How Leaders Can Avoid the Hubris Trap

Even if narcissistic leaders enjoy being the center of attention, as long as they maintain a grasp on reality and make decisions aimed at improving their positive self-image, their narcissism remains “bounded.” 

Unmask blind spots through feedback

While narcissistic behavior has both dark and bright sides, hubris is typically characterized by dysfunctional excess. Hubristic leaders use their power in maladaptive, unproductive, and unrestricted ways, resulting in extremely toxic behavior. They push for ambitious goals, both personal and organizational. 

People suffering from hubris imagine that the way they view the world is the way the world is supposed to be. They overestimate their capabilities, often to an extreme degree, and see themselves as limitless. Even in the face of failure, they cling to the illusion of their own rightness.

Modesty is another characteristic for leaders to cultivate as a way to prevent hubris. It’s important to handle power without arrogance and excessive pride. While power can be thrilling, it should be tempered with realism and humility. Thoughtful leaders strive to preserve their previous way of life and, in fact, choose to avoid the trappings of power.

For contemporary business leaders plagued by hubris, consequences often extend beyond their personal downfall. The hubris-driven scandals involving figures such as Adam Neumann of WeWork, Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX, and Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos also affected those who believed in them, resulting in the destruction of their fortunes.

Lead with humility

Because leaders are more susceptible to the allure of power, they must take proactive measures to prevent the emergence of hubris. To achieve this, they need to understand their driving forces and have a strong sense of self-knowledge. They must also be open to feedback and criticism, know how to laugh at themselves, and lead with humility.  

Transform criticism into growth

Those in powerful positions need to gain a realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the intricacies of their personality. It helps if they have a healthy dose of self-criticism. A willingness to assess oneself objectively can serve as an effective countermeasure to hubris. 

Although the roots may vary, a narcissistic personality can lead to the emergence of hubristic behavior. Hubris might fade away, though, when individuals are no longer in a position of power.

Combating hubris

Although hubris often accompanies narcissism, the two have notable and important differences. Narcissists have an inflated self-image and crave the approval and admiration of others. However, unlike hubristic individuals, narcissists aren’t so drunk on power that they completely lose touch with reality.

Lean into humor and irony 

Throughout history, leaders have been seduced by success, leading them down a path of hubris. This ancient Greek term, literally translating to “excess,” describes a state of exaggerated self-belief and arrogance.

Naturally, such an attitude contributes to irresponsible behavior, a sense of recklessness, and even immoral actions. Unchecked self-absorption drives many leaders on a path of self-destruction, dragging their organizations or countries down with them.

Why hubris is more dangerous than narcissism 

To avoid slipping into hubristic behavior, individuals should embrace a consultative approach. In other words, they must be willing to listen to those in a position to provide advice or criticize their actions. Being open to admitting mistakes and learning from them is important to prevent heading down a problematic path.

However, the suffering caused by these hubristic business leaders is overshadowed by the impact of political figures such as Kim Jong-Un of North Korea, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or Vladimir Putin of Russia. The harm they inflict isn’t just financial; it has resulted in the loss of countless lives. This prompts us to question whether we should ever trust people to be in control of others when they are unable to control themselves.

Sharpen self-understanding

Although both narcissistic and hubristic individuals dabble in the darker side of leadership, narcissistic leaders often exude charisma and can influence and rouse others. Their confidence, energy, willingness to take risks, and oratory skills contribute to visionary, inspiring leadership—qualities that can lead to considerable success. 

Because hubris often leads individuals away from self-knowledge and self-awareness, it’s beneficial for them to be constantly reminded of their strengths and shortcomings. If an individual is open to regular feedback, this can help them identify areas of success and areas needing improvement. Essentially, regular and constructive feedback instills a sense of accountability in their actions.

Indeed, power can swell the head and shatter the crown. Figures like Xerxes, who view themselves as gods, tend to fall the farthest and the hardest. Unfortunately, Xerxes isn’t an isolated case. Many before and after him have suffered similar fates. Hubris has been a recurring theme in numerous tales—some rooted in mythology, others in legend, and some reflecting real-life events.

An extreme example is Xerxes, king of the Persian Empire. Feeling invincible from past triumphs, Xerxes sought to conquer Greece. However, when a storm destroyed his bridge across the Hellespont, sinking his plans, he reacted outlandishly. Xerxes had the engineers who built the bridge beheaded and ordered his soldiers to whip the sea with chains and poke it with red-hot irons. It’s evident that Xerxes, blinded by overconfidence, couldn’t fathom the possibility of setbacks. In essence, he was intoxicated by hubris.

Published March 19, 2024, on


Narcissism is a personality trait formed in early life, while hubris is a change in a person’s character that occurs when they attain significant power. Hubris is therefore more of a temporary condition specific to leadership positions rather than a fundamental personality flaw. 

Another effective remedy for hubris is irony. It highlights the contrast or incongruity between appearances and reality, often serving as a subtle form of criticism. Humor and cynicism can indeed shield against hubristic behavior. Leaders’ capacity to laugh at themselves can be quite liberating.

In the case of hubris, however, we encounter a form of narcissism that’s unbound. Hubristic leaders don’t need a stage to shine. Unlike bounded narcissists, they test the limits of acceptable behavior, believing that they are far superior to anyone else. Over time, their exaggerated self-belief, verging on a sense of omnipotence, results in reckless and impulsive behavior, ultimately leading to their downfall.