Getting to Know Yourself – The Enneagram

On the first day of my son’s school, the teacher asked the class their favorite thing about school. The children quickly chimed in, and you heard them shout out reading, art, math, and many said recess…who could blame them? They are in grammar school, and playing is their thing. 

The teachers then turned the table and asked each parent what our favorite class was in school. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on the courses and teachers that had an impact on shaping my life. While I debated chiming in that recess was my favorite, I ultimately decided my communications classes were what I enjoyed the most in school. For me, it has been a fulfilling career for 20 years. 

That got me thinking about why communication was right for me. How intentional was this choice?  

Upon graduation, some people are clear that their path in life is to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or another profession they feel drawn to. And this is great. But so many of us, at 21 or 22 years old, could not pinpoint that I want to be (insert profession) for the next 40 years. A recent study found that over 37,000 undergraduates and 1500 school and college students were asked about their career aspirations and 52% of school students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I have no idea what I want to do with my career.”

And if you graduated 10, or even 20 years ago, so much has changed. Many professions today, especially some of the most coveted technology jobs, did not exist two decades ago. So how can you say today what work will make you happy years down the line?

While it might be challenging to label precisely the job you want, there are tools and insights you can derive from your personality that will help lead to meaningful work life. By diving deeply into your preferences early in life and continuing to check in with yourself as you go through your career journey to ask if your job is fulfilling. Am I doing work that makes me happy and brings me closer to who I’m meant to be? One great resource that I’ve used is determining your ikigai – your reason for being.

Learnings from Assessments

There are many assessments that help you identify these core traits such as DISC, Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, and beyond. But my personal favorite is the Enneagram. What I  found unique about the Enneagram is it truly dives into the essence of who you are and why people think, feel and act in certain ways. Being able to pair your ikigai with your Enneagram type can make for a life that brings clarity and fulfillment. 

This definition from Integrative Enneagram Solutions sums it up nicely “The Enneagram refers to the nine different types or styles, with each representing a worldview and archetype that resonates with the way people think, feel and act in relation to the world, others, and themselves. It is much more than a personality profile that offers insight into core personality traits…”. 

You have one Enneagram that spans your personal and professional life and does not change over the years. And each of the nine Enneagrams helps us see how we show up on our best and worst days. What are the strengths we bring to the table and what are the areas that can be blind spots for us? 

Below is a very quick overview that only scratches the surface of the nine Enneagram types, from The Enneagram Institute

  1. THE REFORMER – The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic
  2. THE HELPER – The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive
  3. THE ACHIEVER – The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious
  4. THE INDIVIDUALIST – The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental
  5. THE INVESTIGATOR – The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
  6. THE LOYALIST – The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious
  7. THE ENTHUSIAST – The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered
  8. THE CHALLENGER – The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational
  9. THE PEACEMAKER – The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

Knowing Yourself and Others With Greater Clarity

Knowing Yourself and Others With Greater Clarity

Equally important to knowing myself better was to understand how colleagues or my boss viewed the world. I am an Enneagram 9. One of my observations after working in tech for many years is that senior leaders, I have encountered and worked for, are often Enneagram 8s, the challengers. Eights are defined as  The definition as powerful and dominating, and individuals who are self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational. 

Nines and eights have very different approaches and styles, including that they move in the opposite direction when each is defensive – eights push hard, and nines can begin to shut down. The Enneagram Institute describes the relationship between these two as – eights become more aggressive and belligerent, demanding that their energy be met. Nines respond by not responding; they go on an emotional strike. As a nine, I know that I need to be prepared for conversations with an eight. It is not about having the facts or making rational arguments, which would be my natural approach, but instead matching the energy and intensity that they want. They want someone to spar, challenge them and push back. 

Taking the time to know your Enneagram and look at each of the other Enneagram types is insightful and can help in any situation. There is not one Enneagram type that is better or worse, just unique ways to interact with others. The power for me in the Enneagram comes once I gain a clear picture of what someone’s first instinct or reaction would be when they are stressed or challenged. 

Understanding “the why” someone did something or asking that question was an aha moment for me. Figuring out why certain things trigger us, and how others react differently than us, puts a great deal in perspective. People bring different dynamics or emotions, and while their perspectives are valid, sometimes appreciating them can be a challenge. 

When I’ve seen the Enneagram come alive is when I’ve taken part in a workshop with my leadership team. I have had team members react in a number of different ways to reading their profiles – this describes me perfectly, to a person feeling that they fall between two Enneagram types. But my favorite was the reaction of one of my Communications leaders. He read his profile, and it was the section that focused on how you react when you are thwarted. The profile said this Enneagram type has a very sharp and defensive reaction to negative occurrences. His immediate response was I’m in PR, I’m cool, calm, and collected. But when we spoke about his immediate first reaction he said, oh yeah I have a very negative reaction and get annoyed since I want to do what I think is right, but then he moved to the cool and calm guy after that. It was a lightbulb moment for him.   

Having your leaders be willing to delve into their Enneragam and share that with the rest of the team is very powerful. Oftentimes a lightbulb goes on and someone has great clarity on why something is not going as smoothly as they wanted, or why they reacted in a specific situation that way. 

The Enneagram will often become a common language in the team that everyone can rally around. If someone knows they are going to a meeting with a type 5/Quiet Specialist, you need to allow them time to think, skip the small talk and ask for their insights. Then for a type 7/Enthusiastic Visionary, be ready to brainstorm and have the ideas flowing. Knowing how to approach and work with different Ennergrams is key. 

I have always found that having a diverse group that spans many areas of the wheel brings unique perspectives and contributes to the entire organization. When you have a team made up of a majority that is one specific type, you often get lots of nodding of heads and fewer voices seeing the world in unique ways.

It is essential for a leader to understand your team and really focus on their strengths, and what they do best. They must be able to answer what they can bring to the team that is unique and additive. I have always felt that doubling down on your strengths in life will bring you the greatest happiness and success. 

The Enneagram goes far beyond work and offers insights into personal and family relationships as well. it’s insightful for personal situations with your partner or to understand your child more deeply. Having friends, colleagues, parents, a partner, etc who view the world through a different lens can be challenging, but it makes for interesting debates and discussions. Having an understanding, and developing a plan, for those conversations can make them less frustrating.

If you are interested in exploring your Enneagram type, I highly recommend The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide.

I have found that self-discovery is always enlightening. While the learnings usually validate something you know, oftentimes there are new aspects you find out about yourself that can be applied to your everyday life. Dive in and find out more. Share with me your Enneagram type and any surprising findings it revealed.  

Sign up to receive Good News each week

One response to “Getting to Know Yourself – The Enneagram

  1. “So how can you say today what work will make you happy years down the line?” HA, this is a great one. I do not believe we are thinking about that now, everyone just tries to climb up the latter the traditional way. Then we have those that study their whole lives and then when they start their jobs, they realize that is not making them happy, so then the journey to finding happiness begins. Incredible. Unless you are untraditional and find your WHY and do what you desire from day 1. So, yea we should all learn how to get to know ourselves in school before just being put in a box 😉 great post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: