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By: Dr. Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders
December 01, 2012

People are either thermostats or thermometers. They will merely reflect the climate around them, or they will set it. Leaders develop values and principles to live by, and set the pace for others.

The thermostat vs. thermometer is a great picture of another leadership truth. Most people are like thermometers. They tend to reflect the culture around them. They buy things that others buy, say things that others say, watch things that others watch and value things that others value. Oh, there are slight variations. But most people don’t set the “climate” for the world they live in. They just mirror back that climate.

Leaders, on the other hand, are people who decide to take life to the next level. They become thermostats, and set the social climate they are in. For instance, you may know people who set the emotional temperature of a group. They are excited about life and their work. You may know some that determine the attitudes of others by their presence in the office.  They’re pace setters. They influence, rather than merely get influenced by people. My challenge to you is to move from being a thermometer to a thermostat.

So, how do we do this? Leaders who are “thermostats” have developed values and principles they live by. They are authentic. The word “authentic” comes from the root word “to author.” It means to write your own story, not copy someone else. When someone owns a set of values, it’s as if they have a moral compass on the inside that guides them in their decisions. Dr. Billy Graham is respected today not only because his preaching is so flashy and insightful, but because people know him as a man who lives by certain values and won’t drift from them. People respect those who are values-driven and principle-centered. When leaders fail to develop values, tragedy almost always follows. NBA star Kobe Bryant admitted to committing adultery when a woman accused him of sexual assault in July of 2003. Ironically, just two weeks before he confessed to it, he was seen on TV talking about how important it is for athletes to be examples for kids today. Ouch. Talk is cheap. Kobe didn’t have a skill problem; he had a values problem.

Inside of every thermostat is a thermometer. It reads the climate before it knows what to do to reach a certain temperature. In the same way, leaders must be able to read the climate to discern what must be done to change it. They read the people because they lead the people.

Reflect and Respond

Most people say they own a set of values, but many don’t live by the values they claim. Why is there a gap between what we say and what we do?

What does it take to live by a set of values?

What are your values? Which ones do you live by? How have they enabled you to live like a thermostat instead of a thermometer?

Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder of Growing Leaders, and the author of Habitudes.