The Principled Leadership Scale - Interview with Karen Hendriks

The Principled Leadership Scale – Interview / podcast

Principled leadership


Principled leadership is essential in todays environment. Issues like the Enron scandal (where the Chief Executive was found guilty of 18 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading) and the VW emissions scandal (where technology was used to cheat emissions testing protocol and a range of other scandals) show that unethical and unprincipled decision-making and leadership is not an uncommon problem and is most likely occurring right now behind closed boardroom doors in some organisation or other.



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Unprincipled leaders and the damage they do

The damage done by unprincipled and unethical leadership can be devastating, not only to the organisation, but also to the clients, customers and even the global population in general. Studies in 2009 found that unprincipled leadership frequently spreads across an organisation and often contaminates and taints the decision-making and thinking processes within the organisation. The thinking and ethical principles/values that go behind unprincipled decision-making is rarely isolated to one or two individuals, but infects whole systems and changes what becomes acceptable behaviour and values within that organisation. Indeed, studies in 2005 and 2009 found that the values and thinking that go behind principled behaviour tend to be cultural.

A new (2019) study looked at the contribution that leadership plays in promoting principled and ethical behaviour and decision-making with the aim of producing a principled leadership scale. The researchers, based in the Department of Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa used the principles that underpin the largely overlapping elements of:

  1. Transformational leadership
  2. Servant leadership
  3. Authentic leadership
  4. Ethical leadership


Podcast interview with Karen Hendrikz

In this podcast David interviews Karen Hendrikz, who conducted the research underpinning the new principled leadership scale


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Karen Hendrikz

Karen is an independent HR consultant based in South Africa. Whilst she was conducting research at Stellenboch University under Professor Amos Engelbrecht she completed most of the work on a new principled leadership scale.

Connect with Karen Hendrikz on LinkedIn

Karen Hendrikz’s home page


Interview Transcript


David:               Okay, today I’m interviewing researcher and consultant, Karen Hendrikz, who’s done a very interesting piece of research around principle leadership. Primarily the research that she’s done is around the development of The Principled Leadership Scale. So welcome, Karen.

Karen:              Thank you.

David:               Would you just like to take a couple of minutes just to kind of introduce yourself and give the listeners [00:00:30] a little bit of background about yourself and how you came to do this piece of research around principled leadership?

Karen:              Yes, sure, I can. So I think briefly just from a sort of academic and career perspective, I actually started my career as an English teacher a long time ago. So that was a really great and lovely start to my career, but very soon moved into the corporate world for an opportunity that I got there. And so the role that I moved into was in consulting in HR and that just [00:01:00] kind of gave me interest in the whole thing of what motivates people and human behavior. So I then decided to do a second degree part-time, specifically in industrial psychology. Yeah and then about five… so I stayed in the corporate world for a number of years and I had various roles there, consulting, business management roles.

Karen:              Then, about five years ago I took a big leap of faith and I decided to leave the corporate world for a sabbatical and so I went and joined a whole group [00:01:30] of people half my age and went back to university. That was also interesting and yeah, but fun to do and then I basically just did my post graduate studies, honors and masters there, where I did the studies. So I’ll tell you a little bit about that and now I have my own HR consulting practice and I also work together with other consultants in the sort of organizational development field. So that’s me in terms of my career and then just [00:02:00] on the theme of leadership, so where that started and where the interest started. As far as what’s interesting, is that I obviously live in South Africa, which is an interesting place to live and always politically interesting.

Karen:              But I also grew up on a farm in South Africa and I think one of the things that sort of was interesting for me from a young age. So in the ’70s when I grew up, that was sort of the height of apartheid and so there was a lot of political unrest. But my father [00:02:30] seemed to always have a good relationship with his workers and even though he sets very high standards, I saw him to fair and to be kind and I think that made a difference. And so that intrigued me and I think as I grew up, I also had various leadership roles in school and at university and then also when I joined the corporate world. Being exposed to lots of different clients, I had lots of opportunity to see how people did leadership well and [00:03:00] how people did leadership badly and how I did leadership well and how I did it badly.

Karen:              Yeah, and basically just kept asking the question, “What does good leadership affect and what does bad leadership, what’s the outcome of it and how can we do it better?” So yes, I think for most of my adult life I’ve been reading a lot about leadership and exploring for myself also how I can personally become a better leader. And then I think also, living in South Africa, [00:03:30] I think we wake up every day wishing that there would be some wise, honorable, ethical Moses who would lead us out of this Egypt into the promised land. That’s definitely… leadership and poor leadership has been the history of South Africa for many decades and we see the result of that every single day. So yes, I think for me that is a very… it’s an issue very close to heart.

