War, Warrior Heroes and the Advent of Transactional Leadership in Sports Antiquity


This paper explores the advent of a transactional leadership
paradigm in sports antiquity. Specifically, an athlete’s reaction
to means and types of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation is explored via relevant
leadership praxis. Resultant achievements on the athletic field of play
(stadion) are examined via review of an athlete’s reaction to: (a)
external influence, (b) preparation, (c) training, (d) coaching, and (e)
an established path to victory/defeat. The reactions are explored via
the dimensions of a contingent reward structure and the implications for
its adoption in order to succeed and become victorious at ancient Olympia.
The paper concludes with a summary discussion of the proffered transactional
paradigm existent in sport, and an athlete’s adherence to or subsequent
rejection of said paradigm to mediate his/her success.


With some of the earliest accounts of sport beginning in
the fourth century; the history of sport has it’s underpinnings
in antiquity (Sansone, 1988; Valavanis, 2004; Woff, 1999). This paper
suggests a typology of “transactional leadership” as a forerunner
to the seminal theory offered later by James MacGregor Burns (Bass, 1985;
Burns, 1978). Utilizing ancient sources, this inquiry begins with the
exploration of contingent reward structure, active management by exception,
and a passive management by exception paradigm (Bass, 1985; Yukl, 2002).
In accordance with the constructs mentioned above, the advent of transactional
leadership begins via the emergence of professionalism in ancient sport
and a subsequent decline of competition simply for its benefit (Rigauer,

Summary lessons gleaned from this inquiry suggest: (a) An
athlete’s level of cognitive schema with regard to leader behavior
serves as a predictor of an athlete’s successful performance, (b)
an athlete’s successful performance is moderated by acceptance or
rejection of a transactional leadership paradigm, and (c) a certain modicum
of agreeableness must be present in order to thrive in sports specific
transactional relationships (Raglin, 2001). While this paper is conceptual
in nature; the study of transactional leadership upon athletes suggests
opportunities for future research.

Transactional Leadership

Burn’s (1978) seminal work served to promulgate two
types of leadership orientation theories, transformational and transactional
leadership. Transformational leadership is predicated on the leader’s
ability, “…to move those influenced to transcend their own
self-interests for the good of the group, organization, or country”
(Bass, 1985, p. 15). Complimentary to transformational leadership is the
theory of transactional leadership, which identifies the leader as the
catalyst for expectations, goals, and provision of recognition and rewards
when a task is completed (Bass, 1985). Transactional leadership serves
as the pathway to “contingent reinforcement”. Whereby, the
leader and follower agree on the necessary path to achieve the reward
or avert punishment (Bass, 1985; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Burns, 1978).
As a caveat, reinforcement usually portends a follower’s compliance;
however, a follower will not always act in their own best interests. For
example, in sport; transactional leadership offers a cognitive framework
which helps to explain an athlete’s willingness to subject their
body to serious injury and possibly death. Furthermore, athletes appear
to be able to call forth a level of conation that allows them to compete
even in pain. Otto Graham of the Cleveland Browns football team serves
as an example. “Hobbled by a cracked rib, he came off the bench
at his coach’s request and ran and passed his lethargic team to
victory” (Natali, 2001, p. 22). Obviously, a heightened level of
commitment to achieve the reward is paramount to an athlete’s success.

Passive management by exception

Passive management by exception suggests a hands-off leadership
approach until a subordinate or follower elicits a need for an intervention.
However, this management style creates only an opportunity for negative
feedback. Hall of fame coach Paul Brown frequently engaged in passive
management by exception. “…after an interception thrown by one
of his quarterbacks, Coach Brown walked up to him and whispered in his
ear “You’ll never, never, ever get a chance to throw that pass again”
(Bell, 1991, p. 91). This example illustrates the transactional agreement
which existed between Coach Brown (leader) and his players (followers),
whereby the followers received a reward based upon their performance or
alternatively they received a swift corrective action (The player mentioned
was traded the next day) based on their inability to perform.

Active management by exception

A leader’s willingness to intervene only when something
goes wrong is a shared construct in both active management by exception
and passive management by exception. However, the theory of “active
management by exception” did not appear until five years after Bass’s
1985 higher order construct of transformational leadership (Bass &
Avolio, 1990). In active management by exception there is a divergence
with regard to rule enforcement after a mistake is encountered. For example,
if an active plan of correction is in place prior to a mistake then the
infraction may be viewed differently by the leader. The final component
of leadership associated with transactional leadership is “Laissez-faire
Leadership” (Yukl, 2002, p. 254). This latent stage of the theory
suggests levels of passivity in the leader’s approach that are both
ineffective and border on indifference toward the follower.

