Toward a Theory of Sympathetic Leadership: Asian American School Administrators’ Expectations for Justice and Excellence

Daniel D. Liou, Jia “Grace” Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Purpose: This qualitative case study illuminates the leadership practices of four female Asian American administrators in urban schools. Due to their underrepresentation in leadership roles, the need is pressing for research to capture concrete exemplars on beliefs and practices of sympathy based on an asset-oriented approach to school leadership. The study’s research questions include (a) How do Asian American school administrators define their social justice beliefs and expectations for their school community? (b) How do these four Asian American school administrators communicate their expectations through sympathetic leadership to resist deficit models of education? Method: This study includes four research participants from two states. Data collection includes two rounds of in-depth interviews, field observations, reflective memos, and archival sources. Data analysis is guided by inductive approaches. Findings: Research findings demonstrate how Asian American school administrators define social justice through four relational practices with their community: (a) develop intimate knowledge of students and their racialized history, (b) enact asset-based sympathy as a condition of solidarity, (c) form connections based on relational equity to counteract White supremacy, and (d) prepare students for an equitable future through intellectual rigor. Implications: This study contends that leadership must begin with an epistemic shift from racial indifference and deficit thinking to the practice of sympathetic touch. Social justice revolution in schools and society starts when the minds and expectations of the leaders and those they serve become one and the same.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-436
Number of pages34
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • female school administrators
  • leadership of color
  • sociology of expectations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


Dive into the research topics of 'Toward a Theory of Sympathetic Leadership: Asian American School Administrators’ Expectations for Justice and Excellence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this