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In many jobs people work their way up through a hierarchy, an experience that prepares them for managing a team. In some professions, such as law, finance, accountancy, academia, engineering, education and healthcare, individuals may find themselves managing a team of equals. How to Lead Smart People uses 50 simple lessons to show the reader in concise, pithy prose how to manage a team of equals with intelligence and diplomacy.

We teach you core skills such as decision making and delegating, but also soft skills such as delivering good and bad news to team members and how to realise more general aims such as building trust and growing your team. We also offer advice on how to look after yourself as a team leader, how to build resilience in tough situations, but also how to develop creativity and extend your skill base so that you are constantly learning.

Arun Singh OBE FRSA is a leading international business lawyer, formerly a partner at KPMGLegal, non-executive director, corporate educator in leadership and negotiations, to international organisations, visiting professor at UK & Chinese university business schools and a senior government advisor with over 30 years’ experience. He has worked with companies from a range of sectors, professions and sovereign wealth funds in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia. He was appointed an OBE for services to international trade and investment in January 1999 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Manufacturers.

Mike Mister was formerly the Global Director for Executive Development at EY Global and is now based at the Møller Institute at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. He works in supporting the development of leadership and change management capability in large organisations.  For over 25 years he has worked in the specialised area of professional services firms. His key areas of expertise and interest are at the intersection of strategy, commercial success and the organisation's people agenda.



Arun Singh and Mike Mister deliver speeches and workshops of varying lengths for organizations, conferences, team off-sites, and many other events in various countries.

The audiences learn a set of principles from the beginning to look at the world differently. Using evidence with anecdotes they illustrate impactful areas for improvement.

The approach is direct and practical - leaving audiences with tools and skills they can use right away. 






As a leader your role is to get things done to improve the capability of your organisation or firm and to support long-term sustainability. It is not just about pursuing your own needs or those of your team. As a leader you have an organisation-wide remit.

Every organisation is a complex network of interlocking systems of influence – or politics. The reality is that, as a partner or leader in a firm, you are at the heart of the politics. Politics is simply the process of exercising influence and is essential for you as a leader, both of your client teams and among your peers.

Trying to avoid ‘politics’ is not an option. It will simply see you marginalised and pushed to the edges of the business. It will affect your ability to attract the people and resources you need to service your clients and achieve your own agenda. Ultimately that will affect your status and reputation as a client handler. Appropriate, ethical use of the political process in the organisation is essential for long-term career success and should always be about the greater good of the institution and its people.



Mandavi was a managing associate who had lived in different countries from an early age and had a natural affinity for working across borders. He had started at his law firm as a trainee. He was ambitious; with focus and hard work, and by learning from the right people, he hoped to build experience and a profile to make a career to partner. 


The firm had some limited international work. Mandavi felt there was potential to expand into these markets more aggressively. He was keen to be part of this and kept making suggestions, building up a network of contacts, and boosting the firm’s profile in the most attractive markets.

Some of the firm’s partners supported Mandavi’s efforts, but as he started to gain some traction, attracting clients and work to the firm, he hit a roadblock. Marty, a senior partner of the firm and self-appointed gatekeeper for international work, started to criticise and undermine Mandavi’s work and deny him the resources he needed to build on his initial success. Marty also led a ‘whispering campaign’ against Mandavi and his prospects. As Marty was politically very powerful in the firm, this was a major obstacle to Mandavi’s ambitions.

Overall, Mandavi was happy at the firm and had made some good friends and supporters. He remained convinced of the opportunities for international expansion. He reflected on his position and spoke to a couple of supportive partners for advice. As a result, he decided upon a strategy to try to unblock the situation in which he found himself. He decided to share with other partners the international opportunities that were being created, including those that would benefit Marty directly. In time, he created a coalition which supported his work, but also helped Marty to expand his part of the international practice and his profile. It was not always easy but being politically aware and understanding how influence worked in his firm, Mandavi was able to develop a successful career, while the firm also benefited from increased billings and profile in international markets.



  • Change your mindset

  • Make sure you, and your motives, are trusted

  • Get good at 'reading' your organisation or firm

  • Be aware of your reputation and associations

  • Increase your sources of influence

  • Build coalitions

  • Expand your networks

  • Make sure everything your do is for the 'greater good'


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Assertiveness can be a tricky skill to develop. It benefits hugely from focused practice. There is a thin line between assertiveness and aggression and it is easy, even for smart people, to mix them up. So what’s the difference? Assertiveness is related to balance, being clear about your needs and taking into consideration the needs of others. Aggression is based on winning without any thought of the rights or feelings of others and might even be seen as bullying.

Smart leaders don’t dominate non-assertive people but include and involve them. Equally, smart people resist the pressure of excessively dominant or aggressive behaviour.  Assertiveness is about making choices and should be used selectively as part of your overall range of behaviours, dialled up or down depending on the situation or context.


  • Be aware of your rights and value them

  • Try ‘fogging’ responses

  • Accept that you cannot control the behaviours of others

  • Learn and practise saying ‘No’

  • Try ‘scripting’

  • Change your verbs

  • Try being a scratched record – use repetition

  • Think about your responsibilities



Angela was on a call when Mark, the partner to whom she reported, entered her office without knocking. Mark stood in front of her, his impatience palpable as he waited for the call to finish. As soon as she put the phone down, Mark leapt in: ‘I need you to prepare a talk for me to give to an international conference in Rome next week.’ Angela, a senior associate, was speaking at the same conference and had already completed 60 per cent of her preparation. Angela always found it difficult to say ‘No’ and usually worked whatever hours it took to get a job done, something Mark was well aware of and had exploited in the past. 


Angela was also aware that she was being considered for promotion and had a pile of other work to complete before the conference. She thought to herself, ‘Do I really have to do this or am I just pleasing someone else?’ She realised she had the right to say ‘No’ in an assertive, adult manner. Her ‘mind talk’ – what she was saying to herself – was clear: ‘No, I do not have to do this now.’ In response to escalating pressure from Mark, she replied: ‘I appreciate you need to get this done, Mark, but I am unable to deliver what you need in the time available.’ As Mark continued to press her, Angela, secure in her thinking about her rights, made steady eye contact and with firm, open hand gestures confirmed, ‘I know you need help, Mark, but it is just not possible for me to deliver for you just now.’ 


Mark left her office to find someone else to prepare the paper for him. Angela felt surprisingly calm and justified in the way she had judged the situation, stood her ground and quietly, yet assertively, refused the request.

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© 2019 by Arun Singh and Mike Mister.