Path goal theory

The effectiveness of contingent reward is predicated on
a follower’s anticipated value of the perceived reward. For this
reason, “path-goal theory” is appropriate when offering a
salient methodology associated with contingent reward (Bass, 1985; House,
1971). House (1971) intimates that path-goal theory is comprised of, “…increasing
personal payoffs to subordinates for work-goal attainment, and making
the path to these pay-offs easier to travel by clarifying it, reducing
roadblocks and pitfalls, and increasing the opportunities for personal
satisfaction en route” (p. 324). Furthermore, as the path to goal
attainment by the follower is illuminated and made accessible by the leader,
the opportunities for personal satisfaction are more accessible to the
follower (Bass, 1985).
A key determinate in the path-goal theory of motivation is related to
the leader’s ability to intervene in the sequences of goal clarity,
and guidance. “…the leader creates a supportive environment of
logical support, warmth, friendliness, and helpfulness by doing such things
as being friendly and approachable and looking out for the welfare of
the group” (House, 1971, p. 321). In summary; path-goal theory helps
to explain how contingent reward works and establishes the next section
of inquiry.

Sport in Antiquity

The Isthmian games were recognized as one of the four Pan-Hellenic
(all Greek) festivals, second in importance only to the Olympic Games
which were inaugurated in 776 B.C. In contrast to the Olympic Games which
honored Zeus as the patron deity, the Isthmian games were instituted to
honor Poseidon in 580 B.C. (Steven G. Miller, 2004; Palaeologos, 1964).
Isthmia holds special significance due to its bi-annual competition and
its importance as a trade port situated directly on the eastern side of
the Peloponnesus. The sanctuary of Poseidon where the games took place
was situated on one of the most important crossroads of ancient Greece,
the Isthmos (Golden, 1998). It’s significance is related to the
brevity between festivals and the inclusion of events such as the pentathlon,
chariot races, and horseracing (Broneer, 1999). Midway through the second
century B.C., the Isthmian Games came under the control of Corinth due
to maritime trade benefits and overseas colonization. Corinth subsequently
became renowned throughout the world for its ability to offer trade and
ease of passage (Woff, 1999). However, this renowned status would lead
to Corinth’s destruction by the Romans in 146 B.C., due to jealousy
and a need for subjugation (Grant, 2005). It was not until 44 B.C. by
the proclamation of Julius Caesar that Corinth was able to host the games
once again (Kyle, 2004). Despite the turmoil and implications of war,
the Games continued to evolve with Isthmia crafting the first “hysplex”
(starting gate) and embracing sports as a paradigm commensurate with culture
(Swaddling, 1980).

Sadly, participation in the games merely for enjoyment quickly
became a relic with the advent of professionalism in sport and society.
“The winner of the boys stadion race at the Panathenaea at Athens
received fifty amphoras of olive oil worth the equivalent of $45,000 US
dollars today” (Golden, 1998, p. 142) . Furthermore, the athlete
that did not win in the games was subject to abject disgrace and possible
retribution by their coach and judges. “You who have worked hard
enough to qualify for Olympia, ridding from your lives whatever is idle
and cowardly-proceed. Those who have not trained themselves to this level-let
them wander where they please” (Spivey, 2004, p. 78). Perhaps the
most glaring evidence for the untenable pressure to receive the “contingent
reward” is found in Perrottet’s (2004) account of an athlete
at the games:

Arrhichion: in the final of 564 B.C., was caught in a
lethal ladder hold and was expiring from asphyxiation. Inspired by a
shout from his coach, Arrhichion managed to roll over and give his opponent’s
foot a savage twist. The opponent raised the finger of surrender just
as Arrhichion died (p. 172).

In the next section; the evolution of sport reveals the
coming foundation of transactional leadership and the resultant far reaching
implications for sport in modernity.

Sport and society

Why then is the evolution of sport via a transactional paradigm
important to society? Sport has the ability to transcend all social and
cultural constraints (Yurdadon, 2005). Furthermore, the structure, forms
of behavior and interaction found in sport settings are similar to those
found in other societal settings. In other words, sport is a microcosm
of society (Frey & Eitzen, 1991; Golden, 1998). However, in day-to-day
societal functioning it does not simply end there; there are eternal constructs
that imply a preferred path or a direct relationship between the very
nature of sport and biblical instructions for humanity (Connor, 2002).
For example, the apostle Paul alludes to this very premise as he exhorts
the Corinthians with the following timeless metaphor “Do you not
know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run
in such a way as to get the prize” 1 Cortihians 9:24 (NIV). Indeed,
sport as a product of social reality is capable of communicating at a
level which cannot be ignored.

