Lola Toppin-Casserly

Getting ethical leadership right at the top of our organisations to achieve more ethical and thriving organisations and people.

PhD student Lola Toppin-Casserly


Supervisors: Professor Michael Macaulay and Dr Geoff Plimmer


Lola holds more than 20 years’ experience in government settings in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, across a wide policy portfolio.

Beginning in the UK Parliament, her time managing the office of an ex-Minister gave her insight into how the corridors of power really work. From here, she entered the more structured parts of government via the UK National Audit Office, examining the value for money of government initiatives and departments, progressing in NZ to the Office of the Auditor General.

Evaluating government spend and performance became the integral lens to Lola’s career, at the Ministry of Economic Development, Department of Labour, WorkSafe, MBIE and Ministry of Social Development. Across these roles she managed and led groups of people, and realised that leadership is the crux to successful, thriving and ethical organisations, hence her PhD topic.

Lola has been simultaneously growing her governance experience, and is currently Chair of the Governance NZ Wellington Committee and a Director on the board of Orchestra Wellington, among other roles.


  • BA Hons (first class) in Philosophy and Music  - University of Liverpool
  • MPhil in Philosophy – University of Cambridge (Thesis: ‘What Do States Owe to Each Other?’)

Research interests

Lola’s career experience has led her to wonder whether, if we can get ethical leadership right at the top of our organisations, we can achieve more ethical and thriving organisations (and people); Does it trickle down? Does this include boards? What impacts this? Why do we not see more ethical conduct in our organisations? Her PhD research question is:

What is ethical leadership in boards, and how can we measure it?

  • Are current ethical leadership frameworks applicable to the board setting?
  • What do board directors and governance professionals consider to be the ethical leadership challenges in their boards?
  • What is a robust scale to measure the ethical leadership of board directors?
  • What are the relationships between impacting factors, such as organisational politics (POPs), perceived effectiveness and the Chair?

Her PhD inquiry has led her to further examine organisational politics and the extent to which humans are naturally self-interested in the variety of situations they find themselves in. Can an ethic of care cut through politics, to create more ethical groups and outcomes? Lola’s PhD research, and work experience, pertains mainly to the public sector, but she is interested in how these theoretical frameworks apply to all organisations and situations where humans interact in groups.