Leadership Lessons from the Pharaohs of Egypt

5 Oct 2018 11:17 AM | Anonymous

Bouvier Williams

History’s leaders still have much to teach us about effective leadership.

Whenever I have the opportunity to visit Egypt, I make a beeline for the Pyramids at Giza. Seeing the entire pyramid complex with one’s own eyes is an awe-inspiring event. It reminds you why Egypt once led the world in the realms of commerce, mathematics, science, medicine, military prowess, art, literature, and of course architecture.

The ancient Egyptians also have a great deal to teach us about effective leadership as demonstrated by the decisions and actions of their pharaohs. Leadership lessons from these kings of old can prove as valuable today as they were when the pyramids were built. Here are some examples of leadership at work throughout Egyptian history and the insights we can apply to modern times.

Khufu (reign c. 2589 BC – c. 2566 BC)

Khufu, also referred to as Cheops, was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, and is credited with leading the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The entire project took more than two decades to complete, during which time 2,300,000 building blocks, weighing from 2.5 to 15 tons each, were moved and positioned into an edifice that contains a network of chambers and passage-ways.

The sheer scale of this monument stands as evidence to his skills in leveraging human resources. To make the pyramid a reality, required Khufu to put the right talent in place to ensure the project’s success. He chose his nephew Hemiunu to lead the construction effort and supported him by providing access to the most brilliant architects and engineers available.

Insight: To achieve your vision you must be willing to partner with other individuals (who hopefully have even more knowledge and expertise than you do) to successfully execute your plans.

Khafra (reign c.2558 BC – c.2532 BC)

Khafra was the son of Khufu and is recognized as the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. Some Egyptologists believe his face was the model for that of the Great Sphinx, which guards his tomb site. Khafra’s wife, Meresankh III, and his mother queen Hetepheres II played a very important role in his court. Women in Egypt at that time had a status that was more in line with our present day when compared to the status women occupied in the majority of contemporary societies of the ancient world. Khafra is believed to have often sought their counsel on matters of state.

Insight: Having diverse team of advisors is more than a nice thing to have. Diversity of background (whatever the type), thought, and experience stimulates creativity and the application of innovative solutions.

Hatshepsut (reign c. 1479 – 1458 BC)

Hatshepsut was one of a handful of women who held the title of pharaoh. She established trade networks with other countries that brought tremendous wealth to the eighteenth dynasty. Hatshepsut is said to have commissioned more construction projects than any pharaoh before her. The majority of her 20+ year reign is seen as one where Egypt experienced a large period of peace and a significant burst of artistic expression. Hatshepsut was viewed as a leader who reached out to foreign countries, instead of making war with them, and who had brought new ideas and goods to Egypt’s citizens.

Insight: Engaging in relationship building/sustaining activities with one’s peers/colleagues tends to be far more productive than spending time and energy on conflict.

Amenhotep III (reign c.1391 – c.1353 BC)

The reign of Amenhotep III marks what many describe as the height of ancient Egyptian civilization in terms of its political and economic power. His empire stretched from the Euphrates to the Sudan. One of Amenhotep’s great achievements was to negotiate formal peace treaties with Assyria, Babylonia, and Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey) in order to protect Egypt’s territories. He supported the treaties by regularly offering gifts of gold to the kings of these nations. He also engaged in frequent correspondence with these nations to keep the lines of communication open.

Insight: In your negotiations with other parties always think ahead about ways to sweeten the relationship even after the deal has been reached.

Ramesses II (reign 1279-1213 BC)

Also known as Ramesses the Great, he ruled Egypt for more than 60 years. One of the most significant events during his years as king was the battle with the Hittites at Kadesh in 1274 BC. Despite demonstrating poor military leadership on the battlefield, he and his forces were able to overcome the Hittites. Ramesses later communicated to the Egyptian people that he had won a great victory against their enemies in order to secure support for the campaign at home. Even though he was forced to negotiate a treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites, most Egyptians saw Ramesses II as a war hero.

Insight: You need to pay attention to your personal brand as a leader. You should be actively involved in how you message your brand in order to manage the perceptions of others.

None of the pharaohs I cited was a perfect ruler by any means. In a few cases, historians are able to point to some pretty questionable practices unbefitting a king. However, we know that the quality and stability of the pharaoh system greatly contributed to ancient Egypt’s dominance on the world stage for over 2,000 years. So we can say that many of the Egyptian kings managed to do their jobs right.

The nice thing about the study of history is that if offers us lessons we can choose to apply from people who were not all that different from people who live today. What kind of leader do you want to be? Take some time to ponder your own style as it relates to the pharaoh’s and see where you need to get better.

Then get busy by putting these lessons to work in leading your own team. Who knows? You may just be the one to create the next wonder of the modern world.


Dr. Bouvier Williams is the founder of Your Personal Brand Solution LLC, an executive coaching and HR consulting firm specializing in talent management and digital learning strategy. He has over 20 years of experience in providing human capital solutions to global organizations in the Fortune 500 that have included Citibank, Ernst & Young, JPMorgan Chase, Viacom Median Networks, DSM North America and Amazon. Dr. Williams has been recognized for his expertise in coaching, talent development, personal branding, and leadership development. He is the recipient of Speakeasy’s Leader’s Edge Award, the Tri-State Diversity Council‘s Multi-Cultural Leadership Award and Diversity MBA Magazine’s Top 100 under 50 Executive Leader Award for implementing innovative HR processes and technologies that help business leaders and organizations achieve phenomenal results. Dr. Williams is also a keynote speaker and panel moderator who seeks to share insights about the intersection of professional development and technology. Dr. Williams is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and holds an Ed.D. in Learning and Leadership Development. He has received a MBA in Human Resources Management from Tulane University and a BS from St. John’s University.


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