Ancient Egyptian Leadership: How Stogdill’s Principles of Leadership Were Applied in Building the Pyramids? - al-jesr

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الخميس، 8 فبراير 2024

Ancient Egyptian Leadership: How Stogdill’s Principles of Leadership Were Applied in Building the Pyramids?


By/ Raméz Salah El-Shishy & Merna Mohamed Matar *


A great enigma lurks in the shadow of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, huge constructions that remain as a tribute to human ingenuity: how did the leaders of ancient Egypt manage the creation of these monumental wonders? In this article, we explore the fascinating junction of ancient Egyptian leadership philosophy with historical engineering prowess, with a focus on Ralph Stogdill's leadership theory. According to Stogdill theory, strong leaders create a positive work environment to motivate employees to complete tasks. We unveil the mystery underlying the creation of the pyramids, probably the greatest engineering feat in history, as we apply Stogdill's theory to ancient Egyptian leadership amid the exacerbation of narratives and ideologies that tirelessly seek to undermine "the achievements of the genius of the unique Egyptian character thousands of years ago."

Leadership Traits of Ancient Egyptian Leaders in the Construction of the Pyramids

One of the most remarkable aspects of the ancient Egyptian civilization is the construction of the pyramids, which are among the largest and most complex structures ever built by human beings. The pyramids reflect not only the engineering and artistic skills of the ancient Egyptians, but also the leadership and management skills of the pharaohs, who were the supreme rulers and the divine representatives of the gods on earth.[1]

In this context, Stogdill’s theory of leadership is based on the premise that there is no single or universal definition of leadership, but rather that leadership is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that depends on three interrelated factors: the leader, the followers, and the situation. Stogdill’s theory of leadership identifies and analyzes the traits, skills, and behaviors that characterize effective leaders, and the factors that influence their performance and effectiveness in different situations.

Source: By Researchers

Stogdill argues that effective leaders possess certain traits, such as intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, sociability, cooperativeness, and tolerance. These traits are not fixed or inherent, but rather they can be acquired and adapted by the leader depending on the situation. Stogdill also identifies four types of situations that influence the leader’s behavior and performance: the task, the group, the organization, and the environment. These situations can differ in their complexity, stability, clarity, and stressfulness, and they can demand different kinds of leadership styles and 

Source: By Researchers

The Great Pyramid of Giza, built by the pharaoh Khufu and his chief engineer Hemiunu, is a remarkable example of ancient Egyptian intelligence and insight. Khufu and Hemiunu applied their knowledge and skills to overcome the challenges of constructing the largest and most complex pyramid in history. They selected a strategic location for the pyramid, a high and flat plateau that ensured stability and visibility, and aligned it precisely with the cardinal directions and the stars, reflecting their astronomical awareness and religious beliefs.[3] The precise alignment with the cardinal directions likely symbolized a connection between the pharaoh's earthly realm and the celestial sphere, aligning the pyramid with the path of the North Star and embodying Egyptian beliefs in stellar rebirth.[4]

Moreover, they devised innovative methods and tools to cut, transport, and lift the massive stones that formed the structure and the casing of the pyramid, using ramps, sledges, rollers, levers, and ropes.[5] They organized the workforce efficiently and effectively, dividing them into teams and assigning them to different phases and aspects of the project, such as quarrying, shaping, and placing the stones.[6] This complex undertaking demanded not only physical strength but also logistical coordination and social organization, highlighting the organizational prowess of the Old Egyptian state.

They also employed mathematical and geometrical concepts and calculations, such as the golden ratio, the Pythagorean theorem, and the papyrus survey, to design and build the pyramid with remarkable accuracy and precision. The Great Pyramid of Giza is not only a testament to the power and glory of Khufu, but also a reflection of the intelligence and insight of the ancient Egyptians who built it.

The Westcar Papyrus is a story that tells of Khufu's leadership skills in resolving a dispute among his sons through riddles and challenges. Although fictional, it suggests that Egyptians valued intelligence and problem-solving in their leaders. Inscriptions on tomb walls of officials involved in pyramid construction often depict them supervising workers, conveying a sense of pride and responsibility associated with such leadership roles. Stone carvers played aswell an important role in tomb building, and the belief in an afterlife inspired wealthy Egyptians to order elaborate tombs for themselves.[7]

Government officials belonged to the highest class on Egypt’s social pyramid, just after the pharaoh, and their job was to assist the pharaoh in his or her role as supreme ruler of Egypt.[8] The idea that Khufu used slaves to build the pyramid comes from Greek historian Herodotus, but it is now believed that the pyramids were built using conscripted labor rather than slaves. The Westcar Papyrus describes Khufu as a traditional oriental monarch: good-natured, amiable to his inferiors, and interested in the nature of human existence.

