What is it all about?

Exodus Gods and Kings is the latest loose interpretation of the biblical story of Moses and the Hebrews leaving Egypt. The story revolves around Moses who started as a general and member of the Egyptian royal family an ended as a prophet, a rebel and the savior of the Hebrews.

What do we see in this scene?

The Hebrews (known today as Jews), were slaves under the Egyptian rule, an endeavor that doesn’t come without its share of trouble. This scene is actually composed of two parts. In the first one we see king Seti I ruling the kingdom. He listens to his ministers and their complaints about issues related to the slaves. He then commands his son Ramses to go meet with the Viceroy Hegep, who oversees the Hebrews.

In the second part we see Moses and Ramses talk about what happened earlier and Moses offers to go instead of his cousin.

Leadership brand

In the Harvard Business Review Norm Smallwood defines personal leadership brand as what conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader.

In this context, a leadership brand could be understood as an approach to brand oneself as a leader. The brand we put forward defines and is defined by the personality traits and competences we have or wish to be known for.

The same author who coined the term also wrote that Leadership brand is a reputation for developing exceptional managers with a distinct set of talents that are uniquely geared to fulfill customers’ and investors’ expectations.

This clearly indicates that there are two distinct levels to leadership brand. A first one on personal level, that we will discuss in this article and where one builds his own leadership brand and another on company level that we will present further in a future article. Whereas many managers and leaders tend to focus on their personal leadership aptitudes and image, other companies go beyond and focus on building a more general leadership capability.

How does this scene relate to building one’s leadership brand?

During the conversation between Seti I and his son Ramses we notice there is a different perception of what a Pharaoh should do as a leader. These differences directly influence the type of leadership but also the brand and personal positioning as leader for each one of them. In the second part we deepen our comparison between Ramses and Moses. Therefore, this brief scene gives us an image of 3 dissimilar leaders with very different aura’s.

Leadership brand

Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood came up with five steps to build a personal leadership brand.

1. What results do you want to achieve in the next year?
2. What do you wish to be known for?
3. Define your identity
4. Construct your leadership brand statement, then test it.
5. Make your brand identity real

In this post we will focus on collateral details that reflect and influence a leader’s brand.

What are the 3 leadership brands?

We will compare the three characters in the scene to better understand what leadership brand means and how it can be used.

Part 1 of the scene

Seti I

Seti is the actual Pharaoh and father of Ramses II. He’s not only a king, but also a god in the midst of men. This puts him in a position of might and control. His word is command and he has a very directive application for it. Seti I used to be an army general with great military success, but today he uses his experience, facial expression (look at his eyes) and plain but harsh words to convey his messages. As Pharaoh his words are command but also wisdom from the gods. Where two kings are not alike, their title “entitle” them to be above other people.

Seti wears white and gold as is expected from his status of Pharaoh (though it’s historically missing some parts). He holds both his hands in a wide position on the two lion heads of his throne. He’s sitting comfortably, almost nonchalantly but his hands don’t change position. This rigidity conveys power, determination and resolution. His body is stiff and all attention is focused on his face.

By stating in a disparaging way that all this (Egypt) will be owned by Ramses someday, he reveals contempt for his son who shows little interest in what’s happening in the kingdom and has a lazy approach to changing his behavior. Many CEO’s started at the bottom of a company and experienced all the necessary steps to gain enough wisdom to become the top leader. When one is born as crown prince and chosen successor, that same person may find it dishonoring to pass through all these steps. Seti I was a great Pharaoh who was loved by the Egyptian people. He demonstrated strength and determination through the capacity to restore the Egyptian empire after it had been lost in the time of Akhenaten. In this scene, years later, while preparing his succession, Seti tries to teach his son to be a little bit more like him. This part reveals as described by Ulrich and Smallwood that most leaders focus on developing leadership within a single person rather than within the organization itself (which will be the focus of a future article).


Even though Seti I was considered a great king by his peers, his fame in history has been overshadowed by that of his son, Ramses II. Yet, in most movies about the Exodus, Ramses is depicted as a vengeful antagonist ever scornful of his father’s preference for Moses.

In this film, Ramses is first and foremost a warrior who likes to be in the spotlight. Large and strong he lives with self-adoration. This can for example be seen by the way he dresses – more gold than white, or how he holds the snakes in the second part. In the first part of the scene we easily notice his lack of interest for politics (while his dad is alive) and the idea to visit the Viceroy simply reviles his mind. His facial expressions are more of a bored simpleton than those expected from a future king. He knows he isn’t really loved and therefore is looking for comfort inside himself.


Moses is the cousin of Ramses; he’s a member of the royal family but doesn’t wear the burden to become the next Pharaoh. We see very little of him in this first part, but what we do detect indicate concern. Whereas Ramses seems to wake up when his father talks to him, Moses listen very carefully to everything that is said and weights the words. It already reflects his wisdom. In this scene, but also later on we notice that Moses wears dark military clothes. No gold and nothing that represents his royal blood. Today people in a leadership position weight more than others the importance of what they wear and some prefer jeans while others will always be dressed in a business suite or in black. Clothes are a good indicator to measure the image one wants to reflect. In this case, Moses keeps it simple. He’s a general that does what has to be done and thinks before acting.

