How the experience of 20,000 school leaders can transform you and your school

School leadership is messy. We are very aware of this as our coaches support leaders through the ups and downs of school life. School leaders are continually engaging with students, parents and teachers and juggling multiple demands. As the pace of change increases, education leaders at all levels are finding that they need to change their approach to become more adaptive, collaborative and future-focused. In our book, we reveal the ‘uncommon sense’ of MESSY Leadership. We draw on insights from coaching over 20,000 school leaders to share some practical strategies that will help you to make a step change in your leadership as you embrace the messiness of ‘the human side of school leadership’.

Who created MESSY Leadership?

MESSY Leadership evolved from BTS’ leadership research on how leaders thrive in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. We analysed data from thousands of coaching conversations with school leaders, interviewed our coaches and trialled MESSY Leadership tools with school leader ‘pioneers’ all over the world.


Authors Alyssa Gallagher and Rosie Connor then brought together these insights in a book to enable time-poor school leaders to access practical strategies to widen their leadership skillsets. Pasi Sahlberg’s preface explains how MESSY approaches are aligned with contemporary educational leadership.


The authors share practical insights from the book

In this three-minute video, authors Rosie Connor and Alyssa Gallagher answer questions from school leaders about Embracing MESSY Leadership and share insights from leaders who have applied its strategies successfully in their schools.


What do others say about this book?

Leading schools and diverse groups of people in them is sometimes difficult, often imperfect, and always messy … This book is a guide to proactive, collaborative, and inclusive education in a world that continues to be characterised by uncertainty, growing inequalities, and disruption.

Pasi Sahlberg
Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Melbourne

In these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times (VUCA) we need to have a new way of leading. MESSY provides that leadership direction.

Andy Hargreaves
Research Professor Boston College, Visiting Professor University of Ottawa, President & Co-Founder ARC Education

Through their coaching work with over 20,000 leaders worldwide, Gallagher and Connor have written a book that hits to the heart of the challenges of school leadership while they offer valuable insight into how those leaders can overcome their challenges.

Peter DeWitt
Author and EdWeek blogger

Embracing MESSY Leadership gives vibrant life - purpose, meaning & action - to a fresh and deeper understanding of the nature of leadership - leadership that can make a profound difference. Authors Gallagher & Connor convincingly anticipate the unfolding leadership landscape of schooling, placing the power of coaching at the heart of the urgent endeavour to lead education change.

Anthony Mackay AM
Board Co Chair, National Center on Education & the Economy Washington DC

This is probably the most practical leadership toolkit that I have read in a long time. I would absolutely recommend it to all levels of school leaders.

Sir Mark Grundy
Chief Executive, Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust

Easy to read, the leader stories and scenarios were very relatable. The strategies are practical and achievable for anyone… I would recommend it especially to aspiring and early career leaders but also leaders entering new environments that may be presenting previously unencountered challenges.

Angela Falkenberg
President, Australian Primary Principals Association

I have been advocating the importance of school leaders who build relationships and not just relate. This book, Embracing MESSY Leadership, is absolutely needed, timely, and relevant in the ongoing leadership efforts in transforming schools.

Professor David Ng
Associate Professor Policy, Curriculum, and Leadership, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University Singapore

This book is timely, relevant, and actionable for school system leaders as we strive to multiply our impact and empower others with whom we serve. I would absolutely recommend educational leaders at school and system levels read this book. Leaders who lead principals would find the coaching strategies highly applicable.

Valerie Truesdale
Senior Assistant Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The best thing about the book is giving clear mental models, tools and strategies which school leaders can use to navigate their day-to-day work. I felt that the strategies and tools are quite applicable for the Indian context. One of the best things about the book is its brevity. It goes straight to the point and ensures every page has something new to offer to the reader.

