According to Hargreaves and Fink (The seven principles of sustainable leadership,2003; Sustainable leadership, 2006), sustainable leadership matters, spreads andlasts, and is fundamental to enduring and widespread school improvement. This observationis especially germane to the context of leading small primary schools in rurallocations, where challenges encountered by principals in engaging with the complexities ofcontinuous improvement are often accentuated. This article looks at the applicability ofcertain aspects of sustainable leadership to the circumstances surrounding small ruralschools. First, reasons are given for devoting attention to the specific context of leadershipin small rural primary schools, especially in Australia. The article then examines thedistinctive challenges encountered by principals of small rural schools that appear tocompound the difficulties of pursuing sustainable leadership. The next section draws froma Queensland study (Clarke and Stevens, Small schools leadership study. Leading andteaching in small schools: confronting contextual complexity in work practices, 2004) thathas generated vignettes depicting the complexity of novice teaching principals’ work inrural environments. Taking cognizance of Hargreaves and Fink’s analysis of sustainableleadership, selections from these vignettes are used to sharpen understandings of ways inwhich sustainable leadership plays out in this context and the factors that either promote orimpede its development.