An unexpected tool that can transform your leadership – The Enneagram

by | Jun 5, 2019 | CEO/Executive Directors, Organizational Leadership, Personal Leadership | 2 comments

In Quadrant 3 Leadership, we teach leaders the three main areas of work needed to grow into being a Focused Leader: hardwiring, identity, and goals. Knowing your hardwiring gives you insight into what comes quickly to you and what either takes time or causes stress. But as a leader, an unexpectedly helpful hardwiring to discover is learning why you do what you do.

For example, you and another leader may be told you’re “so much alike” because you’re both

  • driven,
  • full of energy, and
  • you both set goals and achieve them.

But you know for a fact you two are very different. Perhaps the other leader accomplishes so much in order to appear successful. That drive to look successful might sort of disgusts you because you’re not really interested in whether others think you’re successful or not. You just want to make sure you have what you need to enjoy a full life. Knowing your motivation and that of others around you can help you grow into a much more effective leader.

These motivations are expressed in the inner way we each have of making sense of the world.  The ancient tool known as the “Enneagram” is one cohesive way of defining differing orientations.

Leadership Growth with the Enneagram

The Enneagram's 9 TypesEnneagram presents nine different types of stories people live in. And shows where each type goes in stress and in growth. The roots of the Enneagram are hard to trace since it was likely passed on by word of mouth. Author Beatrice Chestnut shows examples of the nine types are seen as far back as in Homer’s The Odyssey and in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  

For many of us, the Enneagram is like a decoder ring that brings startling clarity to how we operate at work and at home. And why we respond or react to things like we do.

While the Enneagram is a powerful tool for personal growth, it also helps us grow closer to understanding the people around us. Not because we “figure them out.” The Enneagram should never be used to pigeon-hole people. The best Enneagram teachers strongly urge using this framework to help you learn to grow into a better you.

But as you learn about your own motivations, you’ll learn well defined ways others interpret the world around them too. And as people around you get familiar with the nine types, you’ll start having greater ease in communicating with them.

So while your primary leadership growth will be personal, this will have organizational impact. One leader I know said:

I love the Enneagram! Since learning about the Enneagram, I realize people aren’t necessarily “broken.” I was just putting them in the wrong positions. Now that I have this framework, I have helped them move into positions where they are thriving!

A Quick Overview of the 9 Types

The Enneagram is a rich and varied framework. Entire books have been written on it. For a full description of the nine types and how they interact with each other, check out books like

  • The Road Back to You by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron,
  • The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile, and
  • The 9 Types of Leadership by Beatrice Chestnut.

The following is a sort of cheat sheet for making more refined leadership decisions based on Enneagram type. The brief descriptions may help you identify your own type.

Nine types can be overwhelming, so the types are helpfully organized into one of the three centers of intelligence: the gut (or “body”), the heart, and the head. Each center has commonalities. Even if you’re struggling to fully identify with one of the nine types, you might narrow it down by figuring out which center more accurately describes how you interpret the world around you. 

With that, let’s look at the nine types. These each have labels sourced from the authors above and the works of Dan Riso and Russ Hudson. In coaching, I prefer to refer to the number since labels can have unintended emotional reactions. But many find the labels helpful so I’m including them here.


Type 8 – Protector

8’s are the most energetic of the 9 types. Their presence fills up the room – but they often aren’t even aware of it. 8’s ask questions simply because they love the energy they get from debate and sparring. They have no idea that the same debate and sparring drains the rest of us and makes them look like bullies. 8’s are actually the least likely to be bullies. As one of the three numbers that are characterized as doers who have the emotion of anger lurking just below the surface, they approach the world in a way to prevent them from being dominated or bullied by anyone. So they unconsciously try to dominate whatever situation they are in.

You may be an 8 if people seem inexplicably intimidated just meeting with them. Or if your staff seems to read anger into everything you say. Since they are so opposed to being dominated, they also want to protect others. 

If you’re leading an 8, remember to express your views with energy and conviction. Especially when disagreeing with them. They’ll likely respect you, if you don’t back down.

Type 9 – Peacemaker

9’s are often described as “the nicest person you’ve ever meet.” 9’s are constantly monitoring the people around them to make sure everyone is in harmony. They are often striving to make sure everyone is included. They have an ability to understand different perspectives even if they don’t agree with them. So much so that in their effort to identify they’ll actually “merge” with the people around them. Not surprisingly, 9’s have the lowest energy on the Enneagram. All of this awareness of others and striving for harmony can be exhausting.

You may be a 9 if you leave every meeting with people thinking you agree with them, even if all you’ve been doing was being a good listener. Your ability to fully understand where someone else is coming from can be misinterpreted as agreement and approval for what they are saying.

Just because they really can see every side of an issue doesn’t mean they agree with every side. In fact, 9’s are the most passive aggressive on the Enneagram. So if you’re leading a 9, remind yourself to move beyond what looks like agreement and take the time to find out what they really want. And if you are a 9, you’ll know that you often won’t know what you really want. Almost ever option has merit to it. So try figuring out what you don’t want. This can help you better understand how motivate yourself to actually act. And it can give you clues on how to prioritize tasks. It will still take some effort to get you to actually do what you say you want. So keep at it.

Type 1 – Reformer

1’s are people who see the world in black and white, right and wrong terms. They are constantly striving to do the right thing in the right way. With the emphasis on “the right way.” For 1’s, there is only one right way. No shortcuts. No partial methods. Because there is only one way, 1’s are constantly criticizing and critiquing their own work, striving to constantly improve. Knowing they are constantly not measuring up to their own standard, 1’s can often appear irritated or resentful that people aren’t as concerned with doing it “right” too. The resentment is mostly from frustration with their own shortcomings, but can overflow on to those around them.

