Leadership and Management
February 21, 2024

Be a Thermostat, Not a Thermometer

A good leader is a thermostat. When I say that, I mean that good leaders set the temperature for the entire room. This is very different from being a thermometer, which just passively reacts to the temperature. Those who do this well, as leaders and as individual contributors, are the ones who really make a difference. Over the course of many years in sales, I’ve developed several strategies for how to act as an effective thermostat.

1) Be hard on numbers and kind to people.

My dad was in sales, and he always said something that has since become my motto: Be hard on numbers and kind to people. As a leader, set clear expectations. At the same time, kindness towards people in personal interactions is critical. Conversations about performance shouldn’t be about blame. It’s about clearly articulating where expectations stand and where someone is falling short. Then, you work with them so that they can improve. If you are data driven, you encourage your team to value metrics and use them to drive performance.

2) Value the team’s success over your own individual success.

If you’re going into sales leadership, you have to do it because you care about the team’s success. The wins will be different as a leader and manager than they were as a top individual contributor, and you must be able to thrive knowing that the team’s winning.

3) Use the 4 Ps when delivering feedback: Praise publicly, punish privately.

When it comes to offering team members feedback, I use the 4 Ps. I’ll publicly praise team members when deserved, but privately punish. I’m not afraid to be tough on people when necessary, because that’s important for improvement. But I only do that in private, once I’ve established trust. People need to know you’re there to help, not to needlessly criticize.

4) Incorporate feedback about your management into your own work.

Sales people don’t want anyone to think we’re stupid or a jerk. I certainly don’t. I read all exit interviews, and I’ll never forget one occasion when I received scathing commentary from someone that I hired. Twenty years later, I still remember her name. Reading that review was terrible. I went to the CEO of the company, and he gave me great advice on how to deal with it. He said, “I want you to read it word for word and find just an element of truth in it that you can learn from.” Doing that doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the person says. But you should be able to take in feedback and try to see other perspectives. That information will help you become a more effective manager of people.

5) When necessary, reset the story so that you establish your own credibility.

When I was younger, I said to my CFO, “Oh my gosh! I’m not good with numbers. You figure it out for me.” Obviously, saying that out loud was a terrible idea. Thankfully, I realized that pretty quickly, and resolved to reset my story with him. I started by learning all about those numbers. Eventually, my story changed to “Oh my gosh! I was looking at the numbers last night and found this, this, and this. Did you guys know about that?” By doing that, I was able to reframe my expertise (after leveling it up) and bolster my credibility. To set the temperature, you need to be the person who defines your own story in a positive way.

6) Go to your team members one-on-one when necessary.

Sometimes managers encounter difficult situations. When that happens, I like to have one-on-one chats. I am very frank with people. I will ask them about their expectations, tell them what I need, and from there we’ll work together to achieve the goals. By being proactive about potential problems, you’re taking control of the work environment.

7) Establish a culture of learning on your team.

Sales teams need to be exposed to new ideas in order to grow. If your team isn’t doing it on their own, you have to start giving it to them. My SDR manager recently gave the SDRs a book to read. We had a meeting, and everyone had to present on one chapter. People really enjoyed the experience, and asked to do it again.

8) Turn up the heat when necessary.

Here’s the thing about thermostats: They can turn up the heat. Sometimes good leaders will turn up the heat on purpose–that’s part of the deal. Good leaders adjust the temperature according to what the team needs. Now, there are going to be highs and lows, especially in a startup environment. But you can’t just flail around and be reactive, like a thermometer. and remains firmly planted on the wall.