Leadership and negative capability

Peter F. Simpson, Robert French, Charles E. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Our aim in this article is to explore and explain the concept of 'negative capability', in the context of the current resurgence of interest in organizational leadership. We suggest that negative capability can create an intermediate space that enables one to continue to think in difficult situations. Where positive capability supports 'decisive action', negative capability supports 'reflective inaction', that is, the ability to resist dispersing into defensive routines when leading at the limits of one's knowledge, resources and trust. The development of negative capability is discussed but it is suggested that its status is problematic in the context of a societal and organizational culture dominated by control and performativity. The practice of negative capability is illustrated throughout the article, using a case study of the leadership of an international joint venture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1209-1226
Number of pages17
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • leadership
  • negative capability
  • organisational change
  • management


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