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Moral Complexity in Leadership: Hubris and Humility "Dead Men's Path," by Chinua Achebe


The "Moral Complexity in Leadership" series of cases and teaching notes help business instructors harness the power of fiction to prepare students for the moral and ethical dilemmas they will face throughout their careers. Meaningful fiction challenges students intellectually and emotionally; it reveals the inner worlds of human players and enables learning that can be difficult to access through case studies, commentary, or reporting. Through literature, students will wrestle with the kinds of problems they will face as leaders looking to make courageous decisions aligned with their moral codes.

The works in this series represent a wide range of settings, viewpoints, and cultural frameworks; the characters are complex and contradictory, and the systems within which they operate (whether family, organizational, or cultural) influence them in varied ways. These cases have been taught to executive, full- and part-time MBA student audiences for many years.

The series aims to increase students' understanding of moral frameworks and to enhance their skills in facilitating and participating in healthy and productive dialogue about complex and provocative issues.

This installment of the series, "Hubris and Humility," examines the short story "Dead Men's Path," by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. In the story, Michael Obi, the new headmaster of the Ndume Central School, hopes to modernize the school and surrounding community, both of which are deeply rooted in traditional ways and customs. However, he ultimately pays a high price for his "misguided zeal," which did not take into consideration the context or the interests of the school's stakeholders. Obi's experience offers powerful lessons to leaders tempted to implement their ideas in--and impose their values on--organizations or communities before taking the time to listen and learn. It highlights what can happen when leaders ignore the risks of hubris and fail to recognize the limits of their perspective.




Brooke Vuckovic, Rebecca Talbot, Lindsay Spring

Date Published


Key Concepts

Business ethics, Conflict resolution, Difficult conversations, Interpersonal skills, Leadership, Leadership development, Leadership qualities, Listening skills, Managing conflicts, Moral leadership


Vuckovic, Brooke, Rebecca Talbot, and Lindsay Spring. Moral Complexity in Leadership: Hubris and Humility "Dead Men's Path," by Chinua Achebe. Case 5-323-502 (KE1280).


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