Baidurya Bhusan Sen
Co-founder, Alokit India

Leadership of schools might be ‘messy’ but it does not need to be chaotic. It can be manageable, influential and impactful. However, what makes an effective leader in the context of the complexity of today’s schools is different than in the past

The key ideas in this book are very well ‘cooked’. The authors have done the hard lifting, synthesising the latest in leadership thinking, illustrating this with succinct insights from coaches and leaders... The text reads as a conversation and, as a reader, I was made to feel that it was possible to learn new ways of being and doing.

Robyn Baker
Chairperson, Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand

Embracing MESSY Leadership honors the complexity of school leadership. Having coached over 20,000 leaders (within their organization) , the authors have distilled the most common needs of school leaders. You will likely find yourself in several of the case studies, and value the mindset shifts, applicable tools, and vivid context that can guide the way to meaningful, positive change.

Lawrence Lee
Executive Director, School Leadership Alliance

Gallagher and Connor shine a spotlight on the complex web of leadership and the coaching capabilities required to address familiar and unfamiliar problems in dynamic situations. Brimming with scenarios, tools and frameworks, this book is timely for leaders committed to improving their own leadership capabilities and those they lead.

Jenny Lewis
former Executive Director ICSEI, former CEO Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management

I liked the solution focused strategies that are shared in this book and the scenarios that helped to illustrate each challenge. It caused me to reflect on areas that I consider my strengths and those I need to further develop. I think this book would serve as a wonderful text for educational leadership courses, mentor academies, administrative professional learning communities.

Kim Fry
Professional Learning Coordinator, Washington Association of School Administrators

This book lit a fire under me that I had let exhaustion temper down. This book is like bringing all the best strategies that I've ever been privy to and condensing them to shape what leadership could and should reflect: MESSY but impactful. I would 100% recommend this book to others! Leaders, from emerging to veteran, will find inspiration within each chapter.

Vicki Bayer
Deputy Superintendent, Green Bay Area Public School District

At Global School Leaders, we know that school leadership enables schools to thrive. But we also know that school leadership is difficult, complex, and often lonely. We are happy to see a book that recognises this and is not afraid to name and talk about the messy nature of school leadership.

Azad Oommen (Co-founder) and Tamara Philip (Director of Programs)
Global School Leaders

Buy the Book

Needing to buy the book for yourself or colleagues? 15,000 copies of the book will be released by our publishers ASCD on 16 May 2024. The book will then be available worldwide from ASCD, Amazon and other leading bookstores, but you can pre-order a copy via one of the links below. For bulk orders please use the ASCD link.

If you’ve read the book, then we’d love you to leave a review on Amazon or Good Reads. We appreciate the feedback and it can help to inspire others.

Check out our MESSY Toolkit

BTS Spark operates as a not-for-profit, so we are openly sharing our MESSY Leadership Toolkit with school leaders globally. This free 33-page Toolkit includes key tools from the MESSY Leadership book, designed to support school leaders and their teams.

What do others say about this book?

Leading schools and diverse groups of people in them is sometimes difficult, often imperfect, and always messy … This book is a guide to proactive, collaborative, and inclusive education in a world that continues to be characterised by uncertainty, growing inequalities, and disruption.

Pasi Sahlberg
Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Melbourne

In these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times (VUCA) we need to have a new way of leading. MESSY provides that leadership direction.

Andy Hargreaves
Research Professor Boston College, Visiting Professor University of Ottawa, President & Co-Founder ARC Education

Through their coaching work with over 20,000 leaders worldwide, Gallagher and Connor have written a book that hits to the heart of the challenges of school leadership while they offer valuable insight into how those leaders can overcome their challenges.

Peter DeWitt
Author and EdWeek blogger

Embracing MESSY Leadership gives vibrant life - purpose, meaning & action - to a fresh and deeper understanding of the nature of leadership - leadership that can make a profound difference. Authors Gallagher & Connor convincingly anticipate the unfolding leadership landscape of schooling, placing the power of coaching at the heart of the urgent endeavour to lead education change.

Anthony Mackay AM
Board Co Chair, National Center on Education & the Economy Washington DC

This is probably the most practical leadership toolkit that I have read in a long time. I would absolutely recommend it to all levels of school leaders.