In addition, Ancient Egyptian leaders showed responsibility and initiative by setting a clear and realistic vision and mission for their pyramids, and by communicating it to their followers. They also showed responsibility and initiative by providing the necessary resources, tools, and facilities for their followers, and by dealing with any problems or conflicts that arose among them.

Expressive Illustration

Sneferu, the father of Khufu and the founder of the Fourth Dynasty, also displayed the traits of responsibility and initiative, by launching a series of bold and innovative pyramid projects, which aimed to demonstrate his royal and divine authority and to ensure his eternal afterlife. He exhibited responsibility and initiative by constructing three different pyramids at Dahshur and Meidum, each with a different shape and size, and by trying out different methods and materials, such as the bent angle, the smooth casing, and the limestone core.[9] He experimented with numerous pyramid angles and shapes, constructing at least three important ones: the Meidum Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid.

Another example of responsibility and initiative is Imhotep, the chief architect of Djoser, the founder of the Third Dynasty, and the builder of the first pyramid in Egypt, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. Imhotep showed responsibility and initiative by creating and building a novel and unparalleled monument, which integrated elements of the conventional mastaba tomb and the royal funerary complex, and which represented the rise of the king to the heavens. He showed responsibility and initiative by overseeing the work of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers, and by supplying them with food, water, shelter, and medical care.[10]

The provision of basic requirements demonstrates not only his organizational prowess but also a great sense of ethical leadership, recognizing the humanity of the individuals engaged. Imhotep's multidimensional display of responsibility and initiative not only helped to the construction of a breakthrough structure, but also established an ethical and inventive leadership standard in ancient Egyptian history.

The Positive Work Climate Dilemma: How Did Ancient Egyptian Leaders Deal with the Trade-offs and Risks of Promoting a Positive Work Environment?

Through different techniques and practices, Ancient Egyptian leaders established and maintained a favorable work environment that aided the completion of tasks and objectives.

The pharaohs confronted the same people-performance difficulties that modern leaders encounter, ranging from resignation to cynicism to optimism, complacency to commitment. Leadership and management were two distinct and significant journey disciplines, and few pharaohs were natural-born "people managers."

Motivating through Vision and Symbolism:

Pharaohs employed great architectural projects like pyramids and temples to inspire laborers with awe and a sense of shared purpose. These projects also functioned as reminders of the pharaoh's power and legitimacy, instilling loyalty and dedication in the Egyptian people.

Maintaining Social Order:

Stable social hierarchies with explicit productivity standards and rewards produced a sense of security and predictability, which was conducive to concentrated labor. These hierarchies were reinforced by Pharaohs through a complex legal system and administrative apparatus.[11]

Religious Legitimacy:

The pharaoh's divine status served as an effective motivator. Workers believed that by contributing to the will of the gods, they could ensure success and afterlife rewards. This belief system also served to strengthen the pharaoh's authority while discouraging criticism.

Overcoming Complacency and Cynicism:

Maintaining employee motivation over long periods of time may be difficult. Rituals, festivals, and incentives such as promotions or bonuses aided in combating complacency. Addressing concerns and assuring equitable treatment increased loyalty while decreasing cynicism.[12]

Leadership Styles and Delegation:

Not all pharaohs were adept at managing people. Some placed a high value on viziers and other officials to oversee projects and address labor problems. Maintaining a positive work environment required effective delegating and communication.[13]

Source: By Researchers

The Flaws and Implications of Afrocentrism

Afrocentrism is a worldview that seeks to restore the African legacy of ancient Egypt and to challenge the Eurocentric narratives that have downplayed and distorted the achievements of African civilizations. According to Afrocentrism, ancient Egypt was the cradle of world civilization and its culture, religion, philosophy, and science had a profound impact on other civilizations such as Greece, Rome, and India. Afrocentrism also claims that ancient Egyptians were black Africans and that their descendants are the modern African diaspora. However, this argument is not supported by the mere fact that the ancient Egyptians had dark skin. Egyptians in general have a strong sense of ownership and pride in their ancient legacy, and they reject attempts by the West to exploit or pervert it for their own ends.[14]

The nature of Egypt's black population was changed by the invasions of previous nations, and then by the Arabs, who circumvented the calls of the African landowners to save them from Roman occupation. The kings of ancient Egypt were black, such as Ramses II and Hatshepsut. Furthermore, Afrocentrism has been subjected to scholarly criticism for being based on selective and inaccurate use of evidence, for being driven by political and ideological agendas, and for overlooking the diversity and complexity of ancient Egyptian society.