David:               Yes, that makes sense. Certainly the context of South [00:04:00] Africa around principled leadership because… Anyway, yes, I think you’ve covered that. So what was it that actually kind of moved you in that direction in kind of for research for the masters initially?

Karen:              Okay, so I don’t know how it works at your universities, but at our university when you join a master’s program, you sort of get, there are obviously certain lecturers and you get given a range of topics that you can choose to do your research on. So because [00:04:30] I had a natural interest for leadership, I went for the leadership topic and so Amos Engelbrecht, who was the professor, who was study supervisor. He had done a lot of prior research on specifically ethical leadership.

Karen:              He’s written several papers on servant leadership. So he has quite a strong interest in ethical leadership, also integrity. He’s developed a scale around integrity. So he wanted to actually develop sort of a comprehensive leadership scale that put everything [00:05:00] together. And that was actually the original theme that we were going to focus on. But then when I started reading up about… I sort of started asking the question, “Okay, so if we’re going to look at leadership dimensions, where will we start?”

Karen:              And started reading about servant leadership, ethical leadership, authentic leadership and then found that there was quite a lot of overlap in specifically authentic, servant, ethical and transformational leadership. And then I said to him, “But you [00:05:30] know what? I think there’s something else that we need to maybe do here first, is we need to maybe first consolidate these four leadership theories which seem to kind of have a different slant, but essentially sort of measure the same thing, being moral leadership I think maybe what we should do is to put that all together and create a new scale or a new [inaudible 00:05:57] after that.”

Karen:              [00:06:00] So that was sort of the idea that I had and then, I then because we live in South Africa and we have so many different cultures and so many different moral philosophies and so many different religions, I sort of asked myself the question, “So if we were to develop a scale, by whose standard is it principled or by whose morality are we actually looking at here?” And that got me asking a lot of questions around, “Do we need a universal moral standard? [00:06:30] Are there things like a universal moral standard?” Yeah, so that basically added that slant of it. So yes, that’s basically-

David:               Good, yes. So could you just talk, because you came up with or down to kind of four dimensions that the principled leadership scale’s based on, so how did you reduce it down to… the four are trustworthiness, self mastery, empowerment and accountability. So how [00:07:00] did you get there?

Karen:              Okay, so what I did is I looked at sort of in the research that had been on the four value, what we called valued based leadership because it sort of links to the ethical values, is I took the measurements that are available and I basically just listed on a spreadsheet all the behaviors that they covered. And then I said, “Okay, put the four leadership theories across the top, which behavior is covered [00:07:30] by which one?” By doing that, I sort of was able to distill what the main behaviors were, that were covered by my most of them and where the overlap was. Yeah, that was actually quite an interesting exercise because there was actually quite a lot of overlap.

Karen:              Okay, so that’s what we did initially and then, what we then did, is we put away everybody else’s dimensions and we said okay, let’s start from scratch and see if we take all of this list of behaviors [00:08:00] and we group them just conceptually, what do you we come up with? So initially we had six dimensions, which I also mentioned in the paper. And then because many heads are always better than two, we then sent out our questionnaire and our dimensions to a number of experts in the field, in South Africa. Got them to crit it and then based on the feedback that we got, we then distilled it further down to the four that we have now.

David:               [00:08:30] Got you, okay. So just for bit of a… what’s really new in this paper when you start to have a look at… because there’s kind of a universal moral standard set and various other bits and pieces. So from your perspective, what is new here?

Karen:              Yeah, okay, so I think that is sort of the base of what is new. So while you had the four individual leadership theories, I don’t think before they’ve really been linked to a set [00:09:00] of universal standards. So first of all, listing the standards from the research that other people had done, sort of distilling that and then saying, “Okay, so how do these four theories link to those standards?” That’s definitely new and then I would say creating one scale out of four theories is the other thing that the research brings that is new.

David:               Okay, great, yeah, that’s interesting. Just for listeners, there’s work that’s been [00:09:30] done between 2000 and 2005, that ended up in the United Nations, having a universal moral value set and that had seven items on it. But it’s not quite as research heavy as Karen’s stuff. So the seven are commitment to a larger ideal, such as the concept of truth or justice for example. Trustworthiness, which includes things like honesty, [00:10:00] integrity, reliability and humility. Respect for self and others and the environment, taking responsibility, which includes accountability and a drive for excellence and self discipline.

