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David John Wilkinson (born April 24, 1959) is considered to be one of the foremost experts and authors on Ambiguity and leadership. He is the originator of the Modes of Leadership concept which correlates ambiguity tolerance, risk aversion, emotional resilience (Psychological resilience) and thinking systems.

Early lifeEdit

Wilkinson was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in the UK to Mary Doreen and David Wilkinson. He failed at school but traveled widely especially in Africa with his parents.

Early careerEdit


After School, due to his lack of school qualifications he joined the Army and served mainly in Northern Ireland during the late 1970s as an NCO.


In 1980 Wilkinson joined the UK police. He was involved in the civil unrest and riots in Liverpool 8 or Toxteth in 1981 and the miners strike of 1984. 1n 1990 he was chosen as Director of Studies at the then Police Central Planning Unit and later was promoted to Head of Quality Assurance in National Police Training. During this time he was responsible for Command Level Public Order Training and was part of the Gold, Silver and Bronze command development team. Much of this work was focussed on preparing senior police leaders (gold and silver) to deal with serious civil disturbances and other such ongoing and fluid major incidents.

Academic careerEdit

Education and studiesEdit

His first degree was in Psychology, obtained from the Open University. During this time he became known for a series of experiments he devised 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 repatory grids.


Wilkinson started his academic career at the University of Oxford as a part time lecturer. He quickly became a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University in 1996. In 2001 he was made Head of Professional Development at Cranfield University where he conducted his initial research in to 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 heavily involved in developing and delivering training for disaster management and post-terrorist event leadership around the world through the Cranfield University Resilience Centre. David Wilkinson's unique facilitative teaching style at University has won him many plaudits, to the extent that he is often found teaching lecturing skills to fellow lecturers around the world.

Research and TheoriesEdit

Modes of LeadershipEdit

Best well known for his work on leader's reactions to ambiguity, David Wilkinson itemized those reactions into 4 (originally) and now 6 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 ContinuumEdit

This was a device Wilkinson constructed to explain the relationship between ambiguity, risk, vagueness, uncertainty and chaos. Additionally it describes how leader's 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'.

Emotional Resilience (E.R.)Edit

A key element of his work has been the connection between ambiguity tolerance and the individuals emotional reactions to uncertainty and their perceptions of risk. He has carried out a number of studies in this area and makes a clear distinction between emotional resilience and emotional intelligence. A lot of his current work is focussed on helping people become more confident in difficult and ambiguous situations. He writes about and runs workshops that show people how to develop emotional resilience and reduce their fears, nerves and anxieties and deal with difficulties and make decisions with greater confidence.

Current workEdit

He is the founder and Director of Centre i (Centre for innovation, inspiration and influence) in Oxford, UK.

Research InterestsEdit

Wilkinson's current writing and research is focused on:

Citations, reviews and referencesEdit


Reviews and discussions of The Ambiguity AdvantageEdit


  1. Wilkinson,D.J. (2006) The Ambiguity Advantage; what great leaders are great at' London: Palgrave Macmillian.
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