Algorithmic leadership and the game of business

Sverre Spoelstra, Nick Butler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceedingpeer-review


This paper reflects on the increasing role played by algorithms in management today by situating this trend in the context of a long-standing debate about the distinction between leadership and management. Our guiding question concerns the role of humans in what might be called ‘algorithmic leadership’, understood as an advanced form of algorithmic management that is making redundant some of the exceptional qualities that have traditionally been ascribed to ‘true’ human leaders. The paper recalls the chess-playing automaton known as ‘the Mechanical Turk’, developed by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770. For almost a century, the Turk, which was a mechanical illusion secretly operated by a human chess player, travelled through Europe and the US, beating some of the best chess players of its time. Today’s strongest chess-playing computer engines, most notably Google’s AlphaZero, are in no need of illusions to beat the world’s best chess players and nor do they need human chess knowledge of any kind. They are fully self-taught and rely on an algorithm that can be put to work in many game-like environments. Given the widely shared idea that business itself is (supposed to be) game-like, we may legitimately ask what will happen to qualities like ‘vision’, ‘gut-feeling’, ‘inspiration’, and ‘insight’ – all characteristics that are traditionally ascribed to exceptional business leaders – when AI and machine learning further develops in the ‘game-like’ environment of business. Will such leadership qualities fall within the realm of the machine? What roles will be left for human leadership? And is the future of leadership a mechanical Turk reversed, i.e. not a machine that is secretly human, but rather a human face that hides an algorithmic machine?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes
Event83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management - Boston, United States
Duration: 2023 Aug 42023 Aug 8

Publication series

NameAcademy of Management Proceedings
PublisherAcademy of Management
ISSN (Print)0065-0668
ISSN (Electronic)2151-6561


Conference83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Business Administration


Dive into the research topics of 'Algorithmic leadership and the game of business'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this