Purpose Scant empirical research has explored the perceived practices of Confucian ethics and values in educational management and leadership in China. Based on a conceptual framework, this study compared the personal values of a group of Chinese educational leaders and those espoused by their working institutions. This study aimed to determine whether the Confucian ethics and values of hierarchical relationships, collectivism, humanism, and selfcultivation continue to be emphasized in contemporary Chinese educational institutions. Design/methodology/approach A standardized instrument, the Institutional Values Inventory, with 53 value statements, was used to assess educational leaders' value orientations in their respective institutions. The subjects of the study were a group of 67 Chinese educational leaders enrolled in an Australian transnational leadership program in Zhejiang Province, China. Findings The major findings show that the educational leaders had a higher regard for collectivism, humanism, and self-cultivation than their institutions in how an education institution should be operated. Interestingly, hierarchical relationship was the most important institutionally espoused value which also constituted the least favored value held by the individual educational leaders. Originality/value This study sheds light on leadership roles in enhancing productivity, effectiveness, and performance, and contributes to the field of educational leadership and effectiveness research through exploring the existence of Confucian ethics and values in leadership practices, especially in Chinese cultural contexts.