A 2008 study by Hawass, the ex-leader of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, analyzed the DNA of 12 mummies from the New Kingdom era (1550–1069 BCE).[15] The results indicated that they shared haplogroups with contemporary Egyptians, rather than sub-Saharan African or European populations. Afrocentrism is a form of totalitarian groupthink and a therapeutic mythology designed to restore the self-esteem of black Americans. The author, Clarence E. Walker, professor history in California University points out that Afrocentrism is silent about the context of slavery and the slave trade. He also criticizes Afrocentrism for its dangerous political implications.[16]

Source: By Researchers

In conclusion, with the ingenious managerial approach of the ancient Egyptians represented in building the pyramids, enhancing the work environment and leadership style followed in general in the ancient Egyptians in different families and periods, we see how adept they are in the leadership traits revealed by Ralph Stogdill in his theory against the rise of Afrocentrism narratives that seek to undermine the efforts and genius of the ancient Egyptian civilization. There're many narratives that deny and distort the reality of Egyptian excellence and its ideology. They're growing in influence and pose a serious threat to the Egyptian identity and heritage. Therefore, we urge United Company to work closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to counter this threat by:

1- Producing and promoting documentaries and seminars that showcase the history and culture of Egypt in all aspects of life, from administration to art, and highlight its contributions to human civilization.

2- Organizing regular festivals that celebrate the greatness of the Egyptian state, both in the past and the present, and inspire its future development, by inviting local and international guests, performers, and speakers to participate and exchange ideas.

3- Launching a digital marketing campaign that uses innovative technologies and interactive exhibits to showcase the history and culture of Egypt to a wider and younger audience, and partner with influencers and celebrities who can share their experiences and insights on Egyptian heritage on social media platforms.

4- Establishing a network of cultural ambassadors who can represent and promote Egypt's cultural diversity and excellence in various fields and sectors, such as arts, science, sports, business, and education, and mentor and inspire the next generation of Egyptian talents and leaders.

5- Developing a cultural exchange program that fosters mutual understanding and cooperation between Egypt and other countries, especially those that have historical or cultural ties with Egypt, and facilitate the exchange of cultural products and services.

These actions will not only increase the national pride and loyalty of the Egyptian people, but also enhance the public opinion and soft power of the Egyptian state at the regional and international levels, which will ultimately benefit the Egyptian economy. Raising awareness both internally and externally is a vital component of ensuring Egypt's national security.

[1] John Stein, 12 Business Leadership Lessons from the Pharaohs, Business Destinations, July 10, 2014,

[2] BizNewsKE, Ralph Stogdill Trait Theory | Leadership Traits Theory and Skills, (n.d),

[3] Jimmy Joe, Khufu: The Marvelous Legacy of the Uncontested King,

Timeless Myths, (n.d),

[4] Verner Miroslav. The Pyramids: The Mystery, Design and Function of Egypt's Great Tombs. Thames & Hudson, 2001.

[5] James MacDonald, Scientists Have an Answer to How the Egyptian Pyramids Were Built, JSTOR Daily, September 11, 2014,

[6] Ikram Salima & Okasha Mahmoud El-Daly. Ancient Egypt: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing.1995.

[7] GOEDICKE HANS. Thoughts about the Papyrus Westcar, Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, vol. 120, no. 1, 1993, pp. 23-36.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Seeing The Past, Sneferu, the greatest ever pyramid builder, (n.d),

[10] Imhotep’s Legacy Academy, Imhotep’s Legacy Academy’s 2005-2006 Annual Report, Dalhousie University,

[11] Joshua J. Mark, Social Structure in Ancient Egypt, World History Encyclopedia, September 21, 2017,

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Shahira Amin, Egyptians aren’t racist. They’re frustrated with Western appropriation of their ancient history, Atlantic Council, June 29, 2023,

[15] Zahi Hawass et al., Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family, JAMA 303, no. 7 (2010): 638-647,

[16] Susanne Rockwell, Afrocentrism More Myth Than History, Scholar Says, UC Davis, April 20, 2001,

* Political Science Reseachers

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