But the training for serving heads does not reflect these key, "people centred" values and needs a serious re-think, according to the latest findings.
A team from Nottingham University was commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers to ask teachers, other staff, pupils, governors and parents what made 12 headteachers - all commended by the Office for Standards in Education for their leadership qualities - so special.
The study found that these heads were caring, thoughtful and highly principled, with strong values and personal beliefs. But caring for pupls and staff did not mean they were soft on them. Instead, their concern was matched by effective monitoring of teacher performance and pupil achievement. These heads also had the ability to manage tensions and problems, which were often the result of external pressures such as government initiatives.
However existing programmes for serving headteachers do not encourage then to develop the right qualities, said Professor Chris Day, who led the Nottingham team.
He said: "The content doesn't ask them to reflect on their own values. Nor does it ask them to reflect systematically on the tensions and dilemmas they experience. It doesn't match with what appear to be the qualities and skills of successful leadership."