This article considers issues of leadership and leadership development by reflecting on the notion of the refrain as pattern. Drawing on our research of leadership within UK further education (FE) we examine how tracing ‘patterns of leadership’ can provide an insight into the practical accomplishment of leadership in FE as everyday ‘ordinary’ work. In an era of increased change and uncertainty about the character of leadership within the sector, we use our ethnographic data and interdisciplinary backgrounds to consider leadership development as essentially a design problem through adopting and adapting the notion of patterns that emerge in the architectural work of Christopher Alexander and the organizational studies of Tom Erickson. In doing so we point to the comforting effect of both the refrain and the pattern to repeat, return, renew, react, refine, reconstruct and resolve. We conclude by suggesting some of the ways in which the documenting and describing of such patterns of leadership can be used as ‘teachable moments’ for the design and deployment of programmes of leadership development and training.