Thermostat or Thermometer? Helping Kids Feel the Leadership Climate

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 or on his blog launching January 4th 2013 at

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?