The Enneagram


I am often asked, “How do I become a better CEO or Senior Executive?” For me, the easiest answer is: work on becoming more self-aware. In a HBR Blog, Author, Anthony K. Tjan, states:

There is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.

Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weakness, your “super powers” versus your “kryptonite.” It is self-awareness that allows the best business-builders to walk the tightrope of leadership: projecting conviction while simultaneously remaining humble enough to be open to new ideas and opposing opinions. The conviction (and yes, often ego) that founders and CEOs need for their vision makes them less than optimally wired for embracing vulnerabilities or leading with humility. All this makes self-awareness that much more essential.

Peter Drucker stated in his classic HBR Article, “Managing Oneself”:

It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do those things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself—not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.

My preferred tool for increasing awareness and changing behavior is a system called The Enneagram.

What is the Enneagram?

Personality encompasses all of the characteristics and habitual behaviors of each of us. The Enneagram is a powerful and dynamic system that describes nine distinct and unique patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, called Types. Like a colored lens through which we view the world, these patterns stem from where and how we focus our attention.

Each Type:

  • is driven by a core belief about what we need to survive and be happy.
  • has a distinct, well-developed coping strategy for relating to ourselves, others and the environment.
  • serves as a path for our personal growth and development.

The word “ennea” is Greek for “nine” and “gram” means “model” or “figure”. The Enneagram is a diagram with nine points, each representing one of the Types.



How It Can Help You

How often do you negatively react and don’t understand why? It is this sort of personal reactivity caused by your unaware, habitual patterns that causes you stress, conflict and other negative emotions. These unmanaged and automatic reactions limit you the most, both at work and home. Based in a self-awareness practice, The Enneagram offers you a well-developed system to help you recognize and manage your defensive reactions and blind spots.

The Enneagram is also used for spiritual purposes.  The same reactivity and habitual ways of living also affect spiritual development.

As you discover your own Enneagram Type, you will be able to:

  • understand more about your unconscious motivations.
  • understand how to bring positive change into your life.
  • change the way you relate to yourself and others.
  • understand what motivates others.
  • reduce your reactivity so that you can enjoy your life and work.

Listen to a brief video by Dr. David Daniels, one of Founders of Enneagram Professional Training in the Narrative Tradition:

Three Centers of Intelligence

In Western society, the mind is considered the center of intelligence. Yet, there is also an intelligence of the heart (emotional intelligence) and an intelligence of the body (sensations and instincts). While all of us rely to some degree on all three centers of intelligence, each of the Types relies more heavily on one of the centers: the heart, the head, or the body. The Enneagram acknowledges the importance of all three intelligences and encourages developing a balance between them.

The Intellectual Center

The Intellectual or, Mental Center filters the world through the mind or cognitive function.  Thinking-based Types rely on their rational thinking, ideas, plans and strategies. The goals of these Types are to minimize anxiety, to manage potentially painful situations, and to gain a sense of certainty through the mental processes of analyzing, envisioning, imagining, and planning.  This center is concerned with security, creating certainty, issues of competence, reason, and trust. They emphasize gathering information and figuring things out before acting. These three Types comprise the Intellectual Center: Five:  “The Observer”, Six:  “The Loyal Skeptic” and Seven:  “The Epicure”

The Emotional Center

The Emotional Center filters the world through feelings. These Types are attuned to the emotional state of others for the purpose of maintaining connection with them. More than the other Types, Emotional Types are sensitive to the approval and recognition of others to support their self-esteem. In order to receive that approval and recognition, these Types create an image of themselves that they believe others want.  Their focus is on success and relationship, and performing up to expectations of the job or other people. Types in the Emotional Center are: Two:  “The Giver”, Three:  “The Performer” and Four: “The Romantic”

The Instinctual Center

Types in the Instinctual Center (also called “Body” Types) filter the world through an intelligence of physical sensations, “gut” instinct, personal security and social belonging. Their focus is on being in control of themselves and their environment, and taking action in practical ways. Actions are geared toward making life the way it should be and minimizing discomfort. Because of this orientation towards power, issues of justice, fairness, obedience and defiance are important to a Body Type. Body Types include: Eight:  “The Protector”, Nine: “The Mediator” and One: “The Perfectionist”

