The one-sentence summary: A handful of clever star performers create disproportionate amounts of value for organisations, but they must be managed particularly astutely.


  • You need a particularly astute approach to leading smart, creative people.
  • Research shows that a handful of star performers create disproportionate amounts of value for their organisations. They aren’t free agents who do this on their own – they need their organisation’s commercial and financial resources to fulfil their potential.
  • These invaluable individuals are called ‘clevers’ – they can be brilliant, difficult and sometimes even dangerous.
  • Their main characteristics are: their cleverness is central to their identity; their skills are not easily replicated; they know their worth; they ask difficult questions; they are organisationally savvy; they are not impressed by hierarchy; they expect instant success; they want to be connected to other clever people; they won’t thank you.
  • Their bad characteristics are: they take pleasure in breaking the rules; they trivialise the importance of non-technical people; they are oversensitive about their projects; they suffer from knowledge-is-power syndrome; they are never happy about the review process.
  • Getting the approach right works for individuals, teams, and even whole companies – clevers attract more clevers.


  • Success may well depend on how well you lead ‘clevers’, which is a nightmare in itself.
  • Traditional leadership approaches won’t be effective. Instead, bosses need to:
    • Tell them what to do – not how to do it
    • Earn their respect with expertise – not a job title
    • Provide ‘organised space’ for their creativity
    • Sense their needs and keep them motivated
    • Shelter them from administrative and political distractions (‘organisational rain’)
    • Connect them with clever peers
    • Convince them the company can help them succeed