Emerging from this social reality is the positive concept
of “arête” which denotes (a) skill, (b) prowess, (c)
pride, and (d) excellence (Miller, 2004b). The term does not merely convey
lofty adjectives, instead it reveals a level of influence that permeates
the very existence of sport and society (Golden, 1998). Furthermore, this
level of influence is revealed in the co-existence of sport and culture
in antiquity. “…education in antiquity was set in the gymnasium,
[where] the Akademy [sic] of Plato was first and foremost a place of exercise
for the body” (Miller, 2004a, p xi). The confluence of athletics
with education reveals the interwoven concept of sport and society, whereby
the two can no longer be mutually exclusive.

In direct contrast to the example “arête”
mentioned above, the evolution of negative influences in sport and society
provides the basis for an athlete’s willingness to ascribe to a
level risk taking that is both dangerous and suggestive of cognitive dissonance.
“Those athletes who chose death over defeat were always highly revered”
(Miller, 2004a, p. 29). The preceding example served to portend the gradual
loss of athletic innocence that would herald the adoption of succeed at
all costs mentality still present today.

Bill Romanowski typifies the very nature and resolve of
an athlete from antiquity and their willingness to attain the “contingent
reward” at all costs. “Despite the effects of my first NFL
concussion, I never before experienced an injury that would remove me
from a game. Each play meant so much to me that to miss even one was like
a death sentence” (Romanowski & Schefter, 2005, p. 59). Romanowski’s
account is not too different from my own personal schema during my tenure
in the NFL. As an athlete you want to achieve the desired goals as set
forth by your coach, and quite possibly you are willing to do anything
to achieve the desired result. For example, during a conversation with
Coach Bill Parcells his assertion that “Carthen, unless you get
out there and hit somebody your going to get sent home” (B. Parcells,
personal communication, April 1994) elicited such a need to disprove his
statement that I was willing to do anything for the contingent reward,
i.e., viciously hit someone. While it may not constitute definitive research;
my NFL playing experience provides anecdotal evidence that affirms the
presence of a transactional paradigm in sport.

Continuing with the discussion of influence; the ability
of an individual to influence another individual or a group’s behavior
at any given time, suggests far reaching implications for that individual’s
locus of control (Stuntz & Weiss, 2003; Yukl, 2002). For example,
in antiquity the level of influence that a “Hellanodikai”
(coach) was able to wield provided the extrinsic motivation, leadership,
and influence necessary for an athlete’s achievement of targeted
goals. During the Olympic festival “…they could impose fines or
order whippings, and all of their decisions were final; only an appeal
to the Olympic council could overturn them, a move no athlete would take
lightly” (Perrottet, 2004b, p. 42). I posit that Bass and Avolio’s
(1994) definition of “transactional operators” appropriately
provides a lucid definition of the Hellanodikai in antiquity and some
professional coaches in modernity. “Transactional operators exist
for their own personal agenda without concern for the welfare of the others.
He or she enters into an agreement to satisfy their own personal…initiatives
and goals” (p.13). Indeed, the concept of transactional operators
in antiquity is not that far removed from some coaches in modernity.

Mental Health and Sport Performance

The premise that an athlete’s mental health dictates
their performance is not a new concept. Furthermore, the subject continues
to receive extensive inquiry (Chelladurai & Riemer, 1997; Kenow &
Williams, 1999; Raglin, 2001). In sports antiquity; an athlete’s
success was predicated on several factors, including size, preparation,
coaching, and sheer will. However, their level of self-efficacy served
as the catalyst for burgeoning victory. “Olympic champion Melancomas
of Caria …was able to keep his guard up for two days at a time, forcing
his opponents to give up from exhaustion” (Perrottet, 2004, p. 168).
While the level of self-efficacy demonstrated by Melancomas is indicative
of the value placed on contingent reward, caution is needed to stave off
a level of cognitive dissonance. For example, in order to retain electrolytes
and hormones in his system; Bill Romanowski’s contemplation of ingesting
his own urine in order to achieve the reward necessary would be unacceptable
to many elite athletes (Romanowski & Schefter, 2005). Indeed, achieving
the contingent reward both in antiquity and modernity is worthy of contemplating
the risk vs. the reward.

Discussion and Conclusion

This paper set forth the existence of a transactional paradigm
in sports antiquity. At the macro level; this paper served to polarize
the interwoven aspects of ancient sport and transactional leadership (Burns,
1978). At the micro-level; this inquiry revealed that a follower’s
adherence or rejection of contingent reinforcement serves as a road map
to follower motivation and goal attainment (Bass, 1985). Furthermore,
lessons gleaned from the research suggest sport and society are inextricably
linked, with far reaching implications for what is social reality and
what are actual playing field developments. While parallels between organizations
and the work like behavior of top-level athletic teams exist, there will
remain fertile ground for opportunities to study the complexities of effective
leadership (Frey & Eitzen, 1991; Rigauer, 1981).



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