A Network Analysis of Leadership Theory: The Infancy of Integration

Jeremy D. Meuser, William L. Gardner, Jessica E. Dinh, Jinyu Hu, Robert C. Liden, Robert G. Lord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


We investigated the status of leadership theory integration by reviewing 14 years of published research (2000 through 2013) in 10 top journals (864 articles). The authors of these articles examined 49 leadership approaches/theories, and in 293 articles, 3 or more of these leadership approaches were included in their investigations. Focusing on these articles that reflected relatively extensive integration, we applied an inductive approach and used graphic network analysis as a guide for drawing conclusions about the status of leadership theory integration. All 293 articles included in the analysis identified 1 focal theory that was integrated with 2 or more supporting leadership theories. The 6 leadership approaches most often appearing as the focal theory were transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, strategic leadership, leadership and diversity, participative/shared leadership, and the trait approach to leadership. On the basis of inductive reflections on our analysis, we make two key observations. First, the 49 focal leadership theories qualify as middle-range theories that are ripe for integration. Second, drawing from social network theory, we introduce the term “theoretical neighborhood” to describe the focal theoretical networks. Our graphical inductive analyses reveal potential connections among neighboring middle-range leadership theories that merit investigation and, hence, identify promising future directions for achieving greater theoretical integration. We provide an online supplement with 10 additional leadership theory graphs and analyses: leadership in teams and decision groups, ethical leadership, leader and follower cognitions, leadership emergence, leadership development, emotions and leadership, implicit leadership, leader-member exchange, authentic leadership, and identity and identification process theories of leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1374-1403
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • content analysis
  • leadership
  • network analysis
  • theory integration


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