Thermometer or Thermostat?

I’ve always liked the drains and radiators analogy.

The idea that some people drain us of energy and enthusiasm whilst others radiate such excitement and passion for what they are doing that it reaches out and infects you.

We’ve all worked with drains and radiators and we know how they make us feel.

I don’t think it’s as easy as X is a drain, Y is a radiator 

At different points in our career we are different things. My drain-ness or radiator-ness depends upon the subject in hand.

Give me an ICT challenge and I’ll radiate, a PE challenge, probably more drain.

I suppose the important thing is to be aware of

a) what we are doing to others

b) what effect others are having on us

But recently I’ve come across a leadership analogy that I think is equally interesting.

Thermometers and Thermostats

A thermometer reflects the temperature of the environment. It merely reacts to what’s happening around it.

If the temperature is hot, it tells you so. If it’s cold, the thermometer simply informs you of this fact.

All it does is repeat information. When things are going well that’s fine, we can all be thermometers and things are alright.

However, if things aren’t going well our thermometer isn’t much good in leading us onwards and upwards.

It’s a passive instrument in the sense it doesn’t influence, it doesn’t have intelligent, multipurpose functionality. It has one purpose and one purpose only.

A thermostat, on the other hand, regulates the environment.

It sets the desired temperature of the room and actively works to maintain it within a given range. If the temperature rises too high, the thermostat turns the heating down and cools the room down.

If the temperature falls too low, the thermostat turns the heating on in order to warm the room up. The thermostat is active in the sense it’s always monitoring the environment, and if the temperature gets too hot or cold, it decides what to do to correct the situation.

So – repeat or regulate?

If things are going badly in a work situation do you reflect that in your manner and attitude towards a task or do you try really hard to change it?

Thermometer leaders react to and reflect their environment. When things are going wrong tension mounts, tempers fray and blame is quickly assigned. Under stress they become irritable, tense, demanding, critical and angry.

Thermostat leaders work to define and create what could be, instead of  just reflecting what is. If things are going well they aim for better. If things aren’t great they aim to completely change things.

It sounds so easy doesn’t it …