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Karin’s Leadership Articles

Thermostat or Thermometer? Helping Kids Feel the Leadership Climate

by | Dec 15, 2012 | By Karin Hurt, Communication, Developing Leadership In Children |

Today I present our final post in this year’s Leadership Padawan Saturday series, Growing Leadership in Kids. On Monday, I return to our normal leadership fare.

Today I offer a guest post from Eric Dingler, a great example of a Thermostat leader.

Eric has been the Director and lead communicator for an expanding Christian summer camp and year-round conference center for over 10 years. He lives on the camp in Ohio with his wife Marissa and their two children, Rilee and Ryan. You can follow Eric at www.twitter.com/EricDingler or on his blog launching January 4th 2013 at www.ericdingler.com

Over 16 years of teaching leadership to kids, here are four truths I’ve discovered. With these truths, we can teach our kids leadership skills for life.

1. More is caught than is taught.

This is why being intentional to model leadership to your kids is so important. Take them to work if you can. If you can’t do that, lead in your local church or civic club and let them experience you in action there. Lead at home well. Lead yourself well. For a list of other very practical steps read this previous post in this series. Leadership For Kids: A Great Way to Teach Your Kids About Leadership

2. What you care enough to ask about is what you care enough to ask about.

Imagine you tell your kids that getting good grades is important– then never ask them how they are doing except when grades comes out. Add to that you never ask if you can help them improve their grades by helping with homework. Maybe them getting good grades isn’t really that important to you. At least, that’s what your kids will think. If you never ask about their leadership, how will they know it’s important? At the end of this post I’ll share a question I’ll ask my kids daily at the dinner table as soon as they are old enough to understand it.

3. What gets repeated gets remembered.

Have one conversation with your kids about not smoking, then let their friends and society hit them with the message to smoke over and over again; you’ll get a kid who smokes. Talk about being a leader once or just once in a while and you’ll probably not get a leader. Talk often about leadership and leadership principles if you want your kids to remember them.

4. It’s hard to beat a good visual aid to reinforce a lesson.

For leadership, I use the image of a thermostat versus a thermometer. A thermostat reads the temperature of the environment and then makes adjustments to reach the desired goal temperature. A thermometer just reads the temperature and reacts to show others what the temperature is. A leader is a thermostat. They read the environment and makes adjustments to reach the desired goals.

As soon as my kids are old enough (my daughter is 27 months old and my son is only 3 months old right now) I plan to intentionally ask them regularly, “So, were you a thermometer or a thermostat at school today?” Then, engage with them in the conversation.

This question isn’t just for kids.
What about you? Were you a thermostat or a thermometer today?
What other visuals could you compare for the lesson of leadership?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    I’ve been more intentional regarding speaking about leadership to my daughter. She’s an accounting major and graduating next spring. In fact, we had lunch this week and she described a situation where she wasn’t happy with the customer service of a company. I shared my thoughts on how it all comes down to leadership. She slowly nodded in affirmation.

    • Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

      Steve, I’m so looking forward to having conversations about leadership. At the moment, my oldest is 27 months….we mostly talk about Finding Nemo, VeggieTales and Nana & Papa. It’s great you are having lunch with your daughter and having these conversations.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Thanks, Steve. I do find it comes to intention. It’s fun to see how this conversation evolves as the kids grow. My kids are 10 years apart, and the conversations are very different… except when they are almost exactly the same.


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