.
This book is a blueprint for forward-thinking business leaders and managers that will help them create higher-performing and faster-moving teams and companies.
👉 Read this blog to learn more about the The Coach Approach: How to go from Boss to Leader.
Connecting Work to Meaning
No manager wants their team to feel uninterested and detached from their work, but many struggle to understand what they can do to turn the story around.
Yet, it turns out that the answer is quite simple. The best way for managers to ignite passion in their team members is by showing their team how their work impacts the organization.
When team members understand their work’s impact, they become more involved with their projects because they want to do their best for their team and organization.
A manager has the potential to show their team members how the company connects to their individual's life meaning.
Here are three books to help you connect work to meaning.
1. Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team by Jurgen Appelo
Managing for Happiness by Jurgen Appelo offers a complete set of practices for more effective management that makes work fun.
Modern organizations expect everyone to be servant leaders and systems thinkers, but nobody explains "how."
To survive in the 21st century, companies need to dig past the obvious and find what works. What keeps top talent? What inspires customer loyalty?
The answer is great management, which inspires great employees, who then provide a great customer experience.
2. Carrot Principle How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance by Adrian Gostick
Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick shows definitively that the central characteristic of the most successful managers is that they provide their employees with frequent and effective recognition.
Drawing on case studies from leading companies including Disney, DHL, KPMG, and Pepsi Bottling Group, Gostick and Elton show how the key to recognition done right is combining it with four other core traits of effective leadership.
Great recognition can be done in a matter of moments—and it doesn't take budget-busting amounts of money.
Following these simple steps will make you a high-performance leader and take your team to a new level of achievement.
3. Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
Work Rules by Laszlo Bock is a compelling and surprisingly playful manifesto with the potential to change how we work and live.
Drawing on behavioral economics and human psychology, Bock provides teaching examples from a range of industries.
He also reveals why Google is consistently rated one of the best places to work, sharing counterintuitive principles that are easy to put into action.
This book shows how to strike a balance between creativity and structure, leading to success you can measure in quality of life as well as market share.
Read it to build a better company from within rather than from above; read it to reawaken the joy in what you do.
👉 To help your team members understand the importance of their contribution to your startup be sure to read my article, Here's How to Make Your Employees Feel Valued at Work. This article will help you put in place an employee recognition system that exhibits team member importance.
Establishing an All-Encompassing Vision
The final step to create a winning culture is to have an all-encompassing vision that the entire team stands behind.
When you're clear about the future your startup team is building, then your team is able to rally behind that vision.
Here are three books for this final level:
1. Good to Great by Jim Collins
This is a management book that illustrates how companies transition from good to great and how most fail.
In the book, Collins defines greatness and describes seven characteristics of companies that successfully make the transition.
Good to Great by Jim Collins was a best seller and claimed by many as the best management book they've ever read.
Trust me; this book will take your management from good to great.
2. Be 2.0 by Jim Collins
What's the roadmap to create a company that not only survives its infancy but thrives, changing the world for decades to come?
BE 2.0 is a new and improved version of the book that Jim Collins and Bill Lazier wrote years ago.
This book presents a unified vision of company creation. It will help you identify your goal and communicating it effectively to your employees.
3. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings
No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings is the fascinating and untold account of the philosophy behind one of the world’s most innovative, imaginative, and successful companies—Netflix.
This book draws on hundreds of interviews with current and past Netflix employees from around the globe and never-before-told stories of trial and error from Hastings’s own career.
Hastings rejected the conventional wisdom under which other companies operate and defied tradition to instead build a culture focused on freedom and responsibility, one that has allowed Netflix to adapt and innovate as the needs of its members and the world have simultaneously transformed.
Hastings set new standards, valuing people over process, emphasizing innovation over efficiency, and giving employees context, not controls.
If you want to view your company differently, or set new standards internally, read this book.
Read my article, How to Create a Shared Company Vision that Will Energize Your Entire Team, to help you form an all-encompassing team vision.
These books will help you achieve the six levels that make up high-performing teams thus helping you accelerate your company into a Unicorn Startup.
By working with your team through these six steps you will be able to take your teamfrom good to great.
Here at Unicorn Labs I run team building seminars and leadership workshops in Ottawa and Toronto locations to help your startup team integrate these six steps for a more effective corporate culture.