Part 2 of the scene

The second part starts with Ramses holding a snake with what seems to be a self-pity face or at least he’s lost in his thoughts. Moses then comes offering to go visit the Viceroy. When Moses tells him it’s beneath him, Ramses responds that it’s beneath any general. This basically means that it’s even beneath Moses and if he shouldn’t do it then why would the great Ramses go? He doesn’t see any value in this visit and considers it a total waste of his time. If we dig deeper, we can also find fear coming from Ramses, for he is no people person. Fighting and winning on a battlefield increases his reputation and aura, but talking and influencing people is not his forte and puts him out of his comfort zone. Ramses shows very little empathy towards his people or any interest to include the rest in his future reign. While we each lead our life, leadership is an energy which is focused outwards, meaning towards other people, and this indicates a lack of understanding coming from Ramses. Rather than improving the life of others he indulges in hedonism. As a future king, Ramses shows very little affinity to being a leader. While he loves the title, he finds the tasks and responsibilities troublesome. That is why he let Moses take his place; delegating is indeed also part of leading.

Next, Moses asks Ramses to forget about what happened on the battlefield. Moses saved there his life and he’s afraid that Ramses will become even more resentful. Ramses knows his father likes Moses more, and being saved by that same person is hard to accept. We all want to be the hero and in this case the Pharaoh should be the savior, not the opposite. There’s another reason to it related to what a priestess said, but it’s of little importance in this context. Ramses then belittles Moses action by saying he would have done the same and that his shot was guided by the gods. A great leader is someone who inspires people to be the best they can even greater than the leader himself – here again, Ramses shows he still has a lot to learn.

Then comes the venom part. Kings and nobles were always afraid to get poisoned by enemies and therefore consumed daily little quantities of venom or poison to get their body used to it and reduce the risk of dying from an assassination. Here Ramses talks on multiple levels. Again, he puts his life first. People who used these practices tended to be despots rather than protectors. People who felt their actions would implicate reactions of detractors. Rather than leading inclusively, they force their decisions on others and live with the expectations of a backlash. Ramses first explains that a little venom is good, it protects you from danger, but it also forges character. He confides here that he perceives his father actions as poison. Whereas Seti I wanted to forge Ramses’ leadership by sending him talk with the Viceroy, Ramses perceives it as treachery, a way to again put him in a position of contempt. At the same time he tells Moses to be careful not to play with his own poison. On a more metaphysical aspect stating that a little bit of venom in the blood is a good thing, means that having some evil within can be beneficial and getting accustomed to it could be a life-saver, yet aren’t we what we eat?, which basically suggests that the food one eats has a bearing on his state of mind and health.

Moses on the other side, is intelligent yet simple. He understands people and realizes he’s one of them. He also love his cousin and don’t require scheming to have a task done, but doesn’t shy from using a ploy when needed.

As most movies require an antagonist once again Ramses II, also known as Ramses The Great, gets portrayed as a feeble yet belligerent mind with a strong desire for acknowledgment, thus providing us with a scene that is well suited to differentiate between leaders.

To summarize:

Seti I is a loved king who is determined to restore the power of Egypt. Strong, dedicated and experienced he realizes the importance of all stakeholders and pushes his son to become a true leader by taking responsibility, becoming accountable and learn to go out of his comfort zone.

Ramses is a physically strong, yet scornful prince who lacks interest in others and live for himself. Ramses has no real plan or never thought what it means to lead people, instead he needs to prove his existence using physical evidences such as shiny clothes, wars and architectural marvels (as Pharaoh).

Moses is a good listener and wise beyond his years. He’s a strong general and he knows he’s not destined to rule. Therefore he forges himself a role of counselor to help his cousin become a great Pharaoh. Wearing dark colors, he positions himself as an outsider to the crown, but high enough to lead the rest. Moses also accepts to depreciate himself if it can soothe Ramses’ anger. Counselors are often the voice of reason behind powerful people who sometimes forget what they are. They are also often the real power behind the important decisions.

So what did we learn on personal leadership brand?

To build a brand you need a vision of who you want to be and where you want to go. It helps inspire people in following when one can show that his deeds and decisions lead to a greater vision. Ramses has no clear plan yet and therefore can’t lead his people to success.

However, as the saying goes: the Devil is in the details, and to be congruent one has to express continuously what he tries to promote. Clothes, behavior, facial expression and competences are all important because they are the mortar that keep your bricks standing!

Hence, learn to build you brand by forging on values showed by Moses and by reflecting on how not to become Ramses, without forgetting what Seti said: The world will one day be yours, take interest in it!

How about you? What are the “idiosyncrasies” that reflect your personal leadership brand?


Related training and consulting companies

RBL Group


Interesting links

Leadership Brand Interview
5 Questions To Help You Define Your Leadership Brand
Have you defined your leadership brand?
Create your leadership brand
Personal Branding: It’s Not About Self-Promotion, It Is a Leadership Imperative