Are You a Thermostat or Thermometer?

While these two temperature-related instruments may be easy to confuse, they’re actually surprisingly different. Thermometers can report the current temperature with remarkable precision. Your shiny new digital thermometer will ensure you know that your family room is exactly 69.3 degrees. Or if your five year old daughter seems warm, it will only take a couple seconds to know how high her fever is with that handheld device you snagged from the drugstore for just $12.

In contrast, a thermostat is used to adjust the temperature, not merely report it. The thermostat is an active tool to effectuate change, while the thermometer merely reports the facts with no ability to modify them. Controlled with intention and a vision for the future, we use a thermostat to raise or lower the temperature as we choose.

My good friend and business partner Seth Mattison pointed out the difference to me recently with a call to arms for us all. Leadership isn’t about reporting what already is, but rather it’s imagining what can be and taking an active role in manifesting your vision. It’s about proactively driving change rather than reacting to external circumstances.

You can be a thermostat in how you show up to meetings, raising the energy of the room with your enthusiasm. You can be a thermostat by setting a new change initiative in motion and seeing to it that the project reaches its mark. You can be a thermostat by creating and sharing content with the world to change hearts and minds.

Too many of us shuffle through life as the lowly thermometer, falsely believing that we can’t change much and that we’re simply victims of circumstance. Instead, let’s take agency for ourselves and those around us. Let’s step into our ability to create impact in all aspects of our businesses and lives.

As thermostats, we each get to be the architect, designer, and builder. We get to envision a better future, and then set those intentions into action. Thermometers are decent gauges of the current state, but we can be so much more when we take command of the dial.