Leading into the Future III: From the Pendulum to the Fire

Leading into the Future III: From the Pendulum to the Fire

Locus of Control

We perceive mysteries as taking place outside our sphere of control or influence. Psychologists call this an external locus of control and note that some people are inclined to view most issues as outside their control (that is, as mysteries). By contrast, puzzles are usually perceived as being under our control. Psychologists identify this perspective as an internal locus of control and note that some people are likely to view all issues as being under their control (that is, as puzzles).

Problems and dilemmas are usually complex mixtures of controllable and uncontrollable elements. To successfully address a problem or dilemma, one typically needs a balanced perspective with regard to internal and external loci of control—a critical distinction for leaders to draw. One of the most helpful inquiries when confronting problems, dilemmas and (in particular) nested dilemmas is to identify what is and what is not under one’s control. A problem or dilemma that is embedded in a rugged landscape is more likely to have components that are under at least our partial control than is a problem or dilemma that is embedded in a dancing landscape.


There are myriad challenges associated with the role of leader in addressing these different kinds of issues. First, we typically want their issues to be puzzles that we can control or perhaps mysteries for which we have no responsibility. Puzzles can be solved and we know when we have solved them. Mysteries are outside our control, so we don’t have to feel responsible for resolving them. But problems and dilemmas—these are much more difficult to address. We have to determine which aspects of the problem or dilemma are under our control and which aspects are not. This confusing mixture of internal and external control is inherent in problems and dilemmas, and so is the balancing of competing but valid interests represented by different stakeholders. That’s what makes them so difficult to address.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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