ARE YOU IN YOUR ELEMENT?

Whether it’s Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City, Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy or if you’re one of the many women fans of Top Gear – you’ll have observed that many of our favourite TV programmes have one thing in common – ‘teams’ of four main characters each with a very distinct personality.

Those who never miss an episode of Desperate Housewives will recognise the seeming OCD that drives Bree, the ‘look at me’ antics of Gabrielle, the efforts of Susan to keep everyone happy and Lynette’s irresistible urge to ‘tell it like it is’, as reflections of themselves and their friends.
Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is the fiery, ‘don’t care what others think’ character, James May, detailed and careful, Richard Hammond takes the risks and The Stig – the quiet, almost anonymous presence, who is no less a vital member of the team.

Taking it into Biblical territory, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all convey the gospel message in very different yet equally effective ways and if we look at other Biblical characters it’s clear that Peter, Thomas, James and John are all strikingly different, yet each was an essential part of Jesus team.

I’m a compulsive people watcher. Whether in the supermarket or Starbucks I’ll spot an individual and imagine a life and personality for them in 3 seconds flat. Any amateur people watcher is aware of how varied we all are as human beings and it’s often these differences that cause the difficulties in our personal and work relationships.

As the UK trainer for PEP (The Path Elements Profile) – my new role after 20 years with Activate – what makes me tick is what makes others tick, how to use our diversity to work together as part of the bigger picture and how to practically work on our differences.

Diversity, after all is one of our society’s current obsessions. Millions of pounds are poured into training professionals in issues of age, gender, race and religion in an attempt to make us all more tolerant and less judgemental of each other. We’re all very conscious of the need to use the correct language when talking about different people groups and the press often runs stories about those who have not been careful enough, which has resulted in diversity retraining at best or even court cases and prison sentences in the most extreme situations. Yet it seems that with all the talk of diversity, one of the most important areas is overlooked, differences in personality.

It was at an Activate conference in 2003 when the idea of diversity began to fall into place for me. Author and theologian, John Drane told the delegates about the head of a large multinational company, who was intrigued by what he was reading in PEP founder, Laurie Beth Jones’s book, ‘Jesus, CEO’. With no particular faith, this businessman was intrigued to find that the leadership style of Jesus, as laid out in this book, gave him the best strategies he’d ever come across for running his company.

As soon as I got home I ordered that book and went on to enjoy other books by the same author. I signed up for email alerts and got very excited by one which arrived in my inbox in November 2006 giving details of a training course in a new personality and communication tool – The Path Elements Profile. I had recently read the book ‘The Four Elements of Success’ by Laurie Beth Jones and had immediately taken the online profile it was based on. The accuracy of the 13 page result was staggering and my elemental make up – Fire/Wind was easy to remember.

Ten days later, without much thought for costs or logistics, I was off to LA to do the PEP training course. Enthusing about my decision to my friend Jan, brought the response that she was coming too and so our ‘Thelma and Louise’ trip commenced (except we returned without driving over the Grand Canyon although there were some hairy moments on the freeway between Los Angeles and Orange County!).

The simple, practical and accurate Path Elements Profile (PEP) is an effective, non judgemental tool that identifies how an individual ticks, what their strengths are and helps them address their challenges. There’s an in-depth look at how each particular profile responds to a variety of different situations – 19 sections covering areas from Action, Adventure and Anger to Learning, Stress and my Ideal Work Environment. I’ve coached individuals and couples and found this simple, initiative and fun profile has literally transformed the lives, relationships and careers of hundreds of people. With 17 different personality options, all with their own unique score, the results are highly individual and accurate.

A case in point is Jane. When her husband left her to set up home with a work colleague, she was devastated. She had always been ‘the wife at home’, supporting his ministry and putting her own needs second. She was suddenly thrown into a situation where she had to find a job and recall skills long forgotten. Jane took her PEP and went on to write her own mission statement – based on another of Laurie Beth’s book, ‘The Path’. She realised that far from being the quiet, unassuming person she presented to the world, she did in fact have some assertive characteristics, which she felt had been undermined by her husband’s domineering personality and for the sake of peace she had become what he wanted her to be. Two years on from her divorce, Jane was unrecognisable to those who knew her. She had retrained and returned to teaching, her confidence had soared and she said ‘I’ve been freed up to be the person God made me to be’.

