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Leadership and negative capability

Simpson, Peter; French, Robert; Harvey, Charles

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Robert French

Charles Harvey


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.


Simpson, P., French, R., & Harvey, C. (2002). Leadership and negative capability. Human Relations, 55(10), 1209-1226.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 1, 2002
Deposit Date Jan 22, 2010
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2016
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 10
Pages 1209-1226
Keywords containment, dispersal, leadership, learning, negative capability
Public URL
Publisher URL


Human Relations 2002.doc (86 Kb)

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