I was watching an interview a while back on ESPN and the commentator was lauding the character qualities of a certain football coach. The specific context escapes me, but one thing the commentator said has remained on my mind the last few weeks. He was talking about what a great leader the coach was and he said, “He’s doesn’t lead like a thermometer, he leads like a thermostat. He is a true leader who sets the tone for those he’s been called to lead.”

I don’t know how much you think about temperature taking and making, but I’m sure you know the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.

A thermometer takes the temperature in a room and reports the obvious to everyone. It’s a great little tool. My friend Wiki just told me that the thermometer was developed sometime around the 16th century, and it has two functions. It has a sensor, the way in which it determines what the temperature is; and it has a conversion apparatus, giving it the ability to report with clarity what it has discovered. Sounds like a good leader right? A good leader has discernment, the ability to sense what is happening. A good leader also has a conversion apparatus, the ability to report on and give clarity to what they have sensed.

Is that leadership?

The job and capability of a thermostat is different than a thermometer. It doesn’t simply take the temperature; it also sets the temperature. It takes its cue from a set standard, an outside source. As opposing forces act upon the context it is called to regulate, it uses its abilities to transform the room. It’s not disconnected from the room. It’s not unilaterally acting in whatever ways it pleases. It does sense the temperature of the room, but it doesn’t stop at simply stating the obvious. It sets the tone and aligns the room with the conviction it is given and the direction it knows is right.

The title “leader” and the phrase “leadership” have been over-used and abused in our culture. Politicians read the poles and do whatever is necessary to remain in office. Others in business, churches, or sports get a title or position and work to maintain their status with as little sacrifice as possible. This is done by cutting corners, evading responsibility, or taking advantage of those they “lead.”

Unfortunately, the abuse of power gets all the press. While the negatives in leadership abound, there are also countless thermostat leaders. They sacrifice to bring vision and strategy to their context, working tirelessly to build people, organizations, and culture.

How do you spot a thermometer leader? How do you identity a thermostat?

The thermometer tells you what you want to hear.
The thermostat tells you the truth.

The thermometer reacts to the atmosphere.
The thermostat changes it.

The thermometer fixes things when they break.
The thermostat builds things to endure.

The thermometer says they’re a good leader because they’re a good follower.
The thermostat doesn’t waste time telling you that they’re a good leader.

The thermometer talks about leadership.
The thermostat lives it.

The thermometer asks everybody what they think is the best way to handle every situation.
The thermostat operates with a deeper knowledge not only of what everyone wants, but of what everyone needs.

You’ll like the thermometer at first, because he makes you feel like you’re in charge (because you are).
You’ll appreciate the thermostat long-term, because he develops you into what you need to be.

The thermometer is into polls, votes, and opinions.
The thermostat is into truth, reality, sacrifice, hard work, and consistency.

The thermometer takes their cue from you.
The thermostat takes direction from another Source.

There are thermometers and thermostats with leadership titles. True leadership isn’t about reacting to the atmosphere, it’s about setting it.

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