Sir Mark Grundy
Chief Executive, Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust

Easy to read, the leader stories and scenarios were very relatable. The strategies are practical and achievable for anyone… I would recommend it especially to aspiring and early career leaders but also leaders entering new environments that may be presenting previously unencountered challenges.

Angela Falkenberg
President, Australian Primary Principals Association

I have been advocating the importance of school leaders who build relationships and not just relate. This book, Embracing MESSY Leadership, is absolutely needed, timely, and relevant in the ongoing leadership efforts in transforming schools.

Professor David Ng
Associate Professor Policy, Curriculum, and Leadership, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University Singapore

This book is timely, relevant, and actionable for school system leaders as we strive to multiply our impact and empower others with whom we serve. I would absolutely recommend educational leaders at school and system levels read this book. Leaders who lead principals would find the coaching strategies highly applicable.

Valerie Truesdale
Senior Assistant Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The best thing about the book is giving clear mental models, tools and strategies which school leaders can use to navigate their day-to-day work. I felt that the strategies and tools are quite applicable for the Indian context. One of the best things about the book is its brevity. It goes straight to the point and ensures every page has something new to offer to the reader.

Baidurya Bhusan Sen
Co-founder, Alokit India

Leadership of schools might be ‘messy’ but it does not need to be chaotic. It can be manageable, influential and impactful. However, what makes an effective leader in the context of the complexity of today’s schools is different than in the past

The key ideas in this book are very well ‘cooked’. The authors have done the hard lifting, synthesising the latest in leadership thinking, illustrating this with succinct insights from coaches and leaders... The text reads as a conversation and, as a reader, I was made to feel that it was possible to learn new ways of being and doing.

Robyn Baker
Chairperson, Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand

Embracing MESSY Leadership honors the complexity of school leadership. Having coached over 20,000 leaders (within their organization) , the authors have distilled the most common needs of school leaders. You will likely find yourself in several of the case studies, and value the mindset shifts, applicable tools, and vivid context that can guide the way to meaningful, positive change.

Lawrence Lee
Executive Director, School Leadership Alliance

Gallagher and Connor shine a spotlight on the complex web of leadership and the coaching capabilities required to address familiar and unfamiliar problems in dynamic situations. Brimming with scenarios, tools and frameworks, this book is timely for leaders committed to improving their own leadership capabilities and those they lead.

Jenny Lewis
former Executive Director ICSEI, former CEO Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management

I liked the solution focused strategies that are shared in this book and the scenarios that helped to illustrate each challenge. It caused me to reflect on areas that I consider my strengths and those I need to further develop. I think this book would serve as a wonderful text for educational leadership courses, mentor academies, administrative professional learning communities.

Kim Fry
Professional Learning Coordinator, Washington Association of School Administrators

This book lit a fire under me that I had let exhaustion temper down. This book is like bringing all the best strategies that I've ever been privy to and condensing them to shape what leadership could and should reflect: MESSY but impactful. I would 100% recommend this book to others! Leaders, from emerging to veteran, will find inspiration within each chapter.

Vicki Bayer
Deputy Superintendent, Green Bay Area Public School District

At Global School Leaders, we know that school leadership enables schools to thrive. But we also know that school leadership is difficult, complex, and often lonely. We are happy to see a book that recognises this and is not afraid to name and talk about the messy nature of school leadership.

Azad Oommen (Co-founder) and Tamara Philip (Director of Programs)
Global School Leaders

Become a MESSY leader

Would you or your team like support in embracing MESSY Leadership approaches? Our coaches can help you to bring MESSY Leadership to life in your school context, challenge your thinking and support you to make sustained changes in your leadership practice.

Our MESSY Leadership Programs comprise six sessions spaced 2-3 weeks apart and scheduled at your preferred times. Different delivery formats include 1-1 coaching, group coaching or a workshop series. Each session will enable you and your colleagues to expand your thinking on a specific aspect of M-E-S-S-Y and integrate new approaches into your day-to-day work in school.

Interested to find out more?

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