The Nine Types

Here is a brief description of each of the nine Types from

  • Enneagram Type 1: The Perfectionist believes that the world judges and punishes “bad” behavior, so they must gain worthiness and love by being as good and perfect as possible. Consequently, Perfectionists are conscientious, responsible, improvement-oriented and self-controlled, but they also can be critical, resentful and self-judging.
  • Enneagram Type 2: The Giver believes that they must give fully to others to be loved. Consequently, Givers are caring, helpful, supportive and relationship-oriented, but they also can be prideful, overly intrusive and demanding.
  • Enneagram Type 3: The Performer believes that they must accomplish and succeed to be loved. Consequently, Performers are industrious, fast-paced, goal-focused and efficiency-oriented, but they also can be inattentive to feelings, impatient and image-driven.
  • Enneagram Type 4: The Romantic believes that something vitally important is missing and must be regained to relieve the painful feeling of deficiency and loss of connection. They must obtain the longed for ideal relationship or situation to be loved. Consequently, Romantics are idealistic, deeply feeling, empathetic and authentic to self, but they also can be dramatic, moody and sometimes self-absorbed.
  • Enneagram Type 5: The Observer believes that they must protect themself from a world that demands too much and gives too little to assure life. Consequently, Observers seek self-sufficiency and are non-demanding, analytical, thoughtful and unobtrusive, but they also can be withholding, detached and overly private.
  • Enneagram Type 6: The Loyal Skeptic believes that they must gain protection and security in a hazardous world that they just can’t trust. Consequently, Loyal Skeptics are themselves trustworthy, inquisitive, good friends and questioning, but they also can be overly doubtful, accusatory and fearful.
  • Enneagram Type 7: The Epicure believes that the world limits and frustrates people, and causes pain that one can escape from. They must keep life upbeat and open to assure its quality. Consequently, Epicures seek pleasure and possibilities, and they are optimistic, upbeat and adventurous, but they also can avoid pain and be uncommitted and self-serving.
  • Enneagram Type 8: The Protector believes that this is a hard and unjust world in which the powerful take advantage of the innocent and impose their personal truths on others. Consequently, Protectors seek justice and are direct, strong and action-oriented, but they are also overly impactful, excessive and sometimes impulsive
  • Enneagram Type 9: The Mediator believes that to be loved and valued they must blend in and go along to get along. Consequently, Mediators seek harmony and are self-forgetting, comfortable and steady, but they also avoid conflicts and can be stubborn.

The Three Laws Of Behavior

To achieve your own lasting behavioral change and lead a more conscious life, you must understand and practice these Three Laws of Behavior:

  1. Wherever attention and energy go, behavior follows.
  2. To change behavior requires self-observation of attention and energy.
  3. While self-observation can be taught and becomes easier, it never becomes habitual. It requires continuing practice.

Said a different way:

Our core belief determines where we focus our attention and energy; which drives our behavior.  If we want lasting change in ourselves, we must be aware of our core beliefs and change where our attention and energy are directed.  None of this can be accomplished without the ability to observe our own patterns.


To Determine Your Type

Like any map, you must be familiar with it in order to use it effectively. First, you need to determine your Enneagram Type. I suggest starting taking an online test a or with the book Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide — Revised & Updated. Or, you can meet with a Certified Teacher who will interview you and suggest a couple of types for you to review. Once you have identified your type learn more about it in The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life.

How to Use The Enneagram

After you understand the basics about your own Type, practice observing your patterns of behavior.  Where do they show up? What are your strengths, blind spots, and triggers?  Here are some daily practices that you can do to become more of aware of your habitual patterns.

Although each person develops uniquely, it is common for people to first identify their patterns in their past behavior.  With continued work, they begin to see them as they happen and they are able to make a new choice: do I want to repeat my pattern, or do I want to make a different choice? This is how behavior is changed.

Additional information


The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life, by Helen Palmer

The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide — Revised & UpdatedThe Enneagram by Dr. David Daniels

Websites: a portal into the accumulated wisdom collected by Helen Palmer who has been working with the Enneagram system over thirty years. Unique to Helen’s understanding is the integration of psychology and spirituality from the perspective of the Inner Observer, also known as “witnessing consciousness”. is the website of the Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition Professional Training Program and contains more detail about the individual Types. World-renowned authors and Enneagram teachers, Helen Palmer and Dr. David Daniels, founded the training program in 1988 to certify individuals. is the website of Peter O’Hanrahan who has been working with the Enneagram system for 33 years. He teaches in the United States, Europe and China. He is a training associate with Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition and the Enneagram Professional Training Program with Helen Palmer and David Daniels, MD, and is a senior associate with The Enneagram in Business founded by Ginger Lapid-Bogda, PhD. Since 1994 he has been a professional member of the International Enneagram Association.

The Enneagram In the website of Ginger Lapid-Bogda and provides specific information for using the Enneagram in business.

International Enneagram Association: is an international association of members committed to furthering the theory and applications of the Enneagram.

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