A traditional preoccupation with the immediate and short term on the part of school leaders has recently given way to recognition of the need for, and importance of, strategic leadership. However, this article expresses a number of concerns about recent thinking on strategic leadership, in particular, the view that vision and school improvement planning are sufficient and will deliver school improvement, and that a focus on market-related criteria, such as student enrolment and finance, will suffice. Instead, we argue that strategic leadership is predicated on a capacity for whole-school design for improvement. Comprehensive and holistic school designs conform to detailed and articulated strategic intents. Leaders formulate their holistic school designs and exercise strategic leadership around a coherent set of values and the following key features: learning for all as the centrepiece of the design; connectivity and consistency between the elements of the school in order to achieve synergy; an iterative and backward-mapping process that secures alignment between shorter-term flexibility and responsiveness, and the longer-term design blueprint; and the reflection of, and responsiveness to, social-cultural context, increasingly important in contemporary multiethnic communities. Copyright © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd.