Promoting Self-Awareness through the Enneagram
Self-awareness, once a term reserved for counseling sessions and contemplatives, has now become a widely acknowledged aspect of effective leadership.
“Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative,” says Tasha Eurich in a Harvard Business Review article. “We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies.”
I was several years into my first leadership role before I even knew of the concept of self-awareness. That’s less likely to happen these days, but the essential question remains: How do we grow in self-awareness? And a similar question for leaders and managers: How do we cultivate self-awareness in our employees and organizations?
Introducing the Enneagram
A wise mentor introduced me to the Enneagram. A personality profile with a long history, the Enneagram’s origins predate modern personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, DISC, and StrengthsFinder. The Enneagram offers a unique perspective into your sources of motivation and your relational habits. By understanding the language and styles of the Enneagram, you will likely develop a more comprehensive insight into your most common motivations, thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The Enneagram is only one resource for growth in self-awareness. But in my past 10 years of leadership, it’s the single most helpful tool I’ve found for growing in my own self-knowledge and promoting it in others. I’ve taught this profile to leaders from more than 75 organizations, and most participants find it shockingly accurate.
According to the Enneagram, there are nine primary styles of personality. Of course, you are more complex than a single number can summarize, but you almost certainly will identify strongly with one of these styles and find two or three others that are significant influences on your personality.
The Nine Personality Styles
The ONE is the reformer the good and moral person. Ones are driven to change the world; they operate in terms of right and wrong, black and white. A healthy One will be honest, hard-working, and ethical. An unhealthy One may be moralistic, rigid, and demanding. Ones are often perfectionists and might struggle with anger.
The TWO is the giver — the helpful, generous, supportive person. Twos are motivated by loving and caring for others; their orientation is relational. Healthy Twos are genuinely unselfish, gentle, and compassionate. When unhealthy, Twos may become codependent, overly sacrificial, and possessive. Twos might struggle to recognize their own needs and limits.
The THREE is the achiever — the effective, high-performing person. Threes are energized by getting things done. Healthy Threes are active, motivating, and competent. Unhealthy Threes can become superficial, self-promoting, and deceitful. Threes are often popular and successful, but they tend to over-identify with their roles in life and struggle with disappointment and failure.
The FOUR is the creative — the original, artistic, romantic person. Fours are motivated by expressing themselves. Healthy Fours are unique, attentive, and aware of beauty and harmony. When unhealthy, Fours can be dramatic, complicated, and prone to melancholy. Fours are deeply in touch with their own feelings, but they may withdraw too much into isolation.
The FIVE is the sage — the wise, intellectual, objective person. Fives love to make sense of things and find connections that others have missed. Healthy Fives are thoughtful and innovative, often experts in their field. Unhealthy Fives can be overly objective, detached, and non-committing. Fives are the deepest thinkers, but they may struggle to understand and express their feelings.
The SIX is the loyalist — the faithful, traditional, reliable person. Sixes are motivated by maintaining relationships; stability is key for them. When healthy, Sixes are dependable and steady, and they make great friends. Unhealthy Sixes might become anxious, rigid, or hyper-conservative. Sixes bring stability, but potential chaos can be a challenge for them.
The SEVEN is the enthusiast — the joyful, playful, life-of-the-party person. Sevens’ motivation is to simply enjoy life. Healthy Sevens are optimistic, enthusiastic, and visionary. When unhealthy, Sevens may be superficial, scattered, and pain avoidant. Sevens tend to be extroverted and fun, but they can struggle to remain engaged with anything negative, painful, or boring.
The EIGHT is the competitor — the powerful, challenging person. Eights want to win; they perceive life as a challenge to be overcome. Healthy Eights are fearless, strong-willed, and tenacious. Unhealthy Eights can become overpowering, hostile, and threatening. They are decisive and confident, often quick to defend others, but they can also underestimate their ability to hurt or shame others.
The NINE is the peacemaker — the compassionate, reconciling person. Nines are motivated by finding and keeping peace. Healthy Nines are easy-going, modest, and diplomatic. When unhealthy, Nines can be overwhelmed, passive-aggressive, and might avoid conflict at all costs. Nines can bring calm and resolution in tense situations, but they might struggle to withdraw from their own pain.
Working with the Enneagram
Of course, a brief overview of the nine styles hardly does justice to the depth of the Enneagram’s wisdom. To understand how much you identify with each style, a 200-question online test is available. Taking the test is quick (about 20 minutes) and affordable (as low as $10).
If you’re interested in cultivating greater self-awareness, consider the Enneagram. Through it, you may likely find you develop more accurate self-knowledge and increased well-being. You will likely also find that your work is more connected and productive, your “soft skills” are more refined, and your leadership is more comprehensive. Your teams will likely find a new language to work with, and your entire organization can take the next step toward health and growth.
It’s the single most helpful tool I’ve found for growing in my own self-knowledge and promoting it in others.
Jeremy Linneman is teaching pastor of Trinity Community Church in Columbia, Missouri. He is the author of a few short books and has been an instructor in the Enneagram since 2014 (before it was cool). He and his wife, Jessie, have three sons and spend most of their free time outdoors.