We’re big believers in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and its benefits for the corporate world. But there’s another personality system we like to use, the Enneagram.
We’ve been using it for over 20 years now, but for whatever reason, it doesn't have the widespread interest in corporate Australia that it probably should have.
Use it to delve into the strengths and weaknesses of your team and it will quickly become your most powerful business tool.
The Enneagram is a dynamic personality system that describes nine fundamentally different ways of operating in the world. It reveals how our patterns of attention and focus create our core beliefs, our preoccupations, our behaviours, and our personalities.
What I (Michelle) love about the Enneagram is that it is deep. You could spend your whole career just focusing on the Enneagram in terms of the depth and richness of information that it has at different levels.
There are many benefits of using the Enneagram, but the main advantage is the way it helps you better evaluate yourself and others. It’s especially useful for a people leader because you can use it to understand what motivates and satisfies different types of personality.
Not only that, it identifies your own pattern of attention. It shows you when you're at your best and when you're at your worst and can give you some strategies on how to move towards being your best.
Developed by Bolivian-born Oscar Ichazo back in the 1960s, the Enneagram is a complex system. The philosophy behind it draws on components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greeks, particularly Socrates and Plato. It’s a combination or a synthesis of all this ancient wisdom and traditions.
The idea is if you can satisfy all nine points on the diagram you achieve nirvana or a godlike state. This stems from ancient Sufism, a form of Islam that focuses on introspection and achieving spiritual closeness with God.
When you are fully integrated only the essence of your personality remains, because you have transcended your personality. The whole idea is that you are more than just your personality. You’re everything.
Here’s a rundown of the different Enneagram types.
The first of the nine personality types on the Enneagram is the peacemaker or the mediator. They sit at the top of the circle and are balanced, steady personalities. They typically approach work and their relationships with a calm attitude, tend to avoid conflict, and are good at looking at a situation from all angles.
Their challenge, though, is to stay focused on priorities and sticking up for their own position. They tend to put others first in their efforts.
Next is the perfectionist or reformer. They are responsible, hardworking, and don’t like making mistakes. This means they have very high standards for themselves and others, which is where they can become undone. They set their own value and expect that to be the same value as someone else.
For them, the challenge is balancing their critical thinking with acceptance and appreciation. Think about the way you talk to yourself and the way you talk to others. If you see a piece of information, do you look for flaws and holes first, or do you show appreciation first? The challenge is also to know when good is enough.
These are the positive people who like to give to others. They make excellent communicators, they support the interests of people in their team and organisations, and are highly empathetic. They go out of their way to get to know how other people are feeling and what they need.
On the flip side, they can give too much of themselves. They need to learn to say no and choose more wisely how much energy they put into focusing on others rather than themselves.
The performers have tremendous productivity, are very enthusiastic, highly motivated, and quick to move into action to accomplish results.
As action-oriented people, they are usually a little more extroverted, so their challenge is to take the time to listen to others, build good relationships, and develop more long-term strategies. They also need to be careful not to burn out, because they tend to be workaholics.
Also described as the individualist, these people can be sensitive. They are also expressive and dramatic and can be seen as self-absorbed, and temperamental at times. Their focus is all about authenticity, of themselves and of other people.
A lot of artists and creative people tend to be the romantics. They value excellence in all things and enjoy finding a personal connection to their work and to the people around them. If they don’t find that authenticity and connection to their task, they can become disengaged.
Learning to tolerate the mundane is their main challenge. In almost every job, there will always be a part of it that is somewhat bland. So, these romantics need to reduce their emotional reactions rather than dramatise them.
The people at this level, also known as the investigators, are excellent thinkers and are very good at strategy. They like to develop technical expertise and accumulate knowledge. They're intense, they're quite cerebral, perceptive, innovative, and sometimes secretive and isolated.
I'm (Jan) actually married to an investigator. My husband Bertie likes to get to the source of the problem whereas if I feel like I know enough, I can move on.
The observer’s challenge is to be available to other people when possible and to communicate warmth. They need to recognise that other kinds of human assets, besides mental intelligence, are as valid and important.
These are the committed types. They’re very security-orientated, engaging, responsible, and are good at anticipating problems and creating solutions from that. They like to figure out what’s going on around them and finding structure. Can they create a strategy that leads to safety?
However, they have a tendency to become anxious and sceptical. The challenge they face is managing their suspicion and doubt so that it doesn't become demotivating for themselves or for others.
Interestingly, if you were to do a population scan, there would be a higher number of ‘sixes’ than any other. That’s the case for our family, too.
Usually quick-thinking, enthusiastic and adaptable, these people are very adaptable. They tend to be spontaneous and versatile; where other people see problems, they see opportunities. They typically have multiple interests, but have trouble acknowledging problems and limitations, and bringing their attention back to the present and the task at hand.
Also known as the protector, these individuals are powerful, dominating and can come across as being self-confident. They're good at taking charge of others in their environment, have strong leadership skills, and know how to mobilise and get things done.
An integrated eight is loyal, caring and shows strength. But, if they’re not fully integrated, they could be seen as too dominating, and sometimes, a bully. So, it’s important they moderate their forcefulness, so they can be more adaptable in more situations and avoid creating unnecessary conflict.
Overall, the Enneagram is fully contained. There is so much depth because there are levels within levels.
It may look difficult to navigate at first, but if you can at least get your head around your type, and a brief description of the other types, it can be a very powerful tool for you and your team.
Here’s an activity for you to try: draw a circle and divide it into four quadrants - the essential you, self-defeating behaviours you’d like to change, what motivates you, and things that irritate you. In each quadrant, add several descriptions of what you believe best describes these four statements.
It’s a great way to discover more about yourself and can be done in your team or your family to open up new conversations and really explore our unique qualities.
And if you’d like us to do an Enneagram workshop for your team, take a look at our website here.