A digital thermometer placed on a wall showing the temperature inside of a house.

Thermometer vs. Thermostat

One of my favorite leadership analogies is the Thermometer vs. the Thermostat. In his book “Habitudes,” Dr. Tim Elmore explores these two polar-opposite leadership styles. Perhaps all leaders can be defined as falling into one of these two categories.

The concept is very simple. The Thermometer tells you what the temperature is – a reflection of the environment at any given point. Whereas the Thermostat sets the temperature that is right for you – and challenges the status quo.​

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This description got me to thinking about how companies manage their strategic sourcing. When an organization starts down the path of finding the most effective solution and partner, the options in supplier partners fall into these two categories, as well.

In fact, the best solution may be one that is not yet designed or available as an offering in the marketplace.

The Thermometer will tell you exactly how everyone else is doing it, along with a prepackaged solution and price. Or, they may push a standard offering that does not completely align with your need. With enough Thermometers in the mix, you may even find a very attractive price. This can be particularly true if the solution is a commodity. But, the solution offered may not solve the problem. And, the fix may be short-term – requiring you to source the need again, much sooner than you had hoped.

On the other hand, a Thermostat will identify, or even build the best-fit solution to solve the need.  They will connect with the strategic objectives of your initiative which could mean elements of customization.  In fact, the best solution may be one that is not yet designed or available as an offering in the marketplace. However, managed right, levels of customization can actually save you money – as opposed to buying a generic solution you don’t need.

The most important characteristic of a solution brought to you by the Thermostat is it will more accurately solve your issue and in a manner that is right for you. You will find this partner not only addresses your short-term requirements, but those over a longer period providing a much better return on investment.

A thermometer placed in the grass showing the temperature.
Two men working and laughing. Demonstrates two different leadership styles.


Identifying the right providers early in the approach will determine if you are destined to find a Thermometer or a Thermostat.  You may not realize it, and even if you don’t yet know the optimal solution, you are in the driver’s seat to find the most suitable partner.

"So, the question remains, which supplier partner do you want to work with? The Thermometer or Thermostat?"

Will you challenge status quo in addressing the issue?  Will you engage in a collaborative and strategic manner to find the best answer?

At Alleon Group we provide a methodical process to sourcing any strategic need – the results of which lead to the optimal partner who can deliver a best-fit solution to solve your need.  I discuss this approach in the book just published, “The Other Side of the Table.”

Instead of settling for a Thermometer, Alleon Group will help you find the Thermostat when you need it.  To have a conversation, send us a note. 

A man climbing stairs that are placed on the side of a white building.
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Todd Leonard

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Strategically sourcing a need, particularly a challenging or complex one, can be an intimidating process. Where do you start? When do you use a “strategic sourcing” approach versus “buying?” How do you find the right pool of potential partners and then narrow down to the optimal partner who will solve your need?