David:               The fifth one is fairness and impartiality. The sixth one is caring and taking action to avoid unnecessary harm and incorporates ideals such as compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. And then the seventh value set within the United [00:10:30] Nations value set, is citizenship and the idea of being proactive and a productive member of society, both locally and globally. So can you just talk us through how this differs from things like The Moral Competency Inventory and other similar instruments?

Karen:              So how The Principled Leadership Scale is different?

David:               Yes, how it differs.

Karen:              [00:11:00] Okay, so The Moral Competency Inventory is based on a theory of moral intelligence and basically that scale is really a self rating which would help individuals to understand where they can increase their moral intelligence. So the things that it measures are slightly different to what we’re measuring, so they measure integrity, responsibility, compassion and forgiveness. [00:11:30] Compassion and forgiveness are quite difficult to measure in somebody else, so that’s why I think it’s a self rating scale. You have to be quite honest with yourself about that. So I think The Moral Competency Inventory is definitely for a personal perspective and developing your own moral competence, whereas The Principled Leadership Scale is actually about leader behavior.

Karen:              And it’s also an other centered scale, so basically peers or superiors [00:12:00] or subordinates would be rating their perception of the leader’s moral behavior. I would say that The Principled Leadership Scale is broader or has a broader focus. Specifically if you take into account sort of that cascading effect of leader behavior, that the way that the leader behaves is emulated by people who report to the leader. So from that perspective, I think if you develop your principle leadership, [00:12:30] it has a further reaching effect I think than The Moral Competency Inventory which is more a personal thing.

David:               Actually that’s quite interesting what you said, but around this idea of developing principled leadership, so the question is, how developable if that’s a real word, is principled leadership within individuals?

Karen:              Yeah, yeah, well so that a good question. So yeah, that is a good question and I did some research, I think [00:13:00] guy’s name was Aleo, if I remember correctly, who sort of spoke quite a lot about the fact that companies spend a lot of money on leadership development training and that it doesn’t really have much effect. And that really what companies should do is sort of have this principle that surgeons have where they sort of teach one, do one, teach one, something like that. Anyway, but basically he was saying it’s a long path and you can’t just fix it with one training course.

Karen:              So [00:13:30] I would agree with that, I’ve been involved in the last year a little bit with coaching as well and I’ve definitely seen that, that is a better route to go. But I think one would have to first start by just making the person aware of where they fall short. And then through that awareness, trying to help them to see the better side I guess and how more moral behavior can have a more positive impact on their subordinates and on their own lives as well. [00:14:00] But yes, I guess I would challenge somebody else to research that, is it possible to make immoral person moral? Yes, I certainly hope so, but I think it is a longer path, yeah.

David:               Yes, I would think so and certainly the four dimensions that you’ve been using, I think are helpful towards that and just having those as a basis within an organization as a set of standards that leaders particularly, [00:14:30] but anybody within an organization are being measured against and are measuring themselves against, would help kind of nudge behavior into something that’s more principled and going around things like trustworthiness, how trustworthy are the people around me? How trustworthy am I being?

David:               Things like that, because the kinds of factors that are included in trustworthiness, we’ll go through each of these just very quickly, are things like commitment to a greater ideal of oneself, having a sense [00:15:00] of calling, humility, integrity, honesty. Those kinds of things very rarely kind of see the light of day in lots of organizations because they focus on skills and competencies. I think the use of these four dimensions will be very, very useful.

Karen:              Yeah, I think again, bringing it back to South Africa, I think those specific values are [00:15:30] so critical in our society. So I think they would actually find a lot of… people can relate to that easily because we so often see the opposite of it, yeah so.

David:               Yes, yes, I think so. Okay, that’s great. So where next for the research and for you?

Karen:              Yes, okay, so what Amos and I are busy doing at the moment, is we’ve actually just finished drafting a second paper. [00:16:00] So the research that I did was broader than just the fitment of the scale. What we also did, is we built it into a structural model, where we said that or we postulated that moral intelligence is an antecedent to principled leadership and that the outcomes of principled leadership are trust in the leader and organizational citizenship behavior. So that was an interesting study, so yeah, hopefully we will get that paper published later on this year.

Karen:              That, [00:16:30] basically was one of the direct outcomes of the research. But then also I had an opportunity to dabble a bit in positive psychology last year, which was interesting and a new field for me and I quite liked how I saw it linking to this particular research because it has quite a strong base in purpose, meaning, values, that kind of thing. I think also specifically in self mastery, I think [00:17:00] a lot of positive psychology is about learning how to yeah, focus on how you perceive life and how to change that. So that’s been interesting and then I think sort of maybe moving a bit away from the research, but as much as I enjoy and love research, I am very pragmatic at heart.

