What is a Locus of Control?

Post date: Feb 19, 2014 2:00:09 PM


"A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation)." (Zimbardo, 1985)

Internal Locus of Control

If you have a high internal Locus of Control you believe in your own ability to control your life and the world around you. You will see the future as being in your own hands and that your own choices lead to success or failure.

Positive factors:

If you feel that you are in control of yourself and your environment you tend to be more confident and influential. You will also be more intrinsically motivated rather than needing an external force to validate you. If you believes that you are in control of your destiny, you are more likely to show great effort to achieve high performance.

Negative factors:

If you are extremely internally focused you can be very hard on yourself, blaming yourself for things that may have been out of your control. An internally-focused person will be hard on themselves and constantly analyse what they did wrong. That perspective almost forces these individuals to be hard driven individuals that at times can adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude.

External Locus of Control

If you have a high external locus of control you believe that you have little or no control over the environment and that you are subject to “fate” or whatever “luck” comes your way. All you can do is obey the system which controls you.

Positive factors:

If you are externally focused you don’t feel a sense of guilt and can happily go along blaming the world around you for things that go wrong; which can mean that you are extremely laid back and relaxed about life, or accepting of life situations.

Negative factors:

In this position you may believe that others have control over you and that you can do nothing but obey. You may step back from situations, assuming that you cannot make a difference.Conversely, those that have an external focus may come off as someone who just does not accept responsibility. While they are and can be team players, if the result is not a positive one, they will be the first to complain that something outside their personal control attributed to the shortfall.


If you're a person with an internal locus of control and you get a promotion at work. You will probably attribute the success to the hard work you put in.

If you have an external locus of control, you might attribute that promotion to environmental factors, such as luck, fate, timing, or other people.

If you were denied a promotion and your locus of control is internal, you would find a way to blame yourself for the perceived failure. If your locus of control is external, it would be easy, even natural, to blame outside sources beyond your control.

Those with an internal locus of control:

  • Are more likely to take responsibility for their actions
  • Tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people
  • Often do better at tasks when they are allowed to work at their own pace
  • Usually have a strong sense of self-efficacy
  • Tend to work hard to achieve the things they want
  • Feel confident in the face of challenges
  • Tend to be physically healthier
  • Report being happier and more independent
  • Often achieve greater success in the workplace

Those with an external locus of control:

  • Blame outside forces for their circumstances
  • Often credit luck or chance for any successes
  • Don't believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts
  • Frequently feel hopeless or powerless in the face of difficult situations
  • Are more prone to experiencing learned helplessness

So what conclusion can we draw from this information? I would suggest that a good leader has an internal locus of control. But along with the internal locus of control it should go hand in hand with a positive outlook, a negative outlook and you may find the individual difficult to work with. Whereas, it may be better for someone in a highly controlled environment to hold a more external locus of control, as the individual will be happier not being pressured to take responsibility.

Neither of these states are a permanent fixture, if someone should want a more internal LOC then start setting achievable goals. These goals when achieved can be very rewarding and enable the individual realise that they can be the master of their own destiny.