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Leadership 101: Thermostat or Thermometer?

 —  January 14, 2014 — Leave a comment


Many people believe that leadership is a science; that there are rules or irrefutable laws that apply to every leader, all the time and in every situation. I’m not one of those people. I believe leadership is more art than science. BUT, even art has some rules, guidelines and principles that apply which is why one person’s art is magnificent and another’s is horrific. A good artist learns the tips and tricks of his craft. She is constantly evolving and growing in her skills. The same is true of a good leader.

Today, want to share one tip, a “trick of the trade” of leadership:

A good leader knows when to be a thermometer and when to be a thermostat. Let me explain.

A thermometer exists solely for the purpose of identifying the temperature. That’s it. It doesn’t set the temperature, it just reads it. As a leader, you ALWAYS need to be a thermometer. One of your primary roles is to “read the temperature” of any situation. And part of the art of leadership is knowing whether the temperature is okay, or if it needs to be adjusted.

A thermostat exists to adjust the temperature. As a leader, you OFTEN need to be a thermostat and adjust the temperature. When things are too hot, you cool the situation down. When things are too cool, you turn on the heat.

The art of leadership (and it’s not always easy) is to determine, in any given scenario, whether your role requires you to be only a thermometer or if you need to be thermostat. There’s not a scientific, irrefutable law of leadership that determines which is appropriate; it requires an artist’s touch.

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

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