Statesmen or cheerleaders? Using topic modeling to examine gendered messages in narrative developmental feedback for leaders

This inductive study extends scholarship on gender, feedback and leadership by drawing on a large naturalistic data set of 1057 narrative developmental feedback comments to 146 political leaders in the UK. We used automated topic modeling, a novel methodology, to identify 12 underlying topics within developmental feedback, and complemented this with an in-depth qualitative analyses of feedback content for male and female political leaders across the topics. This resulted in four aggregate theoretical dimensions: 1) strategic focus 2) political influence 3) confidence and 4) agency and communion. Our findings chart novel dimensions of gender bias that go beyond the widely theorized tension posed by agency [male] and communion [female]. These new dimensions are pertinent to developmental, rather than performance feedback processes, and provide male and female leaders with different developmental roadmaps. We outline the value of our novel methodology to leadership scholarship and discuss implications for future research and practice.