Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Locus of Control

Whether we take responsibility ourselves for what happens to us, or whether we blame others for our own misfortunes (or 'luck' for fortune) is a relatively old construct called locus of control. In 1966, the idea of locus of control was launched into academia in a monograph written by Herbert Lefcourt, who is still a preeminent researcher in the psychology field.

There are two ends of the scale. At one end we have an internal locus of control, for which the term 'self-directed' sums up quite nicely. These are people to whom the world around them is a tool which they can generally bend to their will. While they are realistic, they also believe that there are few problems which are insurmountable if they are able to throw enough thinking, time and effort at it. They are empowered, active, critical thinkers... entrepreneurs. They are 'doers', not wishful thinkers or snake oil sellers (Daft, 2008; Hill, 2011; Lefcourt, 1966, 1981). They are the movers and shakers (O'Shaughnessy, 1873). These people seem truly grown up.

At the other end, we have an external locus of control, which the word 'victim' encapsulates perfectly. Nothing is ever their fault. The world is against them. Lady Luck is not watching over them. They don't know why things go so wrongly for them. They are often bewildered, and drift with the tides; or are angry at the terrible hand they have been dealt in life. They lack power to make positive change. They are the people who are taken in by the snake oil sellers, cults and 'inspirational speakers' (Daft, 2008; Hill, 2011; Lefcourt, 1966, 1981). I tend to think of people at the very far end of the scale as permanent children.

The two ends of the scale do not define us holistically as we have many 'faces'. It is context specific, not general. Some people might demonstrate external locus of control behaviours within their family, but an internal locus of control in their profession. Some of us, when we get overburdened, will revert to an external locus of control in some aspects of our lives, but not in others.

Much research has been done into attitudinal scales to measure locus of control, with the Rotter Internal-External scale probably being the most prestigious. Locus of control is a key element for developing leadership potential: it is an important characteristic to understand, identify and build. So we can measure locus of control, we can teach it, and we can use it as a leadership development tool (Daft, 2008; Hill, 2011; Lefcourt, 1966, 1981).

We do have to remember that this is not a binary construct, but a sliding scale. We can learn to take more control, and so can shift ourselves from closer to an external to more of an internal locus of control through counselling, and through professional development of autonomy, independence, interdependence and team work with constructive appraisal. Measurement is the first step, and we can measure ourselves here.

This concept is similar to Carol Dweck's work on mindset.



  • Daft, R. L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th ed.). USA: Thomson-South Western
  • Hill, R. (2011). Teach internal locus of control: A positive psychology app. Beach Haven NJ, USA: Will to Power Press.
  • Lefcourt, H. M. (Ed.). (1984). Research with the locus of control construct: extensions and limitations. New York, USA: Academic Press.
  • Lefcourt, H. M. (Ed.). (1981). Research with the locus of control construct: assessment methods. New York, USA: Academic Press.
  • Lefcourt, H. M. (1966). Internal versus external control of reinforcement: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 65(4), 206-220.
  • Nowicki, S. (2016). Choice or Chance: Understanding your locus of control and why it matters. USA: Prometheus Books.
  • O'Shaughnessy, A. E. W. (1873). Ode. Retrieved from
  • MyPersonalityTest (n.d.). Locus of Control. Retrieved from

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.