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
Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Expert Contributor
Jerry Allison

Jerry holds a Doctor of Business Administration and a Master’s in Mathematics. He has taught business, math, and accounting for over 25 years.

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.

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Additional Activities

Locus of Control


Answer the following questions:

1. Think of a situation where something good happened to you. Did you believe it happened because of something you did or because of something or someone else?

2. Think of a situation where something bad happened to you. Did you blame yourself for the event or did you blame someone or something else?

3. Think of a time where you were on a team that succeeded at something, whether that something was a work team or a sports team. Did you feel you created most of the success of the team or did you feel it was a team effort?

4. Think of a time where you were on a team that failed at something. Did you feel that you caused the team to fail or did you blame other people on the team?

The answers to these questions can show you if you have a leaning toward an internal locus of control or an external locus of control. A mixture of the two answers is fine and shows you do not lean one way or another.


The lesson stated some positive and negative impacts for both an internal locus of control and an external locus of control. Use the internet to research locus of control, reading several articles written on the subject. Make a table of the positives and negatives for an internal locus of control and for an external locus of control. After compiling this list, how would you feel about someone that had just one locus of control. How would a person with an internal locus of control be used in a business setting? What about a person with an external locus of control? Write a report on your findings.

Discussion Question

Nufangle Company currently has two departments. Department A has a manager who, when things go right, always praises the people in the department. However, when things go wrong, this manager points fingers and blames people. Department B has a manager who, when things go right, takes the credit personally. However, when things go wrong, the manager also takes the blame personally. Which manager would you like to work for and why? When will each department be motivated to work? When will each department not be motivated to work? What types of personal problems can arise in each department?

Tips: consider motivation as being determined by how the team feels in both situations (when praise is offered or blame is placed). Would being blamed by the manager feel better or worse than having a manager who always takes credit for success without ever extending it to the team?

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