Way back as far as 460 BC, ‘personality’ was big business. Hippocrates realised that people could be identified into four specific groups by their behaviours and he used words which sound more like medieval diseases than a description of human characteristics – phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric and melancholic to describe these. Throughout history philosophers and psychologists have agreed that people can be divided into four basic personality types and Carl Jung’s work in the 1920’s is the basis of much of what is used today in the many of the different personality profiling tools available.
I’ve done most of them as part of a quest to understand myself and others better – I’ve been on courses, gone on line and paid considerable amounts of money to understand what makes us tick and how we can all understand each other better.
But why? What’s it all about? Well for me, part of it is linked with Jesus command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Do I love myself? Many of us find this hard and it may be due to church teaching about ‘denying ourselves’ which I believe should be balanced with the fundamental Biblical teaching of how immensely special we are to God who considered us worth dying for. Failing to understand ourselves on more than a superficial level – after all, we’re ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ – may be one of the reasons we find it hard to understand other people too and that’s when we run into difficulties.

The building blocks of the universe are contained in the elements- earth, water, wind and fire (see Genesis 1:1-3) so what better words to help us understand the elemental make up of our own personalities and those of our teams, whether in the workplace or the family.

One of the helpful aspects of this unique profile is the ability to provide a matrix between any two people who’ve taken their PEP profile. As a ‘Fire/Wind personality (both fast paced elements), I’ve been married for 36 years to a Double Earth (precise, detailed, cautious, factual) – a totally opposite personality type to my own. It would have been so helpful if years ago we had understood that our perceived ‘challenges’ in each other were in fact opposing strengths which, when realised and understood, made us a great team – something that was often lost on us in our very different ways of processing pace and the way we approached change.

The benefits for couples contemplating a future together are immense as they are for relationship issues in the workplace or within a family unit. Is some ‘bullying’ in the workplace actually one personality type reacting to what it misunderstands in another? Family members whose relationships are strained have found healing as they’ve understood their own elemental makeup and appreciated why it differs from others they live with.

Furthermore, dysfunctional teams have been transformed and other teams who get on well but seemed to lack the ability to achieve all they could, come to realise the need to bring on board others who are different from themselves – and whose traits they may at times find frustrating – but which are essential to bring a balance to the team.

Most teams have a mission statement whether in businesses, churches, schools or football teams, giving them a clearly defined reason for being, against which they can measure ‘success’, yet few of us have ever considered or been encouraged to have our own personal mission statement. Yet, Jesus, had one – ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full’. This innate inner sense of purpose drove everything He did from birth to death.

Recently I’ve been taking ‘Path4Teens’ – a simplified combination of PEP and The Path, into schools and through three simple questions, ‘Who am I’ (PEP), ‘Where am I going (The Path)?’ and ‘How will I get there (The Vision)’ I’ve been helping students to understand how to make the best choices for their futures, as they identify their personalities and in turn, their passions. Year 8’s find it gives a great benchmark for choosing their GCSE options and Year 10’s their ‘A’ level or career path. Those approaching further education have something more concrete and personal to work from, rather than falling back on a course a friend had chosen or because their parents thought it was a good idea. Empowering young people to confidently make major life decisions enables them to feel fulfilled and confident as they discover their individual ‘path’ and embark on ways of using their talents and gifts to the full.

Combining PEP with The Path (creating a personal mission statement) can be powerful and understanding ourselves in turn enables us to unlock our God given potential. Women’s groups, churches, youth groups and conferences are all finding it’s a great theme for an event, so do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about an In Your Element session for your group.
Now who wants to swap second rate mediocrity for a life of living passion?
If you’d like more information on PEP or would like to take your own online tests (£30) see www.in-your-element.co.uk or email ruth@in-your-element.co.uk
Perhaps you could get a group together to explore this whole area in more details. Contact Ruth for details – or if you’d like a speaker for an event with a difference – email: ruth@in-your-element.co.uk

Ruth Adams
April 2008

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