Locus Of Control Is Alive And Well In The Workplace

Jerry Maguire
Jerry Maguire

Regardless of whether or not you are interested in psychology, there is an idea in the realm of personal psychology that will follow you to the workplace and wherever else you go. This idea curated by the famous psychologist, Julian B. Rotter, is known as locus of control.

Locus of control is the idea that people have direct power over events in their own lives. Furthermore, locus of control involves how these events impact, motivate, or empower a person on a multitude of levels. There is a measurable means of pinpointing where someone’s locus of control falls in the grand scheme of things. This brings us to the concept of internal (inner) versus external (outer) locus of control.

Julian B. Rotter puts the idea of the internal versus the external into an approachable perspective. In his writing Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement, Rotter basically says that there are different ways we perceive motivators and life events through internal and external ways. If someone has an external focus they lean on things like luck, fate, and their place in the world. That person may tend to center themselves on instances that are outside of their power. In hindsight, those who have an internal sense regarding locus of control hold themselves accountable more often. They emphasize their personal choices and how they validate their own choices.

You decide what stance you will take, either internal or external, from the moment you wake up in the morning. Think about how you get yourself out of bed and the means in which you make your morning commute.

An example of inner versus outer locus of control is the way a person views showing up to work late. A person with a strong sense of inner locus of control would recognize that the steps they took to getting to work on time fell short that day. They would accept the fact that they are late, should have probably woken up earlier, and more than likely have an apologetic and realistic view of the situation. If someone places blame on traffic, or their alarm clock not waking them up, then they are heavily clinging to outside forces of locus of control.

But it definitely doesn’t stop at just showing up for work. Locus of control is alive and well all day every day. Take distractions in the workplace for example. Something that most people working an office job can relate to is the feeling of trying to be productive and having their attention spans troubled by overly noisy coworkers. An external mindset would be much more distracted than an internal view of the situation. Someone more geared toward an inner locus of control approach would put headphones on, or simply ask the noisy coworkers to control themselves. This person would be a lot more proactive when it comes down to getting the task at hand finished.

Finally, what area of locus of control would the most effective leaders within a work environment identify with? An excerpt from a book by Gary Yukl expresses this idea perfectly:

“Effective managers demonstrate a strong internal locus of control and belief in self-efficacy, as evidenced by behavior such as initiating action (rather than waiting for things to happen), taking steps to bypass obstacles, seeking information from a plethora of sources, and accepting responsibility for both success and failure” (Yukl, 2006).

The vast majority of the time inner means certainly do have more benefits than outer.

One final idea to consider is how emotional stability plays a role in all of this. Emotional stability relates to a person’s ability to surpass minor setbacks, difficulties, and failures. It also reveals the overall control of their moods and emotions. Just as the issues of mental health stigmas are relevant and important to understand, it’s important to not have stigmas associated with someone who is externally driven. Negative views only lead to more negativity. Someone who is outwardly fueled needs to come to terms through self-realization, not through an associated stigma pointed at them.

Alignments between internal and external mindsets are extremely important if you expect to maintain a solid level of efficiency in your place of work. Take charge of your own life and your workplace responsibilities on an individual level. Strive for an internal locus of control. An external stance is simply distracting you and creating inefficiencies. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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