David Wilkinson (ambiguity expert)

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David John Wilkinson FAHE (born 24 April 1959) is British academic and writer on how people deal with ambiguity and psychological resilience. He is the originator of the modes of leadership concept which correlates ambiguity tolerance, risk aversion, emotional resilience (psychological resilience) and thinking systems, and in 2009 developed the Metus Model and strategy for developing emotional resilience in organizations.


Wilkinson's first degree was in Psychology, obtained from the Open University. During this time he devised a series of experiments on aggression and video games. He then won a place at the University of Oxford where he conducted Masters and Doctoral Studies on the acculturation of police officers, which involved the creation of a new research process-time lapse reparatory grids.[citation needed]Additionally he has an executive coaching qualification from the University of Cambridge.[citation needed]

Academic career[edit]

Wilkinson started his academic career at the University of Oxford as a part-time lecturer. He became a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University in 1996.[citation needed] In 2001 he was made Head of Professional Development at Cranfield University,[citation needed] where he conducted his initial research into leaders' reactions to ambiguity and published his first book[1] in which he first postulated the idea of the modes of leadership. During this time he was worked to develop and deliver training for disaster management and post-terrorist event leadership in several countries through the Cranfield University Resilience Centre.[citation needed] He has taught lecturing skills to fellow lecturers in the UK and abroad, and currently lectures at Oxford University's Medical Sciences Division, Oxford Brookes Business School, Cardiff University, University of York , University of Southampton, University of Reading, University of Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores University.[citation needed] He is a lead facilitator and exercise director at The National Crisis Leadership Centre in Kent, in the UK.[citation needed]

Research and theories[edit]

Modes of leadership[edit]

Best known for his work on leaders' reactions to ambiguity, Wilkinson itemized those reactions into four (originally) and later six Modes of Leadership. Each mode is a system of thinking or series of perceptions. Wilkinson considers that the way people think and how they perceive the world alters their relationship with ambiguity, risk and uncertainty. The original 4 modes published in 'The Ambiguity Advantage' are:

  • Mode One - Technical thinking and perceptions
  • Mode Two - Co-operative thinking and perceptions
  • Mode Three - Collaborative thinking and perceptions
  • Mode Four - Generative thinking and perceptions

Ambiguity continuum[edit]

This was a device Wilkinson constructed to explain the relationship between ambiguity, risk, vagueness, uncertainty and chaos. Additionally it describes how leaders' reactions and perceptions create different outcomes in different situations. Wilkinson also uses it to explain the perceptual connections between certainty and chaos and what he calls the 'Paradox of Certainty' and the 'Paradox of Chaos'.

Metus model and strategy[edit]

Developed largely on the back of his work with Emotional Resilience, Wilkinson's Metus (fear of change) Model & Strategy(2009) explains what happens in organisations during change events, how the fear of change develops and describes a strategy for increasing emotional resilience in organisations and getting organisational populations to engage with change. This is now popularly known as the "Fear to Flow model".[citation needed]

The Ambiguity Chess Game[edit]

Wilkinson developed a form of chess to teach his students the effects of ambiguity and show them how to solve problems in ambiguous times. This has since become known as the Ambiguity Chess Game and is now used in university business schools[which?] in several countries.[citation needed]

Current work[edit]

Wilkinson lectures at the University of Oxford's Medical Sciences Division, The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University, Cardiff University, and the University of Liverpool.[citation needed]

Wilkinson's current writing and research is focused on agile leadership, leadership development, organizational change, leaders' reactions to ambiguity, uncertainty and risk, ambiguity tolerance, and emotional resilience.

He gave the keynote speech at the 2011 ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) conference at NPIA NPIA (National Police Improvement Agency) Ryton-on-Dunsmore, entitled "When in doubt, fool yourself you are getting better".[citation needed] He also presented sessions to the annual ACPO conference on decision making and ambiguity in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In 2016 he gave a keynote presentation at the British Academy entitled "Agile Leadership as Next Generation Management Paradigm".[2]

He was a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).[citation needed] In 2015 Wilkinson founded and became Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Review,[3] which he set up to close the gap between academic research and practitioner knowledge in the areas of leadership, management, organisational development, change and transition, human resources and human resource management, organisational learning, decision-making and work psychology.

In 2018 Wilkinson became Epiacum Heritage Trust's CIO, and is currently Chair of the group's Board of Trustees.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilkinson,D.J. (2006) The Ambiguity Advantage; what great leaders are great at' London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  2. ^ Says, YADA (December 5, 2016). "The best talks of EntDigi London 2016".
  3. ^ "About The Oxford Review". The Oxford Review.
  4. ^ "Trustees". Epiacum Heritage.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]