The four elements model
In business, do you sometimes wish you could capitalise on your strengths more? Would you and your business or career benefit from cultivating those strengths? Are you unsure how to take advantage of your skills and talents more effectively? Do you notice where your short-comings may lie and how they might impact you personally and professionally? Would you like to be able to identify those areas you might develop so that you can take your self-employed business or career to the next level?
Would it be useful to have a model that allowed you to identify all these aspects of yourself, and others, and improve your business as a result? The four elements model is such a framework, bringing ancient wisdom into modern relevance, benefiting people’s personal and professional lives.
The beauty of the model is that it allows you to identify the preferences, patterns and habits of yourself and others. This empowers you to know where your strengths lie as well as the strengths of those around you. It also shows your short-comings. We even use the elements in our everyday language, as a hint to it’s intuitive descriptive qualities: “they have a fiery temper”, “what an air head”, “he is the salt-of-the-earth” and “she moves like water”.
All this to bring awareness to your short-term states and long-term dispositions and, consequently, develop your range and choice about how you respond to situations and circumstances. Therefore, you also have the tools to build a team or community around you that is mutually supportive and nurturing. As well as grow yourself and your impact in the world and on those you share your life with.
What I love about ancient wisdom is that it has stood the test of time and remains relevant, sometimes thousands of years after its origin. For millennia, people have found ancient wisdom like the four elements useful, because it enhances their lives through the observation of human nature. And it gives practical answers to everyday challenges, goals and questions.
The human condition has not changed much in all that time. We may get caught up in the language and stories of the time and find them hard to understand: Ancient philosophers like Rumi, Lao Tzu or Plato; playwrights like William Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw and Andrew Lloyd Webber; American Indian Chiefs like Black Elk or Sitting Bull; the European Pagan stories popularised by The Brothers Grimm and; the Bible or Koran. They may all seem impenetrable without deep study. In fact, they simply share wisdom about human nature and our place in the world. What’s great about the four elements model is that it is an intuitive description of human behaviour that you can test and play with from day one. And, you can explore each element through your own embodiment, giving you real time feedback about what:
- it feels like
- seems familiar
- you’d like more or less of
- you could do differently
- you would wish to leave behind
- is no longer serving you
- you long for
The four elements explained
Throughout history, humanity has sought out answers to questions about the human condition. Therefore, each culture in every age, has found a way to explain the human condition and help improve how we respond to life’s challenges. For some it is a model with animals. Others may use archetypes, spirits or gods. An enduring model uses 4 elements (some use 5 or more like the Chinese) which are relatively organic and intuitive to interpret and are, to a degree, relatively subjective. This is a model I have learned while studying The Embodied Facilitator Course (EFC- find out more here) and makes as much if not more sense than many of the models I have studied in the past.
So, let’s take each element in turn and see what you notice in your behaviour. Which one or two elements are most familiar? Do certain elements show up in particular situations/ contexts in life? Did any feel unfamiliar to you? Is there an element you long for? Or one that you are sick of? Pay attention to where the elements show up in significant relationships with others in your life: parents, partners, friends, colleagues, bosses etc. How do these impact your relationships? Are there patterns and preferences? What are the strengths of your preferences? What are the risks?
Earthy people like structure. They like stability, reliability, control, things to be correct and organised. Therefore, they like planning, management, budgeting and making lists. You want your accountant or lawyer to be an earthy type. However, too much Earth and things can get stuck and uninspiring. Earthy people will maintain standards and hold to tradition. When things get chaotic, the Earth quality will bring fairness, stability, reliability and self-control.
If you want to engage with an Earthy person, show them the facts. Go slow and be structured and methodical. In turn, they communicate in a factual and practical manner and will offer a supportive and reliable role. If you find yourself lacking this element, slow down and get into the garden. Literally, work with the Earth. Take a walk in nature and breathe deep into the belly. In excess of Earth? Use qualities of the other elements, especially Water to create more movement, action and challenge some of that physical, mental and emotional rigidity. Air can also bring a lightness, playfulness and creativity to counter Earthy heaviness and conformity.
This element’s primary focus is relationship and acceptance. Watery people love to listen, accommodate and care for others and support people. They want loyalty and harmony in relationship. Dislikes are rejection, conflict and loss. They are great in feedback, networking, staff-care and HR roles. You want your HR manager, coach and therapist to be a Watery person. Too much Water and someone is a push over with weak boundaries and prone to collusion. Empathy, connection, intimacy and relationship building are all Water qualities.
If you want to engage with a Watery person, take your time to listen and build the relationship. Be sincere with your thoughts and feelings and show that you care. Water’s communication style is empathic and relational. In need of more Water? Get to the sea or a river or failing that create comfort and soft lighting in the home. Too much Water can be balanced with all the other elements, especially Earth to give structure and Fire to create and maintain boundaries.
What needs to be done? When you need to take action, get results, prioritise and make tough choices, Fire is what you want to embody. It will come as no surprise to hear that Fire is about directness, assertiveness, energising and doing more, being stronger and getting it done faster. You want your boss or manager to have Fire. If you are self-employed, you benefit from Fire too as you are the one who has to get the job done. At their best, Fiery people will be challenging, name what needs to be said, be sincere and cut to the chase. Too much Fire and you will rush and get pushy (perhaps to the point of brutality).
If you want buy-in from Fiery people, tell them what the results will be and the benefits. Motivate to action through challenge, creating competition, setting goals, having a fast pace and being competent at what you do. They will likely talk to you in a challenging and direct way. Too much Fire can be balanced with Water for more relational integrity and with Earth for the rushing and potential burnout. If you have too little Fire, get to the bright lights of big cities like London or New York or indulge in fiery activity like martial arts or tango.
What is possible? Sky-high, big picture thinking without a box is how Air people envision and strategise. Leadership, innovation, brainstorming and creativity come from Air energy. The light side of Air also leads to humour, flexibility, inspiration, and spontaneity. Air types love freedom, creativity and perfection and fear boredom, imperfection and being controlled. Use Air to over-come challenges, get clarity and come at things with lightness and fresh ideas.
Want to engage Air people? Inspire, explore, study and learn with them, be original, use humour and pace. Get them curious and fuel their joy of whatever you are trying to enrol them in. Too much Air and people are vague, chaotic and silly. Use the other elements to balance the excess Air, especially Fire for directness and Earth to bring order and calm. Too little Air can be balanced with open space, bright lights, colour and chaos. Head for the hills and mountains. All this will inspire creativity, joy and excitement.
Four elements embodied
As you may have noticed in the descriptions, there are embodied qualities to each element. You can evoke each one by moving, standing and sitting differently and even by subtly changing your posture. This empowers you to bring more of what you think you might need to a situation or dial down what you might need less of. We will be exploring the embodiment of the four elements in the next Be the Best Boss event in Cambridge on September 19th, 2019.
You will learn your particular mix of elements and be able to work out the mix of others. This will allow you to better communicate with other people, teams and organisations. You will learn how to work with the elements through embodiment, to get better results in business situations as well as personal ones. The elements will give you more adaptability and versatility in work situations and work better with different people, groups and cultures, thus developing your leadership skills. You can find further details here.
Over to you
What are your element preferences? How do they impact on what you’re good at? How do they limit you? What elements would you wish to cultivate? What impact could that have on your business, career and relationships?
Pass it on
If you found this blog interesting, please forward it to people you think might be interested too. And if you know people in your network that might be interested in attending the Be the Best Boss workshop on leadership and embodiment, please send them the link (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-the-best-boss-you-ever-had-a-workshop-on-leadership-and-embodiment-tickets-67255712647).