Published June 13, 2020 by with 5 comments

What's Your Locus of Control?

When faced with difficulties, do you feel you have control over the outcome and are fully responsible for the end result? Or, you feel that external factors are involved, over which you don't have any control, and thus you cannot influence the outcome? Depending on the thought process, you either have an internal or external locus of control. Let me explain with an example.

A software firm was working on an important client delivery. They were supposed to roll out a new app feature to the customer. The timelines were tight, but they were confident to get this through on time. The team worked very hard, and everything seemed to be going as per the plan.

With three days to go, they had an internal demo with the management, to walk through the feature details. During the demo, it came out that they had missed developing a very critical piece, and now there was no way to deliver the complete feature within stipulated time. The whole team was disappointed that even after putting so much effort, they had failed. As a usual practice, the team gathered to retrospect on what went wrong.

There were multiple points raised to understand the reason of this failure. To quote a few -

  • Developers - Analysts should have provided the requirements clearly.
  • Analysts - The development team should have gone through the requirements properly, and reached out if something wasn't clear.
  • Project Manager - Demo should have been scheduled early, so that the team would have received the feedback on time.

What do you notice here? No one took the responsibility of the failure. This behavior is what is referred to as having an external locus of control. Everyone was busy blaming the external factors for the failure.

Now, let us rephrase above statements from the outlook of a person having an internal locus of control.

  • Developers - We should have asked for the clarification from the analysts, as we knew requirements aren't clear.
  • Analysts - We should have checked with the developers if they have understood the requirement or not.
  • Project Manager - I should have scheduled the demo earlier, so as to get an early feedback.

See the difference? With this outlook, everyone showed that they had control over the outcome, and took responsibility for it. This refers to having an internal locus of control.

So how do we define this concept of locus of control? 

Locus of control is a psychological concept, which defines the degree to which people believe they have control over the situations and outcomes of the events happening in their lives, as opposed to external factors.

How does having an internal versus external locus of control affects us? 

People having internal locus of control tend to analyze and take appropriate actions to set things right, when faced with problems. They are driven individuals. They feel confident when faced with challenges. On the other hand, those with external locus of control would appear to be complaining about outside factors being the cause of their shortcomings. They lack confidence, as they don't believe they can change the situation with their efforts.

Let's see some more examples.

External locus of controlInternal locus of control 
I failed because the questions were out of syllabus. I failed because I didn't go through the complete syllabus. 
I always lose this game. Luck is never on my side.I always lose this game. I need to practice more.
I got late to office due to high traffic.I got to late to office, as I didn't leave early considering high traffic.
We couldn't crack the deal because the panel was biased.We couldn't crack the deal because we were not prepared well. 

Although, having an internal locus of control is a good thing in most of the cases, but it has its drawbacks too. Such people at times can become highly self-critical, resulting in a state of anxiety and depression. It's important to find the right balance, and not to beat yourself up over the failures. 

The idea is to develop a thought process, where you don't go by your instincts, but take a step back and analyze the situation. Think of the options you have, and figure out if there is something you can do to influence the situation or not.


  1. This is so true. Most of the times we actually blame on the situations, luck and other factors but what we really forget is did we put our 100% to achieve this. Yes, luck plays a role but your efforts are something which matters if you putted all your efforts to get something done no matter what result you get atleast you will be satisfied that you gave your 100%.

    1. We don't realize when such an outlook turns into a habit, and we forget to take actions even when we could, to change the outcome.

  2. I agree that Internal Locus of control does help an individual to become better. In reality, the actual outcome always depends on both internal and external factors.

    The role of project manager in your example is very different from how it is usually in the industry.
    Also the situation you mentioned is synonymous to "how not to do software development in any company".

    I see two more critical problems than Internal Locus from the example you mentioned:
    1. lack of process and real project management people who understands fundamentals of software development process which starts with Requirements -> Stories -> Test cases -> Tasks -> Estimates -> Sprint -> output.
    2. wondering how come the CEO and leadership team are not aware that they do not have a process and need to have one? This is a disaster. Could it be because they are pushing for Internal locus of control rather than being one?

    1. Hi,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Yes, the role of Project Manager ideally is supposed to be what you have explained above. Although, in real-world, and mostly with smaller organizations, where teams are trying to get to the market soon, more often than not you would see project managers giving up on processes for delivery. The standard software development process doesn't work in all situations.

      Same is true for leadership team as well. Processes are needed, no doubt, for sustaining in this industry. But teams today needs to be flexible in adopting them.