The Locus of Control – Being Proactive (Appendix 1)

The Locus of Control (originally developed by psychologist, Julian Rotter, in the 1950s) is a framework of personal motivation and the ‘locus’ of control, ie who we believe has control of a particular relationship or situation – ourselves (internal) or someone else (external).  The theory suggests:

  • if you have an internal locus of control,  you believe that you are responsible for who you are and what you are – the quality of your life is determined by the choices and the actions that you take.
  • If you have an external locus of control, you believe that others are responsible for who you are and what you are – the quality of your life is determined predominately by your environment, luck or fate.

We are not necessarily an ‘internal’ or an ‘external’ – we are all somewhere along the spectrum – but most of us tend to naturally lean towards one or the other.

It is not always the case that having internal control is the best thing -‘Externals’ can also lead pretty easy-going and happy lives! However, there is good research to suggest that people higher up in organisations tend to be ‘internal’ and that ‘internals’ tend to be more achievement oriented and successful in business.  There are also many other factors at play here, such as privilege and disadvantage, but the theory goes that the Locus of Control can be a learned behaviour – so we can apply it to help ourselves become more proactive if we wish to generally or in specific circumstances.

The Locus of Control:

If you look at the model, you can see that to be proactive you need to feel both in control of the situation and also highly motivated.  Conversely, if you feel that you have no control and low motivation you may well be feeling very uncomfortable and pretty fed up – rather like a victim.  I have found the model to be a really helpful tool when helping clients to understand and explore why they might be feeling unhappy or frustrated at work.  If you are sitting in the ‘Victim’ box you really need to take responsibility for how you are feeling and take some steps to move your self out of this position.

There are many situations in which it is perfectly fine to be sitting in the ‘reactive’ box  – someone else is in control, but you are still feeling highly motivated and happy – for example, in a job that you really enjoy and and are comfortable with a boss giving you clear and proper instructions for you to follow.  However, if you want to become more personally effective or move into a leadership position, you will need to start to exert more internal control.  You will need to take control of your own destiny, rather than allow it to be dictated by others or events that are beyond your control.


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