Internal vs. External ‘Locus of Control’

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One of the few guarantees in business, as with life, is that there will always be roadblocks, obstacles, stumbles, and setbacks. Plans don’t always work out as expected, goals aren’t always reached, and the competition sometimes prevails.

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How individuals, teams, and organizations respond to setbacks can be crucial in determining how they move forward: Do they grow and improve? Or do they stagnate? This often boils down to mind-set and whether those faced with setbacks have an internal or external “locus of control.”

Kendra Cherry does a nice job of explaining the concept of locus of control in an article for Verywell Mind: “Locus of control refers to the extent to which people feel that they have control over the events that influence their lives,” she writes.

“When you are dealing with a challenge in your life, do you feel that you have control over the outcome? Or do you believe that you are simply at the hands of outside forces? If you believe that you have control over what happens, then you have what psychologists refer to as an internal locus of control,” Cherry says. “If you believe that you have no control over what happens and that external variables are to blame, then you have what is known as an external locus of control.”

There are countless examples of external locus of control in an office setting: “I couldn’t meet my deadline because I didn’t have enough support from the rest of the team” or “We didn’t meet our sales goals because the economy is just sluggish.”

By contrast, someone with an internal locus of control faced with the same situations might say something like “I didn’t find a way to engage the resources I needed to complete my assignment on time” or “We aren’t being creative enough to meet the challenges of the current economic climate.”

The significance of these two contrasting mind-sets is clear: Those with an internal locus of control are focused on what they can change, meaning they are empowered to improve, while those with an external locus of control see themselves as helpless, and if one has no control over success or failure, why make any effort to change things for the better?

Often, the difference between success and failure comes down to mind-set. Two individuals or organizations blessed with the same inherent abilities and resources could achieve vastly different results based solely on their outlook on the world and their degree of control over their situation.

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