It’s an essential tool for becoming a more aware, more conscious leader.
Self-awareness is the starting point for conscious leadership. There are four paths we see leaders take to grow in self-awareness:
It is this last category that we want to explore. There are many personality assessments and psychological instruments designed to give you insight into who you are. Our favorite, by far, is the Enneagram. Let’s explore…
At the most basic level, the Enneagram is a nine-pointed symbol. The nine points of the symbol represent nine different personality types.
For our use as conscious leaders, the Enneagram is a comprehensive theory of personality that identifies nine distinct ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. More importantly, it describes our core motivations that have created our personality. It not only gives us insight into who we are and why we are who we are, but it also provides a map and path for personal growth that brings us back into wholeness and full aliveness.
The Enneagram as a personality instrument, was initially popularized in the ’70s by Claudio Naranjo, an American-trained Chilean psychiatrist. His insights were based primarily on the work of Oscar Ichazo, who drew on work dating much farther back. Many others have entered the conversation, resulting in an ever richer, deeper, and more nuanced presence of Enneagram worldwide.
The Enneagram contains a vast repository of insight and transformation. Like the ocean, it allows us to either dip in a toe or plumb the depths.
I have been at many dinner parties where my wife, Debbie Burditt (a leading Enneagram expert), engages people totally unfamiliar with the tool in discovering their type and how it shows up in their lives. People often remind us months later of that 30-minute toe-dipping conversation and how impactful it was for them.
Others of us have been studying the Enneagram for decades and continue to be blown away by its ability to open us up to new levels of insight and reality.
Drive, not Behavior. Though the Enneagram identifies and describes the behaviors related to the nine different types, its focus is not on behaviors; rather, it is on what drives the behaviors.
For example, I’m an Enneagram type 2, sometimes called the giver. Some of the characteristics of this type include generosity, helpfulness, empathy, sensitivity, and relational connection. Type 2s can also become resentful, burned out, and angry.
The usefulness of the tool, however, is not in spotting these behaviors, but in helping me to understand what drives these behaviors. In the case of a type 2, we manifest the above characteristics because of a core belief: in order to get love, we have to give love. We believe, down deep in our unconscious minds, that no one will really want us, love us, or value us if we are just who we are. We believe that we have to do something to be loved. Particularly, we tend to spend our energy meeting the needs of people we value most. Living from this belief brings forth the characteristics of the type 2.
The Enneagram is not a disease or dysfunction model. It is not about discovering, diagnosing, and dealing with anyone’s pathology. Rather its perspective is that everyone is fundamentally whole, perfect, and complete, and that we have simply lost our way. We have become separated from the truth of who we are. When we dislocate from this reality we manifest beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, values, and feelings that are suboptimal and, at times, destructive to ourselves and others.
The Enneagram is the study of the path back to wholeness, thus PATH-ology.
For example, as a type 2, one of the effects of believing that I’m only valuable if I meet the needs of others is that I forget about my own needs. I actually deny that I have needs through the psychological defense mechanism of repression. (All nine types have a particular defense mechanism). One of the waypoints on my journey back to wholeness is to begin to discover my needs and ask for them to be met. For 2’s, this practice is scary and, at first, difficult because of our core motivation and the fear that we will risk relationships that matter to us if we have needs, let alone to ask for them to be met. In doing so we step onto the path back to wholeness.
Diversity comes in many forms; one of the keys to high-performing teams and cultures is to have diversity of personalities and perspectives. The Enneagram identifies and celebrates this diversity by helping us understand in-depth the distinctions of the different types and how each is essential to the overall success of the team.
The nine types of the Enneagram break down into three evenly divided centers of intelligence: head or thinking types, heart or feeling types, and gut or sensing types.
One of the things we pay attention to with teams is the balance of head, heart, and gut. We all have access to all three centers, but tend to overuse one of them. All three centers give us information that is needed for good decision making. When a team lacks or over-values one center of intelligence, and the Enneagram types related to that center, they are vulnerable to suboptimal decision making. Imagine making a decision about whom you will marry based only on your head, heart or gut and not the other two centers of intelligence. Teams can fall prey to the same traps if they don’t value all of the Enneagram types.
It’s also true that much unhealthy conflict is rooted in our inability and unwillingness to simply see that other people experience the world differently than we do. Conflict is fueled by believing that our way of viewing reality is the right and only one. The Enneagram invites us to understand that there is a rich diversity of perspectives, honesty came by. The Enneagram encourages us to not only see the diversity, but to understand the motivations that give birth to each unique point of view. The natural consequence of this wisdom is greater compassion, understanding and celebration of differences.
Because of these reasons (and others!) we can’t imagine why a leader and her team wouldn’t want to know and use the Enneagram for personal and team growth.
9 Types of Leadership by Beatrice Chestnut - Highly recommended for leaders and teams to use in the workplace.
The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut - A great reference for more advanced exploration. This is Debbie’s favorite.
Essential Enneagram by David Daniels - A very short, practical “field guide” to discovering your type and learning the basics of types. This book is great to review before going to meet someone when you know their type.