Hubris: The Psychological and Spiritual Roots of a Universal Affliction

Michael DeWilde


The topic of hubris in business and among businesspersons has been taken up in earnest at least since Richard Roll’s celebrated article laying out the argument for a hubris hypothesis in 1986. In the twenty-five years since, the management literature has looked at the consequences of hubris (Argyris, 1992; Bodolica & Spraggon, 2011; Carson, 2003; Hiller and Hambrick, 1997), the sources (Kroll, et al, 2000; Ford, 2006; Roll, 1986), its relationship to other negative phenomena (Hiller & Hambrick, 2005) and its institutionalization (Singh, 2008).

My aim in this paper is to revisit hubris in the business world, first through the lenses provided by a few of the cognitive, neurological and psychological sciences, which themselves have undergone a revolution of sorts in the past twenty-five years relative to discoveries made possible by fMRI machines, genetics, field work; and secondly with reference, albeit briefly, to teachings from two great wisdom traditions.

I will support my claim that hubris is at least as great a challenge as greed by giving a few examples of where and how I think that is true, and providing some analysis of the sort of hubris in evidence with reference to these sciences. I will also support my claim that hubris is the antithesis of wisdom; therefore, we ought to be especially concerned to understand hubris as well as we can.

Lastly, I invoke two short teachings from Christianity and Buddhism as their perennial insight into the nature of hubris dovetails nicely with what the sciences, to which I refer, have found. While my method is largely integrative and speculative, I also draw on fourteen years experience as an executive consultant to provide an illustration or two of the phenomena of hubris among not only senior and corporate executives, but, as my title indicates, among rank and file managers who well-represent the universality of this particular affliction.

Read More: Hubris: The Psychological and Spiritual Roots of a Universal Affliction

Related: What is hubris? (Wikipedia)

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