This article aims to identify leadership roles for quality in early childhood programmes in the local settings of a sample of Hong Kong preschools. Two schools were selected for the study, both of which were rated as excellent in the quality assurance inspections of a local education authority. Effective leadership was explored from the multiple perspectives of various school stakeholders, including school governors, principals, teachers, members of support staff and parents. The qualitative interviews were used for data collection. The interview data indicated that the teachers, members of support staff and parents quite often viewed themselves as followers and were dependent on a single leader, the head. As perceived by the school stakeholders, the principals tended to take up three major roles: role model, school manager and mentor for curriculum and pedagogy. Characteristics of the associated patterns of the three leadership roles were similar to those of moral, managerial and instructional leadership documented in the Western literature. The implications of the study for promoting moral leadership and developing teacher leadership are discussed. Copyright © 2011 Taylor & Francis.