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Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

I’m currently reading one of Seth Godin‘s books on leadership: Tribes. In the chapter I was reading today, Godin makes an interesting observation of the key differences between a thermometer and a thermostat, and how those same kinds of differences might be observed in human nature.

Mike Torres writes a nice summary of this observation, so I’ll point you to him rather than try and rephrase something he’s already done so well.

In summary:

  • Thermometers like to criticize once a direction is chosen. They’re always first to notice when something is wrong, but can’t take the necessary steps to fix it. They’re the armchair quarterbacks of the world and are great at telling you what you already know. The thermometer has an ability to lead only in so much as hindsight is 20/20. They can’t plan or adapt to changes.
  • Thermostats take the temperature of the room first and then put a plan in place to adapt. They’re the leaders and the visionaries, and the people you rely on to stay calm in a crisis and lead you to the next level. Thermostats are able to work past criticism and negativity and push forward even when the odds are against them. Thermostats exhibit self-control and stability.


I wonder what you make of this analogy. Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Are you a thermometer, or a thermostat?


Andy Moore

I work as Head of Global Communications for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), having previously worked with Compudava (now Endava) in Moldova, building web applications, and for Wesley Management, working with small businesses and charities. I have a passion to see intelligent application of digital technology to serve the Church and mission. Married to the lovely Ruth.


Andy Moore

How I responded, via twitter, this morning: “I enjoy change. I also feel challenged by the leadership call to lead and create change, not just adapt through it.”


Interesting analogy! I was wondering… a thermostat keeps the temperature to the right level but sometimes we need a bit of “hotter” air or “fresher” breath. I think these are needed to provoke change. How would you call that?

Andy Moore

Like a catalyst? Or some other external pressure to create/force change?

I think Godin’s point was too often we maintain the status quo, rather than lead a change process in an already changing environment.


I like “catalyst”. Yes to create/force change!

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