Thermometer vs. Thermostat (leadership lessons)

ThermostatDo you know the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat? Just a couple of leadership lessons, really.

A thermometer reads the temperature in a room. If it’s hot in the room, it tells you it is hot in the room. If it is cold in the room, it tells you it’s cold. A thermometer tells you the temperature in the room.

A thermostat regulates the temperature. It helps control the temperature in the room by making small adjustments to heat or cool the room. If it gets too cold in the room, the thermostat adjusts and warms it up. If it gets too hot in the room, the thermostat adjusts and cools it down. It’s all a matter of what temperature you want to set.

The reality is that many leaders, teams and company cultures get stuck in thermometer mode. Their temperature just fluctuates up and down depending on who is in the room or what happens day to day. If it’s cold in a meeting and there is no life in the room, everyone goes cold. If it’s hot in the room and plenty of conflict or drama, everyone gets hot. Day by day their culture is just up and down depending on the temperature of the day.

But, the very best leaders, teams and company cultures operate more in thermostat mode. They are very clear what temperature they are trying to set. They intentionally take time to make sure all on their team understand what type of culture they are trying to create. They are precise with their language, they communicate consistently, and they coach others to understand what temperature they are striving to achieve every day. When it gets too hot in a room, they are able to regulate the temperature back down. When there is no life in a room and it’s way too cold, they are able to breathe life and warmth into the environment.

The best leaders and cultures enter into a process that clearly defines the temperature they are striving for each day. They strategically place leaders (thermostats) in all areas of the organization and work passionately to develop and grow more people to operate in thermostat mode. They understand that their effectiveness is directly tied to their alignment around the temperature and clarity of their culture. (check out the post Why Core Values Matter for other leadership lessons related to this)

We all experience little leadership lessons every day without always knowing it. Perhaps next time you see a thermometer or a thermostat you will think differently about the environment you’re trying to create.

So, what’s the temperature you’re trying to set?

Travel Gracefully,


Jason Barger is a globally celebrated author, keynote speaker, and leadership consultant. More importantly, he’s striving to be an above average father, husband, and friend.

Follow on Twitter @JasonVBarger and learn more at