This paper discusses the changing concepts of leadership in early childhood education (ECE) in England and Hong Kong during a period of significant education reform. We seek to illustrate the interplay between the impact of the policy agenda and the emerging quality leadership perspectives found in the theoretical literature, by first considering the recent education reform context in both England and Hong Kong, before examining the importance of leadership for quality provision given the constraints and drivers of policy expectation. The paper explores transformational, distributed and authentic models of leadership in the ‘New Leadership’ paradigm and uses these constructions to examine the developing problems and opportunities for quality leadership as expected by the current policy reform agenda and understood by the practitioners. In conclusion, we raise questions about the interplay between policy agendas and the development of theoretical models of leadership for ECE in England and Hong Kong. Copyright © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business.