By Michael Kolacz
May 24, 2012
Do you desire to be more stressed, miserable, and less successful in life? If such is the case, work on developing an external locus of control. In the turbulent times of today, those choosing to take the approach of performance being largely controlled by the external environment result in minimizing their individual efforts. Such dangerous behavior calls for readdressing the locus of control concept developed in the 1950’s by Julian Rotter. The locus of control refers to perceptions regarding causes for individual success or failure. A number of studies indicate locus of control has a significant impact on behavior. Those believing destiny and outcomes to be determined by “fate” possess an external locus of control while others with an internal locus of control penchant perceive outcomes to be a result of personal control.
The locus of control is best examined through use of a continuum with the following opposing behavioral expressions:
“I AM CONTROLLED BY FATE” “I AM A MASTER OF MY OWN FATE”
Examining concepts through use of a continuum can be helpful in expressing degrees of orientation. In other words, one can possess a stronger locus of control than another. What’s perhaps more significant about the model depicted are the arrows of the continuum running on to infinity. There are no distinct ending points defined. A person for example with an unchecked high external locus of control could ultimately render themself to a helpless state, feeling virtually all matters control their fate. In contrast, persons defined by a strong sense of setting their own destiny are capable of further improving this positive attitude.
A number of research studies demonstrate the power of possessing an internal locus of control. For leaders of organizations, an internal locus of control is an imperative as compared to externals, internals tend to be:
- more self-motivated
- happier and less stressed
- better in control of their individual behaviors
- more active in seeking information
- better problem solvers
- better able to deal with and handle complex information
- more creative, demonstrate initiative, and independent action
- more likely to assume or seek additional leadership responsibilities
Few would discount the importance of possessing an internal locus of control. The important question to ask is what can be done to change one’s locus of control orientation? In the continuous improvement mindset of author and consultant W. Edwards Deming even the best processes can be improved, so the following suggestions are directed at all desiring to move to a greater internal locus of control behavior pattern.
Language - Guard against speaking in such negative absolutes as “I have no choice” with “I am not pleased with my choices but will…” When restricting choices in dealing with problems, alternatives are limited and ultimately solutions. The clear result of negative self- talk is negative results. A self-fulfilling prophecy of failure is created through negativity as energy and thought is placed in determining the number of ways failure can be achieved.
People - The reality of life is we must deal with all sorts of people, those with an internal and others with an external locus of control. Neighbors, relatives, and co-workers can each be charted in various spots along the locus of control continuum. When communicating with external locus of control people, do not encourage their behavior but communicate from an internal locus of control view. You may not change the entire world through your action but you may help another and by doing so also result in strengthening your internal locus of control perspective.
Attitude - Dale Carnegie, author of the famous self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People offered the following excellent advice regarding attitude:
“Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have: it depends solely on what you think!”
Within our individual realms of existence the most powerful person in the world is ourselves as we alone possess the ability to control the attitude we exhibit.
Read - One’s internal locus of control can be developed and strengthened through reading appropriate works. Steven Covey’s classic best seller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” offers a wealth of advice for personal positive growth. His first habit, Be Proactive, is directed at the importance of possessing an internal locus of control. As Covey emphasizes in his writings, people are defined by their responses to occurrences not what happens to them. A proactive nature is an essential ingredient of an internal locus of control mindset.
Through development of an internal locus of control, not only does the individual benefit but the organization as well. Organizational human capital increases through the behavioral values practiced by the employees. An empowered, proactive, positively focused workforce exhibits the characteristics necessary for competitive success in today’s dynamic environment.
Dr. Michael Kolacz is professor of Management and associate department chair of Management for the Livonia and Warren campuses of Davenport University. Prior to his career in education, he was employed in business and industry with British Petroleum providing leadership at various levels of management. He can be reached at [email protected].