Dear Vicki: I have been an elementary school principal for decades and love my work. My goal is always to keep the school running in an appropriate manner and support the students, who I care about deeply. Last year, I started at a new school and one of the teachers there, we’ll call her Jane, was a real challenge to manage. I’m dreading working with her again this year. She is outgoing and often very flighty. She agrees to attend meetings, then doesn’t show up. Or if she does show, she’s kidding around so much we can’t get down to business. The students all love her and think she’s fun, but they don’t have to manage her. Honestly, I do like her and want to do right by her, but I’m having a hard time keeping her in line. Any hints on how to make this year more successful than last? Signed, Burned in Bellevue
Dear Burned: This is an understandably difficult situation. Based on your description, I suspect that Jane is a primary Fire personality, which means she will be a lot of fun, very popular, and also difficult to contain. You sound like you care about doing a good job and have very specific ideas of how you want things run. But Fire people have very little structure, so usually aren’t great at coloring inside the lines, so to speak. And yet, there are definitely ways you can engage with Jane to help bring her onboard.
Based on your deep caring for your students and your goal to keep the school running in an appropriate manner, it is likely that you are a primary Earth personality with a strong secondary Metal personality. Earth people usually care deeply about children and Metal people care deeply about doing what is right or appropriate. The good news is that the Earth part of your personality should get on well with Jane. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle with Fire feeding Earth. This implies that, if you were honest with yourself, you probably enjoy Jane as much as the students do. The challenge for you rests in the relationship between your strong secondary Metal personality and Jane’s Fire personality.
In the Five Elements model, Metal and Fire relate on the Controlling Cycle with Fire controlling Metal. This means that your relationship with Jane might take on a sense of conflict from time to time, especially as it relates to organization and structure. This will feel especially strong for you because that the dynamic works against you: Jane’s Fire will melt your Metal. The problem is probably made more difficult because you are Jane’s supervisor and your Metal will have entrenched ideas about hierarchy and appropriate ways for employees to relate to their bosses. It’s safe to say that Jane probably isn’t lining up with your expectations.
The good news is that there are quite a few ways for you to bring some stability to your relationship with Jane. But first, let’s consider what won’t work. The worst thing you can do is to stand in your Metal personality too strongly when “managing” Jane. If she’s in a really Fiery place, it will be almost impossible for you not to feel threatened or challenged by her, which probably won’t be her intent at all. Also, the Earth part of your personality will feel very uncomfortable if there is any conflict between you and a staff member, so the best approach is going to be to stay out of the Metal part of your personality when dealing with Jane. This means trying to enforce rules, regulations, specific goals, etc. will not be the best approach.
Instead, when you need to rein in Jane, use the Earth part of your personality. We’ve pointed out many times in this blog that in nature, Earth is the natural container for Fire. An earthen hearth is the perfect example; fire is safe there. This means that Jane’s Fire personality will feel comfortable fitting into any structure you create that feels “Earthy.” One way to set a more Earthy tone in your meetings would be to include snacks. Food, and the enjoyment of food, are very Earth. Another possibility would be to have small group discussion during your meetings. Connecting closely with people is also very Earth. The point here is that Fire won’t fight or feel controlled by Earth. It’s the gentlest way to work with Fire, too, so should appeal to that caring Earth part of your personality.
Another way to manage Jane’s fiery energy is to use Water energy. In the Five Elements mode, Water and Fire relate on the Controlling Cycle, with Water controlling Fire. In nature, or course, we douse fire with water. A simple way to help with too much Fire energy is to use the color blue. Perhaps you could wear blue to your meetings or hold your meetings in a blue room. You might even have a small fountain in your meeting room, too. You can also try to include inspiring quotes or visual as part of your meetings, which is a very Watery thing to do. Just know that if you get too Watery, Jane’s joy and enthusiasm will dim quickly, which could make your meetings truly less enjoyable (and also bring on some guilt in the Earth part of your personality).
Finally, make sure there’s nothing in the school or meeting environments that could serve to build Jane’s Fire energy. No red (the color of Fire), no loud music, no spicy food as snacks, etc. Bottom line, you want to help manage the joy of Jane’s Fire, not extinguish it. If you can do this, you will have a happy and fun school that the Earth part of your personality will enjoy and the Metal part will find easy to manage. Blessings to you!