Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Leadership: Listen, Challenge, Take Action

July 1, 2018

A simple Google search on “leadership” reveals a plethora of books, magazine articles, webinars, online courses and more, all professing to provide the secret recipe for becoming an elite, effective leader. An overreaching theme: Listen, pay attention, and give credence to the thoughts and ideas of those around you, up and down the organizational chart.

Makes sense, but not good enough. Attending a recent conference, I was reminded of the thermometer-thermostat analogy often cited in leadership dogma. Martin Luther King Jr. introduced the analogy in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” penned in April 1963. Fifty-five years ago, King compared thermometers and thermostats to the early days of Christianity. He wrote that “church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

Applying the analogy to managers of manufacturing-companies—and perhaps to any business—infers the differences between merely surveying and reacting to what’s happening in the plant (thermometer) and taking action to regulate the workplace environment (thermostat). Ask yourself and your leadership team: Are you functioning as thermometers or thermostats?

True leadership, say several “experts” commentating on the thermometer-thermostat analogy, requires more than just listening to the concerns and ideas of others; it requires taking action. “(True leaders) know when the team needs to be challenged with new goals and priorities,” writes Randy Conley, vice president of client services and trust practice leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies, “or when they just need a friendly kick in the pants to stay focused on their current initiatives.”

Another leadership guru, Jim Clemmer, the Clemmer Group, describes thermostat leaders as those who “work to define and create what could be, rather than just reflecting what is.”

The message here, I suppose, in this era of information technology, the Industrial Internet of Things and Smart Manufacturing, is to do more than just gauge what’s happening in your metalforming company—in the office and in the shop. Take action. Don’t get stuck in thermometer mode, watching the temperature of the culture (and of the plant operations) fluctuate wildly with every success and failure. Take control of the culture, and of shop operations. Establish direction, goals and objectives, and take actions to achieve them.

Oh, and to help ensure success, you might identify thermometer leaders within your organization, and work to convert them into thermostats.

* * *

Following this theme, I see plenty of thermometers when it comes to addressing the recently imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, but perhaps not enough thermostats. Thermostats will seek to affect change and stand up for jobs, stand up for competitiveness and stand up for national security.

These three tenets (jobs, competitiveness and security) describe the mission of the recently formed Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users, of which the Precision Metalforming Association is a member. I encourage you to become a thermostat, by learning more about the coalition and the actions it’s taken—and the actions you can take, using numerous available resources to save American jobs in the metal industries. Visit

Industry-Related Terms: Gauge
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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