Thermometers and Thermostats Revisited
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Several years ago, I heard a quote that said, “Leaders need to be thermostats, not thermometers.” The premise behind this quote is that thermometers only take the temperature, but thermostats change the temperature. As leaders, we need to be changing things for the better. Recently I was facilitating a discussion in one of my classes and it dawned on me that we actually need to be both thermometers and thermostats. Far too often leaders go up to a team member or into a meeting with a predetermined idea to change the temperature. They sense that something is off or that something needs to be improved and they rush in to make the change. While their heart might be in the right place, they might actually make things much worse.

The work environment today is so complex with so many factors influencing our teams. Social media, conventional media, the economy, workloads, and the requirements of life outside work are all competing for our attention. Add to this the way each generation views leadership and you’ll find that there is a lot in play. I recently interviewed Dr. Timothy Elmore, the author of “A New Kind of Diversity” and he shared how each generation views authority:

  • Boomers – “Replace them.”
  • Gen X – “Endure them.”
  • Millennials – “Choose them.”
  • Gen Z – “Not sure I need them.”

Now, many choose to view this as a negative situation but personally, I believe this is a great opportunity. Dr. Elmore is giving us insight into how to be better thermometers so we can be effective thermostats.

Before trying to make a change, we need to take the temperature. This requires knowing each of our team members well enough to know when a shift in temperature has occurred. This means slowing down and listening to them frequently. Listening with the intention to learn something and then acting in such a way that the person feels heard and valued. Let’s see what impact this might have by generation:

  • Boomers – They won’t look to replace someone who cares about them as a person.
  • Gen X – They will most likely feel valued and appreciate their leaders rather than enduring until the leader moves on.
  • Millennials – Since they are looking to choose who they follow, they will be looking for someone who understands who they are and respects them as a person. Someone who values the contributions they are making. Listening with intentionality will have them buying into the leader even before they buy into the vision.
  • Gen Z – They aren’t sure they need us, however, their life stance is that they are “hoping and coping.” If we take the time to really listen to them and then offer them the tools, support, and encouragement to pursue a life of purpose, they will want to follow us. They will see us and our organization as an integral part of their future.

When we, as leaders, take the time to accurately assess the temperature and know enough about people to know how to be the best thermostat for each person, we can change the temperature for the better, and people will be drawn to our leadership.

Speaking of Dr. Elmore…I am excited to announce that the podcast is starting back up. It is being rebranded as the Navigating Leadership Podcast and Dr. Elmore will be one of my first guests. You will also be happy to know that Marisa Norcross will also be joining me monthly as we talk about life, leadership, and learning in these exciting times. Stay tuned for our launch date.