Troubled young business woman brainstorming

The enneagram is a great tool for leaders who have already experienced a lot of training and have a solid skill set, but want to see if they can uplevel themselves even more, by working through their most stubborn patterns.

Even the most highly skilled and well-respected leaders often fall into behavior patterns that work against them. Here are just a few examples:

1. Leaders can fall into overly controlling and autocratic behavior patterns that stifle performance despite their ability to drive everyone to work hard and get results.
2. Leaders can be visionary and charismatic but still leave team members feeling lost, craving more tangible guidance and help prioritizing.
3. Leaders can be deeply knowledgeable about science or technology but oblivious to the people issues their teams are facing and neglect to support them.
4. Leaders can be highly supportive of their teams, yet unable to step into advocacy, to get the resources and visibility across the organization that will allow them to succeed.
5. Leaders can be good strategic thinkers but unable to translate their vision into something that others can grasp onto and work towards.

These types of shortcomings are often overlooked or accommodated because they are deeply embedded in personality types and no amount of training seems to change the pattern. We all have strengths that when overused become liabilities, but what if deeper self-awareness could help you take everything to a higher level?

The enneagram can help you uncover why you get triggered and stressed in certain situations and how your belief systems keep you stuck in certain behavior patterns, even when you really want to change them. With these deeper insights, you have the ammunition you need to break free from automatic ways of thinking and reacting that no longer serve you.

Using the acronym ALTER, we can walk through five stages of leadership development using the Enneagram:

1. Awareness: Develop awareness of your triggers and automatic behavior patterns.
2. Learn: Learn the enneagram model and take an assessment to help identify your type.
3. Type: Uncover the core beliefs and behavior patterns associated with your type.
4. Experiment: Experiment with new behaviors using the situations you face every day.
5. Results: Monitor the results you get and continue to make adjustments based on how people respond.

Stage 1 – Awareness:

Many leadership development programs start with a 360 assessment to build awareness of how you are experienced by others, which is an excellent beginning tool for understanding the impact of your automatic behavior, but if you want to understand what’s driving your stress-based behavior patterns from the inside, a trigger log can help you uncover your patterns very quickly. We have several tools and classes that include trigger logs and several templates, but the essence of a trigger log is to simply write down the times you were triggered and capture what is going on inside of you, especially your immediate reactive thoughts and emotions, as well as what you did and how others responded. You can uncover patterns with as few as five entries. And if you keep a log for a few weeks you’ll learn even more.

Stage 2 – Learning:

The enneagram model is complex, with nine unique personality types along with several triads, subtypes, levels and directional lines that explain how each type might show up differently in different situations. It could take years of study to master the enneagram, but a leader looking to use the tool to level up can start by taking an assessment and reading the overview of the type that comes out on top. Each type has a core behavior pattern, and a great place to start is to see if the core behavior pattern of your top type lines up with the behavior pattern you fall into when you are stressed at work.

Here is a brief summary of the most basic negative behavior patterns that each type tends to fall into when they are under stress and in a leadership position:

Enneagram One: Tends to show up as critical and insist on reworking details past the point of diminishing return. This can demoralize the team and cause them to miss deadlines and opportunities.

Enneagram Two: Tends to be over-protective of team members to the point where they aren’t giving clear performance feedback, causing team members to not improve, and later be shocked when they are overlooked for promotion, laid off for lack of results, or given the feedback in an annual performance review.

Enneagram Three: Tends to get over-focused on “the look” at the expense of reality, causing team members to not trust the leader to have their back and feel that they are only valued to the extent that the are making the leader look good.

Enneagram Four: Tends to get overly hurt and resentful when overlooked, and the intensity of emotion can cause others to withdraw from them and have team members walking on glass.

Enneagram Five: Tends to withdraw and not communicate when others need them, causing the team to flounder as they are unable to resolve issues that require a leader.

Enneagram Six: Tends to be so risk-adverse that they get stalled in decision-making, delaying projects and causing the team to miss opportunities.

Enneagram Seven: Has so many ideas and interests that the team is unable to focus or prioritize, which has them starting a lot of projects and finishing very few.

Enneagram Eight: Likes to debate and “take people down” who they see as adversaries, which causes people to feel diminished and sometimes emotionally abused.

Enneagram Nine: Avoids speaking up and clearly stating an opinion, which requires the team to make decisions for themselves and often has them moving in different directions.

You may or may not resonate with the key behavior pattern of your type, but just asking the questions and considering what you see will usually bring up deeper insights that validate issues you were only partially aware of.

Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out which enneagram type actually fits you, and this discovery process can be a valuable part of your journey. Ultimately, most of us have more than one enneagram type in us, but usually there is one type that is at the bottom of it all. Identifying that “bottom of it all” type gives you the power to understand what is driving you at your core. And once you shine the light on that, you have the power to make adjustments.

If you would like to take an enneagram assessment, and get a sense for what your type might be, there are two online that I recommend:

  • The Rhetti, at The Enneagram Institute: This assessment was created by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, two of the most well-respected leaders in the enneagram world. The free assessment gives you an initial idea of your top few types, and the in-depth assessment can help you narrow it down. Here is a link to the website:
  • Personality Path Free Enneagram Test: Sometimes I get frustrated with the Rhetti test because of the way the questions are asked, and I found this test on the internet which seems fairly accurate, at least when I took it. You may want to use it as an alternative, or as an extra, to validate your initial results:

Once you have your results, there are several books and write ups on the various numbers online. And remember to read part 2 of our blog to learn more about the core conflict that each type must resolve to get unstuck.

If you’d like some additional help finding useful information, have questions about your assessment results, or would like to discuss coaching, don’t hesitate to reach out to Nahid for a consultation.




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