Karen:              I don’t ever want to do something just for the sake of the theory and I really would hate for the work that I’ve done to just go and gather dust [00:17:30] on the university’s shelf. I’ve sort of made a point in my consulting work to take what I’ve learned and to try and find practical ways of implementing it. So at a couple of clients, I have developed sort of a program, which I’ve called Self Mastery on various different topics, where we go through aspects that are included in this, like trustworthiness and accountability and that kind of thing.

Karen:              To try and hopefully improve the behavior of employees or just try and [00:18:00] build the culture of the organization. So yeah, so on that level and then also with the leadership coaching that I do, I do specifically quite a lot with young leaders to help them really I guess not make many of the mistakes I made when I was a young leader, which also linked to not being trustworthy or having self mastery or any of those things. So yeah, to build that from an early age because I think it’s something that if you can get that right early on then you have a [00:18:30] far way to go, so yeah.

David:               Yes, it certainly helps if the foundations are there as a leader and that the leaders are actually thinking about that and not just trying to achieve the next thing, either for the organization or for themselves. And there’s kind of an ethical and moral underpinning to their actions. I think that’s where a lot of leaders, particularly in politics go wrong, is that concern for others, not just about the wellbeing of others but [00:19:00] also the wellbeing of the planet, that bigger piece as well, underpinning the way that they’re thinking.

David:               I think right now around the world, we’re seeing that at large, that lack principled leadership, yeah. Really interesting, it was a fascinating paper actually, I really enjoyed it, and it’s also unusual for a master’s student to end up with a peer reviewed published paper at the level that this was at. [00:19:30] I’m interested because there’s quite a lot of our listeners who are either thinking of doing a masters or going through that kind of process. So what advice would you give other people thinking of doing a research based degree?

Karen:              I would say primarily, you need to be really passionate about the topic because it just is going to absorb your entire life. So if you are not passionate about it, I think you’re just going to really struggle and it’s going [00:20:00] to take you forever to complete it. So, that I think is probably the most important thing. I also think it’s really important to understand the purpose of why you’re doing it, so not just to do a degree for the sake of getting a degree but what is the purpose of the research? I think maybe advice I can give is that I often felt myself sort of feeling quite anxious that maybe someone else was going to beat me to it and they were going to have the same topic and this wouldn’t be great and [00:20:30] excuse me.

Karen:              So I think just to have that self confidence that there’s a lot of research that’s already been done but the environment one is in, one’s personal context, all of that adds a different slant to the research that one does and also one’s personal interests. Yeah, I think one, just to have that self confidence that whatever one is doing it will add value to whatever is already out there. Yeah and I think just to be prepared to make the sacrifice and say it’s a time in your life where you’re just going to be committed, [00:21:00] you’re going to sit on that chair and you’re going to finish this and it’s really going to be worth it. And I suppose being married to a very understanding spouse is probably also key-

David:               Oh yeah, I know that one. Yes and how important do you think it was that actually, that what you were researching and what you were doing was so closely tied in with your work as a consultant and as a coach?

Karen:              I think it made a very big difference, yeah, definitely because I think as I was researching it, I could see [00:21:30] ways to practically implement it. It influenced a lot of my thinking while I was working, so yes, I think that was definitely an advantage to have done this sort of maybe when I was older and I was already in practice for a long time.

David:               Yeah, great. Well, thank you very much, Karen. It’s been really enjoyable talking to you. Where can people contact you and how can people follow you on social media and things?

Karen:              So I’m on LinkedIn, I think that will probably be the best to find me, [00:22:00] yeah, just-

David:               Okay, and do you Twitter or anything else? Do you use Twitter?

Karen:              No.

David:               No, okay.

Karen:              At this stage I’m just on LinkedIn.

David:               Okay, so LinkedIn, okay, so I’ll add a link and you’ve got a website, haven’t you?

Karen:              Yes.

David:               I’ll put a link to the website in the show notes as well for you.

Karen:              Okay, great. Thank you, thank you so much.

David:               Thank you very much, Karen.

Karen:              Okay.

David:               Okay, you take care, bye.

Karen:              Thanks, bye.


Hendrikz, K., & Engelbrecht, A. S. (2019). The principled leadership scale: An integration of value-based leadership. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 45, 10.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page