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Locus of Control: Definition and Examples of Internal and External

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  • 0:05 Locus of Control
  • 0:59 Internal vs. External
  • 2:00 The Benefits and Drawbacks
  • 3:21 The Impact on…
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn
Is your locus of control internal or external? Your perception of where control lies can have an impact on your viewpoint and the way you interact with your environment. This lesson explores the differences between internal and external lotus of control and how each impacts organizational behavior.

Locus of Control

Control: an easy word to understand yet a challenging word to actually deal with. We have people that think they control everything, others that think they are controlled by the world around them and pretty much everything in between. Control can be defined as the power to determine outcomes by directly influencing actions, people and events. When we look at it that way, we can begin to see that there is no way to control everything in our lives. I'm not saying we cannot control anything, but put in the context of that definition, we have to step back and really analyze what we can and cannot control.

The word 'control' becomes even more interesting when we have the word locus, before it. You see, locus is defined as a position, point or place, or more specifically, a location where something occurs. A person's locus of control may be internal or external.

Internal vs. External Locus of Control

People who base their success on their own work and believe they control their life have an internal locus of control. In contrast, people who attribute their success or failure to outside influences have an external locus of control.

For example, let's say you're a person with an internal locus of control and you get a promotion at work or achieve some other type of success. You will probably attribute that positive end result to the work you put in. In other words, your success was a direct result of your hard work.

If, on the other hand, you have an external locus of control, you might attribute that promotion or success to external or environmental factors, such as luck, fate, timing, other people or some type of divine intervention.

Let's use the same example and say that you were denied a promotion. If 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.

The Benefits and Drawbacks

Individuals who identify with an internal locus of control tend to take more responsibility for their actions, whether those actions or the end results are good or bad. They do not accept outside influence for the outcomes, no matter what that is. If, for example, this person did not get back to work in time from lunch, they would think they should have eaten in the office or not gone to lunch altogether. The results of the action are theirs and theirs alone to bear.

On the other hand, a person who identifies with an external locus of control looks at everything around them as part of the success or failure. In many ways, they believe in the team aspect more than those that focus on the internal locus of control, as they will always praise those around them for a job well done, even if they had nothing to do with it at all. They are team players.

There are drawbacks to both of these viewpoints, though. An internally-focused person will be hard on themselves and constantly analyze what they did wrong. That perspective almost forces these individuals to be hard charging, driven individuals that at times can assume a take-no-prisoners attitude. 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.

The Impact on Organizational Behavior

It is not difficult to imagine how the internal and external locus of control can impact organizational behavior. True, that impact will start at an individual level (internal or external control), but an organization is a grouping of individuals that will possess one of these traits, thus it will make up the entire organization.

Take, for instance, the individuals that identify with an internal locus of control. They will be hard on themselves, and that is something a manager needs to manage. However, those same people will also be the hard-charging individuals we spoke about earlier. They could step over or around individuals to get the end result they need, and that can cause bad feelings and divides within an organization - something organizational behavior strives to identify and remedy at all turns.

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