Purpose: Successful visionary educational leaders promote a shared vision with great commitment and manage to connect other organizational members to it. In spite of this, the source of their personal commitment to the organizational vision has not yet been the subject of extended study. The purpose of this paper is to correct this by investigating leaders' personal ethos; the personal experiences and values which form their motives and personality. This paper furthermore considers the influence of personal ethos on the content of the vision promoted in educational organizations. Finally, it explores the link between leaders' personal vision and the organizational vision they promote. Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with visionary educational leaders. These interviews were narrative in nature and aimed to explore the development process and the interrelation of personal and organizational vision in an educational framework. Findings: Data indicate that visionary educational leaders do not separate their personal vision from their organizational vision. Furthermore, the educational leaders interviewed told of formative experiences which affected their worldview and shaped their personal ethos. Personal ethos proved to be a key element in formulating the leaders' personal and organization vision. Four prominent factors emerged as central to the personal ethos of educational leaders: identity, culture and values, professional experience, and family. Originality/value: The findings suggest that educational leaders should engage in a process of self-reflection in order to form a significant personal vision to which they can fully commit. Furthermore, the insights of leaders about what is important to them can enable an open dialogue with other organizational members and the development of a shared vision.