How Locus Of Control Can Affect Your Career

CoachHub · 6 December 2022 · 6 min read

We may not be able to predict or control life’s events but this does not stop us from dissecting and analyzing them. We rip them apart, attribute blame and conclude on their meaning. How we do this differs greatly for each individual.

When we take total responsibility for our outcomes we are said to have an internal locus of control. We believe that we have a high degree of control over life’s events and therefore, see our actions as the reason for our results. We are said to have an external locus of control when we do not believe we have the ability to control what happens to us. We do not equate our behaviors with our results and do not take responsibility for our outcomes.

What is locus of control?

The idea of locus of control refers to the degree to which an individual believes their outcomes are caused by internal or external factors. As life’s events unfold we have two choices, we can decide that the event is directly caused by our actions, or see it as a result of external forces beyond our control.

How we attribute our successes and failures says a lot about our attitudes and perspectives and can have a huge impact on the direction of our personal and professional lives. We either believe we have a high degree of control over our lives and therefore are proactive and engaged in creating the future we desire or we believe life’s events are totally beyond our reach and have a more passive and ‘lassez-faire’ attitude.

Internal vs. external locus of control

This fundamental belief underpins individuals’ behaviors and shapes their perspectives as their life evolves. There is no better option, no right or wrong, as both can materialize in different ways depending on unique personality types and individual histories. An imbalance in either direction can create unnecessary friction and cause an individual to be stalled in their career.

locus of control

Pros of having an internal locus of control

Cons of having an internal locus of control

  • High degree of self-criticism if met with failure
  • Internalizing negative experiences
  • Taking outcomes too personally
  • High impulse to control life’s events
  • Inability to accept what they cannot control

Pros of having an external locus of control

  • Can let things go easily as they do not believe they are responsible for their outcomes
  • Sensitive to their environment and aware of changing circumstances
  • Less impulse to control people and events
  • Less likely to resist life’s changes
  • Easily accepting of the timing of outcomes

Cons of having an external locus of control

  • Difficulty praising themselves as they attribute their success to luck
  • May not take action to change circumstances
  • Less likely to improve behaviors as they don’t believe they are in control
  • Can be closed off from taking advice or external help
  • Blames other people for their failures
  • Feelings of hopelessness to change circumstances

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How locus of control affects your career

“Locus of control is the degree to which a person perceives an outcome as being contingent on their own actions or those of external forces, existing along a continuum from a more internalized orientation to a more externalized orientation” – Rotter (1966).

Having an internalization orientation does not necessarily mean that you will be more proactive and successful while having an externalized orientation does not mean you will be a more relaxed and disengaged employee. Each end of the spectrum materializes in the workplace in specific ways and many people can fluctuate between the two extremes.

The following areas are most likely to be affected in a uniform way:

Collaboration and teamwork

Employees with a high internal locus of control may face issues with control in the workplace and may have difficulty with delegation. They take total responsibility for all outcomes and take on too much work. This often leads to poor teamwork and burnout.

Those with a high external locus of control may work better in teams and can more easily collaborate. They are more in tune with others and focus more on external factors in their environment.

Future prospects

Those with an internal locus of control see themselves as having a direct impact on their results and therefore are likely to go after their goals with dedication. They will be more proactive to work toward promotions and use their own initiative to put themselves forward.

An external locus of control will cause individuals to have little faith in their ability to impact their life events. They will believe things will happen if it is ‘meant to be’ and are more likely to let things happen naturally and when the ‘time is right’.

Handling setbacks

Those with an internal locus of control may not deal with failure and adversity in a healthy and constructive manner. They are likely to criticize themselves and blame solely their actions for every poor outcome.

Individuals with a high external locus of control can easily let things go as they do not see themselves as responsible for the failure. They will blame others or external circumstances for their failure. They may bounce back sooner but are unlikely to learn from their mistakes.

What can you do if you have an external locus of control and want to change it?

  • Improve your self-awareness and understand the choices and habits that are contributing to your results.
  • Take responsibility for your power to influence outcomes. Understand how much of an impact you truly have on your results and look for evidence of this truth in your daily life.
  • Become more engaged in goal-setting and working towards future aspirations.
  • Take a proactive approach to improve your habits and allow others to help you. Accept guidance from others and believe that you have the power to change your behaviors.

What can you do if you have an internal locus of control and want to change it?

  • Let go of needing to control life’s events and outcomes. Ask yourself what you are trying to control that is draining you and work to release this need.
  • Surrender to the flow of life and allow things to organically develop. Trust you are doing everything to the best of your ability and pour less energy into resisting events.
  • Practice becoming detached from outcomes and redirect your focus towards the process. Gain your sense of accomplishment from your efforts and less on your results.
  • Take more risks, try new things and step out of your comfort zone. Engage in anything that will help you to let go of control and become comfortable in the unknown.

In conclusion

Your mindset about the world around you could be affecting your career more than you realize. Begin with becoming aware of where you are more orientated with regards to your locus of control and ask if is it working for you. Could you be struggling with control or could you be taking a more proactive approach to your development? The degree to which you believe you control your outcomes is undoubtedly influencing your engagement, proactivity and decision-making. Becoming more aware of where you stand can help to identify any limiting beliefs that are holding you back in your career and allow you to adopt more empowering perspectives.

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Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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