Contextual implications for transformational and servant leadership: A historical investigation

John H. Humphreys (College of Business and Technology, Texas A&M University – Commerce, Commerce, Texas, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Publication date: 1 December 2005



The purpose of this paper is to determine whether there is historical support for the proposal of Smith, Montagno and Kuzmenko that the specific cultures associated with transformational and/or servant leadership would be more or less applicable, based on context. Moreover, its purpose is also to demonstrate that a historical approach can be used effectively to examine such constructs.


The paper presents a historical examination of the military retreats of Xenophon, a transformational leader, and Chief Joseph, a servant leader, during very similar contextual crises.


Given similar contexts, the historical record offers support for the proposal of Smith et al.

Research limitations/implications

First, the retreats of Xenophon and Chief Joseph were separated by many hundreds of years and miles. Also inherent with this type of methodology is simple disagreement among readers. Although this author finds great similarity in the retreats of Xenophon and Chief Joseph, there are certainly differences that could be scrutinized as well. Moreover, others might be dissatisfied with the selection of Xenophon and Joseph to represent the leadership styles presented, or with the conclusions regarding their effectiveness. Such debate should be encouraged and could provide additional avenues for future research. Further, the current study considered leader effectiveness only as it related to the achievement of the organizational goal(s). It could be that Joseph's cohorts were more satisfied, committed, etc. than were the followers of Xenophon. This line of inquiry should also be pursued.

Practical implications

This research suggests that transformational leader behavior is likely to be more appropriate during times of significant organizational change.


This is the first study that has examined the speculation of Smith et al. and the first to demonstrate that a historical approach can add to one's understanding of such constructs.



Humphreys, J.H. (2005), "Contextual implications for transformational and servant leadership: A historical investigation", Management Decision, Vol. 43 No. 10, pp. 1410-1431.

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