Are You a Thermostat or a Thermometer?

In a leadership position, you have to realize that you are the one who sets the pace. You set the temperature for the organization, the team, the association. Depending on whether you’re a thermostat or a thermometer determines how you set the overall tone for your organization.

A thermometer measures temperature. A thermostat, on the other hand, sets the temperature for the room. Generally, you do not want to be a thermometer.

If you are leading an organization and you do not like the outcome, direction, or results you’re getting, you need to ask yourself if you are a thermostat or a thermometer. Are you merely reflecting what is going on or are you establishing a culture and expectations?

As leaders, our responsibility is to set the expectations. We have to be the thermostat. The underlying principle of this idea is the Law of limited performance. This law states that one will rise to the level of expectations set forth by one’s leader. So oftentimes, leadership consists of creating a positive culture and setting high expectations.

This brings us to another principle: A leader is a culture builder and a culture keeper. The leader’s job is to build the culture by setting the temperature and not just reflecting what others are doing. Once you have built that culture, your job as a leader is to keep that culture going strong. Keeping the culture becomes more challenging later on. I would even argue that it’s easier to build the culture than to keep it. Keeping the culture is about holding your organization accountable. The only way you can keep a culture is by having values and basing your decisions off those values. When values are clear, decisions are easy.

One main challenge that people face when trying to be a thermostat is popularity. This goes back to what we covered in the last chapter, be a leader first and a friend second. A lot of people hesitate to make a decision that would move their organization forward because they are worried about not being liked. So you cannot let popularity hold you back. You have to be other-focused all the time.

There are numerous situations where a leader can change the temperature of the room by being a thermostat instead of a thermometer and it has positively impacted the group and the leader’s self-awareness. I see it all the time. A leader will simply pull out the best in others by creating a higher expectation. Everyone needs someone in their life to expect greatness from them, and the more people they have in their life that can play that part, the better off that person is going to be.

The problem in our society is that all too often we pass off the responsibility of expecting greatness. For example, parents might think that teachers and the school system should play that role, and teachers might think the parents should play that role, or coaches think parents should play that role and parents think coaches should play that role. Somebody has to set high expectations for the people that are developing in the world. The fact is, we have to take that responsibility upon ourselves.

For example, in the business world, if there is a new advisor that wants to start out doing 5 first-appointments per week, her leader should encourage her to bump that goal up to 6 or 7 first-appointments per week. That way, the new advisor will get her career off to a fast start. The advisor is new, so she doesn’t know any better. Her leader needs to hold her to a higher expectation so that she succeeds.

Successful leaders are leaders who challenge the status quo and raise the bar. Good leaders don’t sit back and create barriers by saying, “well, that’s never been done before.” Good leaders say, “Let’s try that.”

True leadership can change the room. It might not be instantaneous, but if a leader is doing his job right, his group will be able to see the culture shift to the betterment of everyone in the room.

Leadership, in essence, is helping others become the best version of themselves. All leaders lead to a vision or to a journey. The individual or group has a journey, and the leader guides them toward their goal. If someone says about you, “That person helped me become a better person,” then you have excelled as a leader.

As with all things in life, there may be roadblocks in your journey as a leader. If you feel like you are not making progress as a leader, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “am I getting the results I am striving for?” If the answer is no, then you have to ask more questions. Am I being the thermostat? Did I set the pace? Did I create the environment? Am I creating the metrics? Am I measuring the right things?

It’s all about looking in the mirror and recognizing the leadership within. You are the influencer; you are the thermostat. You are in control. You have the power to be proactive instead of being reactive. Because being a thermometer – merely reflecting what’s going on – is not leadership.

I often give motivational presentations to groups of college students and young people just beginning their careers. Right before I go on stage, I ask myself, why am I here? If I’m presenting to a group, what is the reason for this presentation? I am here to educate them on this particular topic, to provide information, to help them, to make them better. Asking “Why am I here” is the foundation for ‘other’ focus. It’s not about me; it’s about them. It’s always about them. Why am I here today? To focus on you, to help you get better, to help you reach your objectives. In asking myself “why am I here?” I am able to find that focus for the betterment of the individual or group that I’m spending time with. That question is what will get you into the thermostat mindset because then you can help lead, influence, and control how things go.

Raise the expectations for yourself and the people around you and you will become an outstanding leader.

Rich Campe

Rich Campe


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