Negative Capability and the Capacity to Think in the Present Moment: Some Implications for Leadership Practice

Journal Article or Monograph

Title: Negative Capability and the Capacity to Think in the Present Moment: Some Implications for Leadership Practice
Year: 2006
Authors: Dr Peter Simpson Dr Robert French

Two themes that are prevalent in the literature on leadership practice are planning for the future and learning from the past. In this ‘Leading Questions’piece, we raise the question of whether, in addition, attention needs to be given to a third element that is not well represented in the literature: the leader’s capacity to think in the present. We suggest that such thinking requires the capacity to see what is actually going on, in contrast with what was planned for, expected or intended – even when what is actually going on is uncertain or even unknown. In keeping with the theme of this special issue we demonstrate that attending to the present moment is a refrain both ancient and modern, to be found in eastern and western religion and philosophy while having a direct impact on practical modern disciplines, such as psychoanalysis. For example, Wilfred Bion’s writings on psychoanalytic theory explore the nature of mental and emotional capacities demanded by this focus on the present moment and its relationship to the development of thought. Using an idea employed by Bion in this context, we suggest that an important dimension of leadership practice is negative capability, which comprises patience and the ability to tolerate frustration and anxiety. This capability can help the leader to retain the capacity to think in the present moment, even in the face of uncertainty. In this context, important dimensions of leadership practice include the ability to embody key thoughts on behalf of an organization and the capacity to contain the impact of the new thinking that can arise in the present moment.

Keywords: change management, emotion, leadership, negative capability, psychoanalytic theory
Language: English

Journal: Leadership
Volume: 2
Issue: 2
Start page: 245
End page:
Publisher ID:

Submitted by:
Dr Robert French
Reader in Organization Studies
Bristol Business School University of the West of England
Corresponding author: Dr Peter Simpson

Literature Download:

By downloading the file you agree to comply with the Terms of Use / Guidelines of the ISPSO Library and the copyright/authority information for this Literature (above).

If there is no filename in a link below then a download has not been provided.
Members-only Downloads are via the members-only zone of the website.

External website Download

Local Download

No files attached to this page.

Members-only Download

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License