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Abstract:

We develop a novel method that integrates techniques from machine learning with canonical concepts from network analysis in order to examine how the meaning of leadership has evolved over time. Using articles in Harvard Business Review from 1990 through 2019, we induce yearly semantic networks comprised of roles structurally equivalent to the role of leader. Such roles, from which leader derives meaning, vary in content from coach and colleague to commander and dictator. Yearly shifts in the structural equivalence of leader to clusters of thematically-linked roles reveal a decline in the degree to which leadership is associated with consultative activities and a corresponding rise in the extent to which a leader is understood to occupy a hierarchical position. Our analyses further reveal that the role of leader comes to eclipse the role of manager, measured through changes in PageRank centrality as well as Betweenness centrality over the course of our panel. Implications for new research on leadership, culture, and networks are discussed.