In this blog and associated interview, Belinda explores how she uses the Enneagram to help leaders build the self-awareness that enables them to perform effectively.
Let’s start with the example of Ken, an experienced leader, who was making a job change.
He realized he was navigating in uncharted territory and that he would no longer be working with the team he knew well and trusted. He would be working with new people who didn’t know who he was or how he worked. Because starting a new job is stressful, he also needed to be aware of his patterns and signs of stress. To help him manage this transition, he revisited his personality assessment to refresh his memory on how to navigate his personal stress and to better understand his new team. He found this tool very useful in the past and expected it would be equally valuable as he stepped into a high-visibility role.
When the 65 members of the Advisory Council for the Stanford Graduate School of Business were polled several years ago on the topic of what is most important to include in the school’s curriculum, there was an overwhelming agreement that the most important thing business school graduates needed to learn was self-awareness and the resulting ability to reduce denial in their perceptions of themselves and their actions. All the tools of the MBA trade—forecasting, strategic planning, financial analysis, among many, many others—were determined to be LESS important than learning skills of self-awareness and the ability to reduce denial. This speaks to the emerging recognition that we highlight in Innovative Leadership: Leaders, through their own personality quirks and biases, can derail the most progressive initiatives toward an organization’s sustainable success.
The name “Enneagram” derives from the Greek for nine (ennea) and for a figure (grama), hence, the Enneagram symbol of a circle with nine equidistant points around the circumference. Using the symbol as a map we can describe patterns of personality as well as highly effective pathways for personal change. In my experience using the Enneagram system as a psychologist and leadership coach over the past twenty-three years, I find it to be more robust than any other system I have encountered.
The following section describes the enneagram types.
Type 1—Reformer: The Rational, Idealistic Type
I am a principled, idealistic type. I am conscientious and ethical with a strong sense of right and wrong behavior. I can be a teacher, crusader, and advocate for change, always striving to improve things, but sometimes afraid of making mistakes. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, I try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. I typically have problems with resentment and impatience.
At My Best: I am wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. I can be morally heroic.
Type 2—Helper: The Caring, Interpersonal Type
I am a caring, interpersonal type. I am empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. I am friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people pleasing. I am well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. I typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging my own needs.
At My Best: I am unselfish and altruistic, and have unconditional love for others.
Type 3—Achiever: The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type
I am an adaptable, success-oriented type. I am self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, I can also be status-conscious and highly-driven for advancement. I am diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with my image and what others think of me. I typically have problems with over focus on work and competitiveness.
At My Best: I am self-accepting, authentic, and a role model who inspires others.
Type 4—Individualist: The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type
I am an introspective, romantic type. I am self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. I am emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding myself from others due to feeling vulnerable, I can also feel scornful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. I typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity.
At My Best: I am inspired and highly creative and am able to renew myself and transform my experiences.
Type 5—Investigator: The Intense, Cerebral Type
I am a perceptive, cerebral type. I am alert, insightful, and curious. I am able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, I can also become preoccupied with my thoughts and imaginary constructs. I can be detached, yet high-strung and intense. I typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.
At My Best: I am a visionary pioneer, often ahead of my time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.
Type 6—Loyalist: The Committed, Security-Oriented Type
I am reliable, hardworking, responsible, security oriented, and trustworthy. I am an excellent troubleshooter, and can foresee problems and foster cooperation, but can also become defensive, evasive, and anxious: running on stress while complaining about it. I can be cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant, and rebellious. I typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion.
At My Best: I am internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing myself and others.
Type Seven—Enthusiast: The Busy, Fun-Loving Type
I am a busy, outgoing, productive type. I am extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous. Playful, high-spirited and practical, I can also misapply many talents, becoming over-extended, scattered, and undisciplined. I constantly seek new and exciting experiences, but can become distracted and exhausted by staying on the go. I typically have problems with impatience and impulsiveness.
At My Best: I focus my talents on worthwhile goals, becoming appreciative, joyous, and satisfied.
Type Eight—Challenger: The Powerful, Dominating Type
I am a powerful, aggressive, self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight talking, and decisive, I can also be egocentric and domineering. I feel I must control my environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. I typically have problems with my temper and with allowing myself to be vulnerable.
At My Best: I am self-mastering and I use my strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.
Type Nine—Peacemaker: The Easygoing, Self-effacing Type
I am accepting, trusting, easy going, and stable. I am usually grounded, supportive, and often creative, but can also be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. I want everything to go smoothly and be without conflict, but I can also tend to be complacent and emotionally distant, simplifying problems, and ignoring anything upsetting. I typically have problems with inertia and stubbornness.
At My Best: I am indomitable and all-embracing, and able to bring people together to heal conflicts.
One advantage of the Enneagram is that it is organic. The nine personality styles are formed through characteristic ways of balancing the three primary centers of intelligence in the human body. While we typically think of the brain as the center of intelligence, advances in neuroanatomy have demonstrated that there is also a complex system of nerves in the solar plexus region that forms the center of body intelligence and a third complex system of nerves in the center of the chest, known as the heart center of intelligence. These three centers are aligned with the three major parts of the brain: the belly center is aligned with the reptilian brain stem, responsible for instinctual behavior and home of the autonomic nervous system that controls arousal and relaxation; the heart center is aligned with the mid-brain where we encounter the mechanism for fundamental emotion as well as mirror neurons and limbic resonance that account for our capacity for empathy; and the head center is aligned with the cerebral cortex, which includes the analytical and logical left lobe as well as the holistic and intuitive right lobe.
The key to identifying a person’s core Enneagram type is to look beyond behavior to the factors motivating that behavior. Through awareness of motivation we can predict the ways in which leaders and organizations sabotage their best efforts as well as find the line of least resistance toward getting back on track.
By harnessing the capacity to see your leader type and conditioning in an objective, nonjudgmental way, you can foster better insight to your own experience without the strained effort that can stem from self-bias. You discover that the unique patterns that shape each type are genuine, natural and generally do not change much over time. In the most basic way, they simply reflect who you are most innately. The goal with leader type is to build self-awareness and leverage strengths, not try to change who you are. Understanding the natural conditioning that comes from leader type is a crucial stage in developing leadership effectiveness, and comprehensive innovation within the entire organization.
About the Authors
Belinda Gore, PhD focuses on designing, developing and delivering leadership, assessments, workshops, and coaching. She is a key thought leader in the development of the Innovative Leadership framework. She is a psychologist, executive coach, and experienced seminar leader skilled in supporting her clients in high-level learning. With 30 years’ experience in leadership development and interpersonal skills training, she is known for helping teams discover strength in their diversity to achieve their mutual goals, and works with individual leaders to access their natural talents to maximize effectiveness and satisfaction.
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.