Be a thermostat, not a thermometer


As we remain within the heat of the summer here in Columbus, there becomes one essential piece of equipment most can rarely do without: our air conditioner.


This is because temperature has a significant effect on our moods and behaviors. When we get extremely hot or cold our bodies will naturally attempt to conserve by drawing blood away from our extremities such as our hands and feet. The intent is that these areas are not as essential as maintaining our core temperature for survival. Did you know that within our organizations we tend to do the same thing?


When I reflect back on my experiences at the 12 bases I’ve been stationed at in my career, I often ask myself why people follow certain individuals, or seek out their leadership. Conversely, I wonder why they avoid or dissent from other’s leadership.


I’ve decided it’s because the organizations with great leaders are ones in which the cultural temperature is ideal for maximum performance.  Whereas those organizations with poorer leadership are ones in which the cultural temperature is overly hot or cold, and like our bodies, the organization is letting things slide in order to keep their core alive.


So how do we effect the temperature within our organizations as leaders? We do this by being a thermostat, not a thermometer. A thermometer is tool with which most of us are familiar. The small bulb at the bottom contains liquid that is temperature sensitive and fills the thermometer to an appropriate line based upon the given heat it experiences. A thermometer is not an active tool, but simply a reflection of the temperature in the surrounding air.


Much like the thermometer, there are leaders who are not actively leading their organization, but simply reflecting the moods, beliefs, and behaviors of the members of their organization. Since people will always look for the path of least resistance, they will often ignore or overlook issues within their organization they feel are non-essential. However, once people start ignoring the small things, they eventually begin to ignore bigger issues. With a leader who reflects these behaviors, an organization will eventually miss something big enough to cause mission failure.


            In contrast, a thermostat is not a passive tool, but one which actively sets the temperature in the room to the desired level. It senses the temperature surrounding it, notices the changes are not in line with its setting, and activates either hot or cold air to bring the temperature back within its standards. A thermostat is an active tool which sets the temperature of the surrounding air.


            Like a thermostat, great leaders sense when there are changes in the organization are not in line with established standards. They actively seek out to change the organizational temperature or culture to bring it back in line with their expectations. This allows the organization to continue to focus not only on their core mission, but all the supporting tasks necessary for ultimate success.


            A thermostat-type leader is one who sets and enforces standards. They also see their organization through the lens of ownership such as “this organization will never get better unless I actively work on it,” vs through the lens of renter-ship “this organization is temporary and someone else will fix it.” Finally, they empower their subordinates to also be thermostats to ensure the organizational temperature is optimized throughout every aspect.


            So, while the temperature continues to rise this summer, understand without the aid of your home’s thermostat, the air conditioner would never activate. Leaders who are thermostats cause an activation in their people that results in not only mission success, but the desire to follow, learn, and eventually lead in the future.