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Edwin Locke

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Edwin A. Locke
Born (1938-05-15) May 15, 1938 (age 86)
Alma materPhillips Exeter Academy (HSDG)
Harvard University (BA)
Cornell University (MA, PhD)

Edwin A. Locke (born May 15, 1938) is an American psychologist and a pioneer in goal-setting theory. He is a retired Dean's Professor of Motivation and Leadership at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. He was also affiliated with the Department of Psychology. As stated by the Association for Psychological Science, "Locke is the most published organizational psychologist in the history of the field. His pioneering research has advanced and enriched our understanding of work motivation and job satisfaction. The theory that is synonymous with his name—goal-setting theory—is perhaps the most widely-respected theory in industrial-organizational psychology. His 1976 chapter on job satisfaction continues to be one of the most highly-cited pieces of work in the field."[1]

Locke is a proponent of global capitalism,[2] was personally acquainted with the philosopher Ayn Rand, and is affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

He is also a critic of the concept of emotional intelligence.[3] In recent years, he has become an outspoken opponent of the animal rights movement, especially the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In a winter 2010 interview with Imagineer magazine, he stated, "I don’t think PETA want all beings equal at all; I think they want man to suffer and die."[4][5]


Locke graduated high school from Phillips Exeter Academy. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Psychology from Harvard in 1960. Two years later, at Cornell, he earned his master's degree in Industrial Psychology and Experimental Psychology, followed by his PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1964. Locke's dissertation was on the relationship of intentions to motivation and affect. In 1964, he took a position as an associate research scientist with the American Institutes for Research (AIR), where he remained as a research scientist from 1966 to 1970.

In 1967, he became an assistant professor of psychology in the University of Maryland. In 1970, he became associate professor of Business Administration in the University of Maryland. Between 1972 and 2001, he held a number of posts at the University of Maryland: 1972–2001, Professor of Business and Management, and of Psychology; 1984–1996; chair, Management and Organization Faculty; 1998–2001, Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation. Since 2001, Locke has been Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland.


The Goal Setting Theory[edit]

The Goal Setting Theory was developed by Locke in 1968 through the publication of his article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives”. [6] This theory was confirmed through the experiments of Dr. Gary Latham, who performed experiments in the workplace setting.  The two collaborated to develop the 5 principles of goal setting in their 1990 book “A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance”.  The 5 Principles the two outlined are Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback and Task Complexity. [7]

The two key findings of this theory are that setting specific goals (e.g., I want to earn $500 more a month) leads to higher performance than setting nonspecific, "do best" goals (e.g., I want to earn more money), and that goal difficulty is linearly and positively related to performance, such that, the harder the goal, the greater the effort, focus, and persistence, which results in higher performance.[8] Goals are proposed to mediate the influence of incentives and feedback on performance. The model has spawned a large body of research, most of which has supported these predictions.[9]

Goals have two characteristics: content, and intensity. Content refers to the chosen achievement (e.g., I want to form a loving relationship). Intensity refers to the quantity of physical and mental resources needed to create or achieve the content. The original model proposed by Locke consisted of five steps: Environmental Stimuli → Cognition → Evaluation → Intentions/ Goal Setting → Performance.[8]

Sub-principles of Goal-setting[edit]

1) Set challenging specific goals

2) Provide feedback in relation to goals

3) Gain goal commitment

4) Provide resources needed to attain the goal

5) Learning vs performance goals

6) Environmental uncertainty

7) Stretch Goals

Prime Mover Theory[edit]

Professor Locke also developed a model of successful business people.[10] This model is based on observations of success, such as of Walt Disney, Sam Walton, and Mary Kay. In successful people, seven traits were observed at high levels:

  1. Independent vision
  2. An active mind
  3. Competence and confidence
  4. The drive to action
  5. Egoistic passion
  6. Love of ability in others
  7. Virtue



  • The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason (published in 2011) Co-Author: Dr. Ellen Kenner
  • Study Methods and Study Motivation (published 1998)
  • Goal Setting: A Motivational Technique That Works (published 1984) Co-Author: Dr. Gary Latham
  • Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance (published 1990) Co-Authors: Dr. Gary Latham, Ken J. Smith, Robert E. Wood, Albert Bandura
  • New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance (published 2012) Co-Author Dr. Gary Latham
  • Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior (published 2009)
  • The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators (published 2000)
  • Postmodernism and Management: Pros, Cons and the Alternative (published 2003)
  • The Illusion of Determinism: Why Free Will is Real and Causal (published 2017)



Locke is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Academy of Management, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, and the Society for Organizational Behavior.


  1. ^ a b Association for Psychological Science. "2005 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award". Archived from the original on 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  2. ^ Locke, Edwin A. (April 24, 2003). "On May Day Delebrate Capitalism". Archived from the original on August 27, 2013. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  3. ^ Locke, E. A. (2005). "Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 26 (4): 425–431. doi:10.1002/job.318.
  4. ^ Winter 2010 Interview with Imagineer Magazine. http://www.imagineermagazine.com/index.php/issue_archives/autumn/edwin_a_locke
  5. ^ McConnell, Scott, "Edwin A. Locke," 100 Voices: an Oral History of Ayn Rand, 2010, New American Library, pp. 351-352.
  6. ^ Locke, Edwin A. (May 1968). "Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives". Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. 3 (2): 157–189. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4. ISSN 0030-5073.
  7. ^ Tosi, Henry L. (April 1991). "A Theory of Goal Setting and Task PerformanceA Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance, by LockeEdwin A. and LathamGary P.. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990". Academy of Management Review. 16 (2): 480–483. doi:10.5465/amr.1991.4278976. ISSN 0363-7425.
  8. ^ a b Locke, E. A. (1968). "Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives". Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. 3 (2): 157–189. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4.
  9. ^ Mento, A. J.; Steel, R. P.; Karren, R. J. (1987). "A meta-analytic study of the effects of goal setting on task performance: 1966–1984". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 39: 52–83. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(87)90045-8.
  10. ^ E. A. Locke. (2000). The prime movers: Traits of the great wealth creators. Amacom New York, NY.
  11. ^ "Edwin A. Locke, Ph.D. | Dean's Professor". edwinlocke.com. Retrieved 2023-11-10.

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