The Ambiguity Advantage: What great leaders are great at - The Oxford Review - OR Briefings

The Ambiguity Advantage: What great leaders are great at

The Ambiguity Advantage

What a find! In a market soaked with books on how to become a great/better/effective leader it’s great to find one so simple in approach and well written. You can dip in to particular sections or read it front to back – it’ll work just as well either way and the insights will shift your approach to leadership – if you’re smart!

The lessons section is particularly useful – and practical – offering real examples of how leaders successfully navigate the ambiguity they face. In our modern VUCA world the insight is something we could all use to improve our performance. A must read for all leaders.


What a brilliant read. I dip in and out of leadership reads – this one I genuinely couldn’t put it down. Magnificently insightful and one you can draw on immediately. Top team in development – read this. Developing leader manager capability – read this. Your organisation in change against a backdrop of ambiguity – read this. Tomorrow’s world brought right into today’s hands….and if ambiguity is uncomfortable for you – it will be less so with this book to hand. I’m sharing this with my CEO.


This is a gem of book, it is easy to read & brings the thinking to life through some great stories. As a manager in a large corporation, it has changed the way a view & react my colleagues & environment. As a working Mum it has also been the source a surprising insights in how a deal & really make the most of fluid situations. I can’t recommend it highly enough. A word of WARNING! when you get your copy don’t put it down, it appears to walk to others people desks…My boss asked what had i done on my personal development recently, as he had noticed a positive change, needless to say he has now bought his own copy.


This is one of the most important books on leadership and innovation I’ve read in years; I’ve marked up nearly every page with new ideas and questions. And with the current interest in complexity theory and adaptive management, I can’t believe I’m the first reviewer here.

Chapter 1, the Conclusion, opens with an intriguing question: Are you part of a new world’s dawning or an old world’s dying? That is, do you embrace the ambiguity, complexity, chaos, constant change, fuzzy boundaries, and risk taking of the emerging world? Or do you cling to the status, quo, traditional management models, standard processes, policies and procedures, conventional wisdom and business rules of yesterday?

Part I, How Things Appear To Be, contains two chapters, The Nature of Ambiguity and Types of Ambiguity. Good stuff here from paradox to randomness to moral dilemma and cognitive dissonance. But for me it all boils down to “arrogance and plowing ahead `because we are really good.'”

Part II, The Nature of Leadership, is the meat of the book and outlines four leadership styles or modes. Chapter four is on the Technical Leader, chapter five the Cooperative Leader, chapter six the Adaptive/Collaborative Leader, and chapter seven the Generative Leader. A number of attributes are discussed such as vision, values, power, risk, problem solving, diversity, and so on. Different types of leaders solve problems, for instance, in very different ways: some make them go away, others adapt to them, a few leverage and build on them.

Part III, Finding the Advantage, consists of chapters on Lessons to Learn from Great Leaders, Getting Creative with Ambiguity, and Developing Ambiguity Acuity. Some of these lessons were covered earlier in the book–such as don’t make risk go away, exploit it–but here we have a useful summary nonetheless. One of the takeaways for me in this section: knowledge is power in the old world; imagination is power in the new world. The bottom line, whether for an individual or an organization: evolve or die.


Before reading this book, I believed that ambiguity was something to be squeezed out of all scenarios. This book grew my awareness and enables me to bend and form a situation that I can’t grasp, and to influence a beneficial outcome without control. It is indeed a powerful tool.



Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxcognita LLC 2024. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page