Locus of Control

Updated: Jun 23

Individual & Organizational Impact

What is locus of control?

The word locus in Latin means place - or space. Locus of control was a concept proposed by Psychologist Julian Rotter in 1966 based on Social learning theory. The Social learning theory suggests that an expectation is reinforced when the expected events or behavior actually occur in the future. And when it doesn't happen then expectation is weakened. Individuals develop strong belief systems based on the above life experiences on what can be in control with them, and what they cant control. Rotter postulated that individuals who believe that their own behavior or characteristics determine or cause events possess an internal locus of control. On the other hand, people who think that reinforcement following an action is not entirely contingent upon their own actions but instead perceived as luck, fate, chance, or other forces beyond their control have external locus of control.

Some identifiable traits of internal & external locus of Controls: The internal and external locus of control are a continuum from inside to outside creating a wide variety of behavioral traits among both, and influencing how these traits influence our beliefs, behaviors and directly influencing our lives, career and leadership .

Internal Locus of Control - Some advantages: These type of individuals exhibit following characteristics:

- High Self esteem

- Self efficacy

- Seek help when required

- Are hardworking and achievement seeking

- Take responsibility

- Suffer less burnout

- Intrinsically motivated

- less influenced by peer pressure

- Have control over habits and health

Some disadvantages :They are perceived as arrogant due to their self belief. They may lose sight of their pride and confidence and be prone to unpredictable errors due to single mindedness, this may lead them to being risk prone. They show tendency not to accept failures. Errors in self judgement ,strained personal relations, and strive for perfectionism are other drawbacks of internal locus of control. High internal locus of control needs an environment of opportunity, competence and self efficacy to survive.

External Locus of Control - some advantages :Such individuals ,

- function under structure

- Conform to rules

- High in Compliance in a structured environment

- High degree of team affiliation under support

- Suitable to work when compliance is required

- Suitable for individuals who can work under controls

- Not under stress usually since they superimpose events on the environment

- Accept events as they are and unfold and the great quality to Let go!

- Let go events and difficult situations which may be the need of the hour!


- Can be stressed when no directions are there

- Don't set goals

- Experience learned helplessness

- Likely to suffer anxiety

- Constant failures may lead to low self esteem

- No power to make a difference

- Can get hopeless with events around them

- Could blame environment for their mistakes and are prone to self serving bias

- May not credit themselves for success, and in turn credit situations to favor the success

Impact on the locus of controls in an organization

General Aspects :

By using the concept of locus of control, work behavior can be explained ,when an employee feels the results of the work carried out as a result of internal locus of control and external locus of control. Internal locus of control will be visible through the ability to work and work-related measures of success and failure of employees at the time of the job (Salomi 2004). While employees with external locus of control feel that there are controls outside him which supports the results of the work performed. (Salomi, 2004).

Leadership adaptiveness :

In a VUCA ( volatile ,uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment the need to face the situations are fluid and ambiguous ,unstructured. This requires a good degree of internal locus of control and may not favor an external locus of control as this requires flexibility under all odds and a great deal of self confidence.

Decision making & Problem Solving:

People with Internal locus of control are quick to taking decisions and solving problems in a work environment enabling organizational progress and growth. This is vital to achieve goals and clear day to day hurdle and challenges.

Working under stress :

Working under stress brings in new situations, targets and milestones which requires constant monitoring and self discipline and hard work which favors individuals with internal locus of control .

Working with difficult goals:

Working with difficult or unpredictable goals sometime may give false sense of confidence to individuals who have internal locus of control and that could be stressful .The lack of ability by individuals and certain stakeholders to conform or give up, or let go may harm teams and functions in achieving unrealistic goals and the organization may suffer feedback voids or lack of change management required.

Organization structure and Performance

The performance of an organization depends on its leadership styles and locus of control directly influences the leadership styles .Leaders need to be non directive while handling subordinates with high internal locus of control, similarly leaders are expected to be more guiding, participative and supportive to individual with external locus of control.

A situational leadership works best in times of key stakeholders with dynamic locus of control.

Other factors key in an organization structure which needs a overview from the perspective of locus of control are described below:

Motivation :

People with internal locus of control are intrinsically motivated to do their work, to keep healthy, to follow goals and timelines. They are persistent in their approach to success and don't get carried away by failures. The drive and motivation among teams drive a positive vibe and healthy organizational culture.

Compliance/Conforming :

People with external locus of control are more comfortable complying ,conforming and following norms .They may however be less conscientious and work more out of fear (reactive ). A high compliance is good for reducing risk strategies in an organization. Also this aids in driving process in organizations. This may seldom aid though to Innovate Process.

Innovation & Creativity :

Employees with internal locus of control are creative and innovative this enables business objectives and aids differentiation strategies.

Tolerance to ambiguity :

Individuals and leaders with internal locus of control may exhibit resilience to take ambiguity and hard - stressful situations and this is very useful for organization in wading through tough times and volatile market situations in business and dealing with clients.

Key stakeholder and leaders: Key stake holders and leaders connect the dots of an organization and hence understanding their locus of control is prime in deciphering impact on performance. If key stakeholders and reporting managers, supervisors have conflicting locus of control this calls for a sound leadership skills. Situational leadership is useful to navigate diverse charactesics of leaders and subordinates. For instance:

Leaders and senior executives need to be delegative to subordinates with high internal locus of control and may have to give complete freedom for the growth of ideas ,alternatively :

Leaders and senior executives need to be supportive and guiding when subordinates have external locus of control at the same time nurturing non directive leadership


Locus of control can be assessed by Psychometric assessments. Its a ideal tool with management to assessment team and group dynamics and also nurture individual development and leadership.

A balance of internal and external locus of control looks more adaptive to situations, however both internal and external locus of control have their own advantages in long run. Psychometric tests are a general guideline and are to be used only to analyze and nurture the requirements for life, career and the organization as deemed fit at the moment and time, rather that package individuals as groups and classify them with judgements. This is a key aspect to be looked into while using this psychometric tool for benefits of organizations.

Kindly give your perspectives and comments!

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