Thermometer or thermostat?

Trent Dilfer (yes, THAT Trent Dilfer) made this statement on Monday Night Football:

You’re either a thermometer leader, or a thermostat leader. If you’re a thermometer,you react to the temperature of the room. If you’re a thermostat, you SET that temperature.

First of all, well said, Trent. (Second of all, go Broncos.) As leaders, we like to think that we are more complex and mysterious than a simple “this or that” categorization.  We’re introverts, extroverts, dominant, influencing, thinkers, sensors, Reds, Greens, Hem or Haw….But when you break it down, most leaders really do work like a thermometer or a thermostat.

The Thermometer Leader says…

  • I can fix it! With apologies to Wreck It Ralph (awesome movie – go see it), one of the most obvious characteristics of a Thermometer Leader is the need to solve every problem that comes your way.  Chances are this ability got you to where you is today.  But as a leader, chasing down every problem can lead you down rabbit holes that distract you from the more important work.  Moreover, you risk building a reactive culture where firefighting becomes the norm. Reality Check: Leaders can help solve problems, but beware of being the Chief Problem Solver.
  • What do you think?  Talking to your team to gain their input is a valuable way of building collaboration and ensuring you have all the information you need to make a good decision.  Refusing to make a decision until you have talked to every single person in the company?  Not so good.  People look to you as ultimate decision maker – when you consistently defer that decision to others, you risk losing credibility.  Reality Check: You get paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions.  Know when to build consensus and when to pull the trigger.
  • You like me…you really like me! Sometimes leaders spend too much time worrying about being everyone’s friend, building a cult of personality rather than worrying about results.  Think about those “cool parents” who end up going to jail because they were too worried about being popular than being the adult.  As a leader, you need to remember that in many ways you are the adult in the room – and sometimes no one is going to like you.  Reality Check: When you make an unpopular decision that’s the right one for the organization, you have done the right thing.  People may cry and scream (metaphorically), but someday they will understand.

The Thermostat Leader says…

  • I own my C.  Have you ever walked into a party or other social gathering and just KNOW it’s going to be awesome?  Chances are, the organizer was a type of Thermostat Leader.  This leader chooses his attitude, chooses his atmosphere, and works hard to ensure everyone else is on the same vibe. (C = choice – get it?)  Reality Check: It’s hard to choose to be awesome – but when you do, you’ll be surprised at how many people join you there.
  • The buck stops here. The Thermostat Leader knows that he sets the example for the rest of the team.  If he makes excuses for why things didn’t get done, or blames the economy, or whines that he’s tired, he know that other people will, too.  So he holds himself accountable, which allows him to hold the rest of the team accountable.  Reality Check: A victim mentality starts at the top. By claiming responsibility you can build a culture of accountability.
  • Failure is not an option. Okay, let’s be clear.  Failure is always an option – it’s just one that strong leaders don’t focus on.  Thermostat Leaders are solution-focused – they state the goal and challenge their teams to reach it.  They insist on creative solutions and hate hearing, “That won’t work.” This leader rejects that mentality and asks not “why” but “why couldn’t we”.  Reality Check: By challenging your teams to think beyond their comfort zones, you unleash their full potential and drive the business to success.

So which one sounds more like you?  And which one do you want to be?

Not sure what’s important? Get a dog.

We have a dog. She’s three years old, 100 lbs., and is the perfect reflection of every inconsistency between what we say and what we do.

I bring this up because we are resplendent in the world of rhetoric right now, whether it’s politics, school, budgets, whatever. Companies are taking a hard look at their culture, trying to decide whether or not they reflect the company they want to reflect. “Brand” is an important topic for both people and organizations. Conferences are held, speeches are given, books are written and purchased….lots of things are being SAID. But what’s being done?

That brings me back to the dog. Her name is Bamboo (we call her Boo because two syllables sometimes seem like too much work). Boo is our second Akita (we lost the first, Dakota, to cancer a few months earlier). When we got her, we had a vision of what her world would be like. She would be well trained, loving, calm, obedient…and we would be amazing puppy parents – patient, consistent, fair. We took Boo to puppy kindergarten, did the clicker training thing, and shared our plan for how we would raise our perfect dog.

Well, it’s three years later. Boo is a happy dog with a great personality…who resembles very little of the quiet, obedient dog we envisioned. She’s a good dog with a mischievous streak who has more patience to try and get her way than the Simpsons children did when trying to convince their dad they should get a pool. She is selective about her training – she obeys when the cost-benefit analysis she’s conducted determines it’s in her best interests. (Yes, our dog does cost-benefit analysis. Watch your dogs. They do it, too.) She is remarkably inconsistent in her destructive tendencies – and we are fully aware it’s all our fault.

We are the ones who didn’t follow up on saying “no” – letting her on the couch because she’s so fluffy. We’re the ones who leave our shoes out where we know she’s going to get them – and then act surprised when she does exactly what her little doggie brain tells her to do. She is acting EXACTLY as we have trained her to be.

The same thing happens with people. People respond to how they are treated, not to the words that are said. Behavior is what is important, not a sign hung on the wall. If you want a good company culture, define it and then ACT it. If respect is important, don’t show up 10 minutes late to a meeting. If integrity is a core element of your campaign, show it. And if you’re disappointed in the actions of your employees, ask yourself what role you have played in rewarding that behavior. It may be that you are unwilling to change your behavior – that’s okay. Just be prepared to accept the consequences of such a choice.

Everyone is like Boo – we push the envelope, trying to find out what others want through trial and error, based in how others act. We want to be safe, happy and appreciated (with the occasional walk in the park). All it takes is consistent action – not more rhetoric.