• Katherine Powell

On Leadership: Locus of control in teams




Do you know what drives your team?


Is it the pleasure that comes from a job well done - their own internal sense of success and pride? Or is it the physical reward that comes with achievement - perhaps a bonus, a title, or the promise of great things coming their way?


Understanding a person’s motivations and locus of control can be the key to getting the most out of your team.


What is this locus of control?


Put simply, locus of control is an individual’s level of belief about how much control they have over the things that affect them and is broadly split into two categories.


Someone with ‘internal’ locus of control would have a high belief in their ability to control their own outcomes through their behaviours and decision making. An individual with ‘external’ locus of control believes their outcomes are entirely affected by things external to them (chance, fate, etc)


Where on the spectrum a person falls will determine their motivation for intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. While intrinsic rewards are usually a sense of pride or achievement - an internal recognition resulting from a love for the task or challenge, extrinsic rewards are those given to a person from an external source such as a medal or physical prize.


In an ideal world, your employees will all love what they do and believe they personally control the outcome of their success. Therefore, any task they do well will give them an incentive and motivation to push towards the next goal. This type of employee usually has a high level of self-efficacy, self-confidence and personal drive.


However, the reality is there are going to be people in your team who are just there for the pay cheque, and more likely to believe their success or lack of in a job is not due to their own skill level, but outside of their control and dependent on the people around them. Whether it’s the tyrannical boss, the computer that doesn’t work, the temperature in the office, they’ll always find a reason outside of their control to justify their inability to meet their agreed goals.


The good news is, this doesn’t mean that you’re dealing with a lost cause, but it may mean you have to tap into extrinsic rewards to get the best out of them.


It’s not all about forking out dollars for incentives or multiple employee of the month awards though, research shows that simple praise and recognition can be enough to increase someone’s intrinsic motivation*. Giving an employee a shout out or compliment for a job well done can increase their pride in their work. That sense of satisfaction can start to tip over into intrinsic reward and may result in a greater internal locus of control. Suddenly an employee who was just merely getting through the day now gains satisfaction from their output and in turn gains a sense of control over their own success. Achieving this can change the shape of your team in mere months…


Research into athletes has found that those who place a higher value on intrinsic rewards actually work harder, achieve more, and gain more satisfaction regardless of the many extrinsic rewards available in the world of sports. In the world of business, overusing extrinsic rewards can actually diminish a person’s intrinsic motivation. A person who once loved their job and gained satisfaction from their success now working only for a bonus or prize, has lost enjoyment in their role.


So, while it can be a bit of high wire act, assessing your team and where they land on the locus of control scale can be an extremely valuable exercise.


Finding the sweet spot between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is what will ultimately lead to a more productive and satisfied team in the long run.



* https://www.verywellmind.com/differences-between-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivation-2795384