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High Challenge, Low Threat: How great school leaders find the balance

High Challenge, Low Threat: How great school leaders find the balance

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High Challenge, Low Threat is Mary Myatt’s smart and thoughtful exploration of all the things that wise leaders do.

Informed through thousands of conversations over a 20-year career in education, Mary shows the lessons that school management teams can learn from leaders in a wide range of other sectors and points to the conditions which these leaders create to allow colleagues to engage with difficult issues enthusiastically and wholeheartedly.

This compassionate book makes the case that any leadership role is concerned primarily with the relationships between individuals. It is the quality of these, whatever the size of the organisation, which make the difference between organisations which thrive, and those which stagnate.

This is not to argue for soft, easy and comfortable options. Instead it considers how top leaders manage to walk the line between the impossible and the possible, between the undoable and the doable, and to create conditions for productive work which transcend the difficulties which come towards us every day. Instead of dodging them, they embrace them.

And by navigating high challenge, low threat, they show how others how to do the same.


"For those of us who know Mary from her public speaking and or her blogging it is perhaps no surprise but happily to be noted that her much loved energy and vibrancy dance off each and every page of this book as she gallops through a lindy-hop of colliding and collaborating ideas and ideals on great leadership as experienced by the willingly led. I love the way Mary always embraces uncertainty and in this fabulous book through clear and respectful questions of the reader - no patronizing or ideological delusional assertions or tripe here – she takes us all on a journey of personal decision making and self motivated change and challenge. Thank you Mary for sparing us any vain and vacuous leadership gobbledygook and NO meaningless trite or pretty Venn or flow diagrams of leadership either – MARVELLOUS! – this is about real leadership by real people in real situation. It’s a really good book.This book is as motivational as it is philosophic as inspiring as it is reassuring.  This book will for many be a constant reference point, a constant source of information, ideas and inspiration to move on in their leadership careers and success." Pete Hall Jones, Speaker, writer, trainer

 "What Mary’s important and timely book shows that a school can achieve great things if the leadership team get the relationships right by creating a safe and supportive environment where both teachers and students feel confident to be stretched and challenged. High Challenge, Low Threat provides a welcome alternative to the top-down leadership model that inexperienced school leaders can too easily fall into in the face of an unforgiving accountability framework. Given the impending teacher shortage it feels particularly timely to be finding better models for school leaders to work with teachers to secure the very best outcomes for children in the school.” Alison Critchley, Chief Executive, RSA Academies

"I loved the way that Mary was able to weave into the narrative the anecdotes and quotes to draw the reader in, yet at the same time offer real, solid and nurturing advice. Just a wonderful book. I will certainly be buying it for our CPD library!" Rachel Jones, teacher, Huffington Post blogger, author of 'Teacher Geek'

"It's clear from the sources she draws upon that the author isn't interested in writing a seductively simple, technical-rational guide to leadership. Her book is warm, complex, humane and wise, yet without sacrificing the relentless rigour, gimlet-eyed focus and high standards that inspirational leadership also demands. In this, she manages as a writer what she demonstrated herself as a leader and as an inspector - a rare capacity to inspire people not to do their platitudinous best, but to become better than they imagine their best to be. We can cope with criticism when it's delivered with empathy, veracity and precision. This book describes that process." Barry J Hymer, Professor of Psychology in Education, University of Cumbria in Lancaster

"In this fascinating and eminently practical collection of ideas, Mary Myatt has managed to perfectly capture the essence of what makes successful organisations: high quality engagement from everyone involved.  But her vision isn’t just one of well-being and comfort. With bags of practical examples from the worlds of education and business, she demonstrates how personal growth and discretionary effort come from productive support and helpful challenge which build on trust and a shared set of values. Conversations are always about how things can be better: better for people; better for the organisation. Written in an accessible and engaging way itself, the book itself is a great example of exactly the type of healthy conversation she espouses." Andy Buck, Managing Director, Leadership Matters

"High Challenge, Low Threat is an incredibly persuasive, thoughtful and authoritative book about trust, vision and humanity in schools. Mary Myatt has pulled together hundreds of stories from her own experiences and those of others to create a powerful and astute series of lessons about great leaders in the school community. Drawing on examples from a huge range of influential figures, Myatt convincingly argues that excellence and consistency does not have to come at the expense of values, and that success comes from embracing a school’s heart and soul. If you’re looking for leadership-wisdom, rather than leadership-jargon, then Myatt’s High Challenge, Low Threat is the book for you. This is a vital and necessary book." Toby French, teacher, blogger (@mrhistoire), author (Show and Tell: One Year in a Secondary School - published by John Catt Educational, Summer 2016)

“Mary Myatt’s new book is a treasury of leadership wisdom and guidance for everyone working in schools today. Her powerful synthesis of complex leadership concepts and best-practice examples makes this a must-read book for anyone wanting to be an outstanding leader without sacrificing their values, good health and professional passion.” Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE

About the author

Mary Myatt has been teaching and advising in schools for 20 years. She is blogs and provides resources for school improvement at http://marymyatt.com/


Watch Mary's TEDx talk, based on High Challenge, Low Threat here: