When I was a younger man, I spent almost ten years in the U.S. Navy. As in other branches of the service, physical fitness was emphasized. Some guys loved the daily discipline of lifting weights. These guys would bulk up, and lift heavier and heavier loads—but I also observed that when it came to running, their endurance was lacking. Other sailors, however, prized endurance. They would put on their sneakers day after day and head out for long runs. But I also observed that they tended not to be the most physically powerful people. If we had to move a safe from one office to the next, you needed the power of the weightlifters. But if you wanted to move boxes around the ship all day long, the endurance of the runner was required. In both cases, identifying and playing to the strengths of the individual meant that the work got done well, and the worker was happily using his native abilities.
As I wrote in a previous article, the Antioch School uses the SIMA® process to help people understand their native strengths, their natural talents, their innate and unique design. Using an empirical process of observation across the scope of an individual’s life, SIMA® allows us to identify the skills that we are most naturally suited to using, the circumstances in which we will thrive, the types of relationships we want to maintain with others, the subject matter that engages our interest, and the results we want to see come from our work. When we know the pattern of behavior that is most natural to us, in which we do our best work and find our maximal satisfaction, then we know what our strengths are. But how can we play to those strengths?
I suggest a three-step process for helping people use their SIMA® Motivated Abilities Pattern (MAP) to play to their strengths.
Prerequisite to this process is to thoroughly understand your MAP. A SIMA® MAP is nothing more than information about you! The best way to use your MAP is to learn it as deeply and thoroughly as you can. Read and re-read it regularly. Talk about it with the key people in your life. Reflect on it regularly. Unless you understand the contents, you won’t be able to make use of your MAP.
If, however, you have made a solid beginning at mastering your MAP, you can use it to play to your strengths. As a first step, reflect on your past work and ministry experiences, in light of your MAP. Think about the work that was most meaningful and satisfying, about the ministry that was most fruitful and enjoyable. Compare these experiences to your MAP, and try to identify the specific things that made that work or ministry effective and satisfying to you. Begin to build a mental picture of the best sort of work for you: the sort that engages as much of your native talents and proclivities as possible.
Having done this, compare your MAP to your present work or ministry setting. Using the mental picture you developed, along with your knowledge of your MAP, critically evaluate the extent to which your job or ministry engages your strengths. Low motivation at work, or lasting discouragement in ministry, can often indicate a bad fit between our day-to-day requirements and the enduring pattern of behavior described in our MAP. If that is your situation, try to identify what areas of work or ministry fall outside your native abilities, and try to identify which of your strengths aren’t being used in your day-to-day activities.
Having made this sort of evaluation, you will be prepared to reshape your work or ministry situation. Talk with the people who oversee your work or leader your ministry. Most managers and leaders really do want to get the most out of their people. If you can explain to that person why you are underperforming, and how that problem might be solved, perhaps your work or ministry setting could be reshaped to better fit the unique skills and abilities you possess.
SIMA® is not a silver bullet, of course. There will remain, for all of us, things we must do that don’t match our unique strengths (this author, for example, finds home maintenance tasks nearly unbearable!). But if we use the information provided in our MAPs, then we will be positioned to make the best use of the skills and talents with which God has uniquely gifted us.