Take the Temperature

As a child growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, I learned about heat at a young age. In the Valley of the Sun, there were days in mid-summer where it was so hot that the airplanes couldn’t even land at Sky Harbor International Airport. I also enjoyed learning about science as a child, so I became aware of the difference between heat and temperature. Heat is one form of energy that is transferred between objects, whereas temperature is a measurement of energy for a single object. We are familiar with the representation of temperature in degrees F or degrees C, but chemists represent heat transfer with a small triangle - an uppercase Greek letter delta. Interestingly, that same symbol is also used to represent change.

Adaptive leadership is all about change. But just as Goldilocks doesn’t like things too hot or too cold, the temperature needs to be “just right” for effective change to occur. We need to diagnose a situation by taking the temperature before taking action. When conditions are too cold, it is difficult to make progress. Some people won’t feel a sense of urgency to be productive and deviate from the status quo. On the other hand, it is also difficult to make progress when conditions are too hot. Many of us get defensive or walk away from a problem when the work becomes too difficult.

Just as Jesus spent part of his ministry listening and observing, not always speaking, so too should we pause and take time to evaluate the current conditions before taking the next step. Jesus asked many provocative questions (“Who do you say that I am?”; “What are you looking for?”; “Why do you worry?”) and he listened deeply to answers. As we listen to each other, we can discern levels of progress and engagement by noticing body language and recognizing tone of voice with the understanding that outside factors may also be at play. “Reading the room” is an essential skill for any leader who is working at change.

Scientists also know that temperature readings are only trustworthy if the thermometer has a good sensor that has been properly calibrated. We are in the midst of a sermon series on “getting reoriented,” and we know that our own powers of perception can drift over time without regular maintenance. The Holy Spirit can help keep us tuned up and ready to examine the clues around us. Ephesians 6:18 reminds us to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” I will write more about modifying the temperature (or “raising the heat”) in January, but for now, let’s use the Spirit to take the temperature and accurately diagnose the situation.

--Brent Yoder