Thoughtful young African woman brainstorming

In our last article about using the enneagram as a leadership development tool, we introduced the acronym ALTER (Awareness, Learn, Type, Experiment, Results) as a process that can help you level up your leadership effectiveness armed with the Enneagram. We went through the first two stages, Awareness and Learn and ended the blog with two links you can use to take your enneagram assessment and figure out your type.  If you haven’t read Part 1 yet and would like to read that first, you can find it here.

Now we’ll move onto Type and continue our journey.  I should start by clarifying that these behavior patterns are not simple and straightforward, so you may not line up with the common pattern listed below for your type and may even do the opposite! But identifying your “stress behavior pattern” – the one that works against you and diminishes your performance in times of stress – is your initial goal.

Stage 3 – Type:

What makes the enneagram a fascinating growth tool is its ability to show you the core inner conflict that drives your stressed-based behavior. When you know the core inner conflict related to your type, you can work directly on resolving that conflict, rather than wasting time on superficial issues that arise as a result of that conflict.

Here is a quick overview of the core conflict each type struggles with:

Enneagram One: The enneagram one usually grows up in an environment where there is a clear “right” and “wrong” way of being in the world. They are naturally compliant and attuned to others, so wanted to be good and do things right. However, they often ran into situations where it was difficult to live up to standards and they had to stifle their own wants and needs in order to do the “right” thing. They would also have witnessed others who didn’t seem to “have to” play by the same rules. They felt disempowered, angry and resentful and typically poured this energy in to trying to make things right. For the one, the real journey is about discovering that there can be many “rights” and developing an ease about the inherent messiness in life.

Enneagram Two: The enneagram two grows up not feeling seen, heard, or understood. They are naturally compliant and attuned to others, and quickly learned how to get some degree of positive regard by giving to others. But in order to make this happen, they set their own needs aside, and this led to a desperate wanting to connect and be in relationships, while also deeply resenting the unacknowledged work they put into them. For a two, the real journey is about extreme self-care. Only when they get their own needs fully met can they have relationships that actually support them.

Enneagram Three: The enneagram three grew up not feeling seen, heard, or understood. They are naturally assertive and go after what they want, which is to be valued by others. Enneagram threes develop the ability to create a persona or “look” that appears successful, and they pour all their energy into maintaining that persona. However, in the process they disconnect from their inner feelings. In other words, they’d rather “be” their persona than themselves. This results in superficial relationships and a plaguing loneliness. For the three, the real journey is to uncover and accept who they truly are, flaws, failures and all. The resulting authenticity and confidence enables them to truly connect and succeed.

Enneagram Four: The enneagram four grew up not feeling seen, heard, or understood. The four directly experiences shame and tends to withdraw into a fantasy world where they are adored because they are special. They can create emotional intensity and will often substitute this for connection, but it backfires when people they care about get drained by what feels like drama and negativity. The four is naturally self-reflective and is already on an inner journey, but is looking for the wrong thing. While they hope to find something inside that makes them significant to themselves and others, the real journey is about fully accepting and loving themselves no matter how ordinary they feel.

Enneagram Five: The enneagram five grew up feeling overwhelmed by the world, mostly by the demands of the people around them. They are naturally quiet and coped with the overwhelm by withdrawing into their heads. Fives love to learn, and generally find their confidence by becoming an expert or master in one specific thing. That “thing” becomes their world, whether it’s physics, math, music, or writing. In their own world they have control and feel safe, but they know they have to interact with the real world too. The real journey for the five is about learning to connect fully with people, while also maintaining the boundaries they need to stay whole.

Enneagram Six: The enneagram six grew up aware of the dangers in the world and wanting to feel safe. They usually try to find safety by attaching themselves to something outside themselves, like a community or organization with clear rules, or a strong protective spouse or friend. They have a hard time trusting anyone or anything, and continuously notice when those in charge aren’t on top of things. The real journey for the six is to find inner guidance and trust themselves to make decisions and connections that will create as much safety as possible.

Enneagram Seven: The enneagram seven grew up aware of the dangers in the world and disconnected from their fear by focusing on experiencing good feelings and chasing joy. Sevens like lots of options and move from one situation or person to another, never actually feeling settled. The journey for the seven is to let go of the chase and experience whatever there is to experience, even the negative feelings. This requires being still, focusing on one thing at a time, and actually feeling the joy emerge from inside instead of chasing it outside themselves.

Enneagram Eight: The enneagram eight grew up in an environment that felt challenging and overpowering. They have assertive energy, and in order to get their needs met they learned to fight for themselves and others. Eights are committed to never let anyone get the better of them, and they actually thrive on the intense energy of a challenging debate, sometimes instigating these types of situations to see if others measure up. They look down on those who have a gentle or quiet side, but the real journey of the eight is to find the power in gentleness, so they can stop hurting those they mean to protect.

Enneagram Nine: The enneagram nine grew up in an overpowering environment where others asserted themselves, leaving the nine without a voice.  They are naturally quiet and treasure peace and harmony, so instead of overtly fighting for a voice, they withdrew their opinion and worked to get their needs met indirectly, usually by “going along” with what others want. The journey for a nine is to find their voice and learn to speak it, so that they can get their needs met and truly have peace.

Each “journey” outlined above is deep and complex, and often requires clear guidance, including sign-posts and step by step practices, but the good news is that you don’t have to reach the end of the journey to become more effective as a leader. As soon as you begin to increase your awareness of the potential conflicts inside, you’ll see them play out in your daily life and get a chance to practice new ways of handling situations that get you better results. While the journey itself may take a lifetime, each step of the way brings more joy and success.

Stages 4 and 5 – Experiment and Results:

Adults learn best through experimentation, which essentially means:

1. Paying close attention to underlying dynamics that play out in daily situations.
2. Practicing new responses and behaviors instead of reacting in automatic and habitual ways.
3. Continuing to adapt and hone responses based on the results.

For each enneagram number, there are specific tools and experiments that can start you on your journey, and in all cases I like to include a trigger log, which universally helps you keep track of how you are handling challenging situations, and more quickly see patterns that you can leverage.

To start this process on your own, I recommend using a simple version of trigger log that I call an “effectiveness log”.  Each week, reflect on your five most effective moments and one or two of your least effective moments.  Capture a few bullets about each situation, what your immediate thoughts and feelings were, how you handled it, and how others responded to you.

You should be able to clearly see the difference between how you handled things in your most effective moments and your least effective moments.   If you continue to self-observe in this manner over a period of a few months, you should start noticing patterns.  How closely do these patterns match the ones outlined in your top enneagram type descriptions?

Start experimenting by building on the behaviors that work best in your most effective moments, and “catching yourself” when you fall into your less effective patterns.  Just deliberately increasing your awareness around these patterns can give you a practical path to growth and better results.   Meanwhile, you can get deeper insights by considering how you handled challenges when you were younger, developing both your strengths and less effective strategies to cope.  Instead of allowing these less effectives strategies to continue automatically when you feel stressed, question whether they are really helping you get what you need, and try new behaviors when you can catch yourself.

If you would like to take your journey deeper, one book we recommend is The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso and Russ Hudson. Also keep your eyes out for upcoming classes and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to Nahid if you’d like to discuss coaching.




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