While we all have an inner critic, you may be a 1 if your critic dominates up to 90% of your thoughts and self-talk. Or if you are constantly using words like “ought,” “should,” or “appropriate.” Or if people constantly ask you if you are upset with something. 

With their strong orientation to right and wrong, many 1’s are strong advocates for social justice. 1’s want to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, “better” isn’t a state that is ever reached. Things can always be even better. 1’s grow when they learn to see mistakes are not moral failings but an integral part of the learning process. And the passion that 1’s have can help our organizations continually improve.


Type 2 – Caretaker

2’s have an almost supernatural ability to intuitively know exactly what others need. They seem to magically appear with the help that’s needed. And 2’s love being helpful. Without consciously knowing it, they tend to measure their worth by how well they’re helping others.

Something you wouldn’t expect is that 2’s helpfulness is often connected to reciprocity. 2’s desire to help is connected to an expectation that others will help them in return. Since they know what others need, they think everyone else will know what they need. Unfortunately the rest of us aren’t able to read their minds so we are constantly letting them let down.

You may be a 2 if you find yourself always saying “yes” when others say they “need” your help. If you’re leading 2’s, be careful to not take advantage of this. Words like “need” are such a powerful words for them, they often find hard to resist. And as consistently helpful as 2’s are, be sure to never take their help for granted. Always thank them. And offer to help them in return.

Type 3 – Achiever

3’s are the stereotypical driven go-getters. If countries can be an Enneagram type, the USA would be a 3. 3’s have an amazing ability to read a group and figure out how that group defines “success.” Once a 3 knows what success looks like in the eyes of the people in front of them, 3’s will work day and night to exhibit those successful traits or to buy the stuff “successful” people have.

3’s love being seen as winners and tend to be full of energy. They’re usually skilled at accomplishing goals and doing so in record time. If there’s a shortcut to getting them to the same result, they’ll take it. 

You may be a 3 if you find it easy to meet a new group of people and start exhibiting aspects of what they value as success. A challenge for 3’s is having a party with people from all the different aspects of their life. Each group has different values so when faced with different groups in the same room – like members from their job, their faith community, their service club, and their family – 3’s can feel split-personality.

3’s are amazing at getting things done, so if you lead a 3, be sure to constantly check to see if you are really too heavily on their abilities. They will tend to keep taking on more and trying to look like it’s easy. Even when it’s not.

Type 4 – Tragic Romantic

4’s are amazingly cool people. They remind us to be unique and authentic. 4’s live in the impossible tension of desperately wanting to fit in by being 100% unique. Often associated with artists and poets, 4’s feel very comfortable with a much wider range of emotions than the rest of us. Including the darker emotions like sadness, grief, and hardship. 4’s are fine with emotions the rest of us see as depressing and draining.

If you’re going through a hard time, a 4 friend is great. They aren’t flustered by your emotions and will meet you in that space without trying to fix you or tell you it will all work out.

You may be a 4 if people in your life have told you you are “just too much” for them to handle right now. If you are a leader who is a 4, watch how people respond to your talking about emotions. Especially the darker ones. Your striving to be authentic may be having an unintended negative impact on your team.  Your ability to fully experience emotions can be overwhelming to others. And your ability to see the bad in situations can come across as pessimistic. 

But as a leader who is a 4, you should embrace the gift you have for making your group stand out from the crowd. And your ability to lead your organization in ways that are true to itself and it’s history.


Type 5 – Investigator

5’s are the most objective people on the Enneagram. As a head-centered type, 5’s try to keep the craziness of the world at bay by researching all they can about a topic. They are motivated by amassing as much knowledge as they can about the issue, thinking that the vast knowledge will help them navigate life.

5’s wake up with an awareness of how much energy they have to make it through the day. So they tend to do things to insulate themselves from surprises that will deplete that energy. Their ability to intensely focus allow them to be alone, not needing other people very much. The interruptions, spontaneity, and displays of emotion from others are exactly the things that threaten to deplete 5’s energy.

You may be working with a 5 if they have a constant quest for more data – and a drive to do the research – but don’t seem to actually do anything with it. Often 5’s spend so much time in their head observing and amassing knowledge that they forget to take action on the very tasks their study shows need to be implemented.

If you are a 5, your leadership style may include closing your office door more frequently than might be expected in the “management by walking around” culture of many office environments. You are doing it to be able to focus, but your staff may see you as being aloof and distant. And remember that research is good but you’ll still need to take action on the research. 

Type 6 – Questioner

6’s are wonderfully loyal and dutiful people. Their way of dealing with that the craziness of the world is to be instinctively creating contingency plans. And contingency plans for those contingency plans. The challenge is that you no matter how many back up plans you make, you can’t plan for every catastrophe. 

To help them navigate this awareness of all that can go wrong, 6’s are looking for people they can trust and systems they can trust. So they are constantly questioning and trying to find why things won’t work. Once they find a strong person or a solid system, they will follow it with a sense of duty and commitment not seen in most other types.

If you are a 6, be aware that this constant questioning can feel to the rest of us like you are questioning our integrity. You know you are just trying to protect your team from being harmed. But part of your work will be to tone down verbalizing all your questions so your team knows you trust them. 

If you are leading a 6 is to try to remember they’re not attacking you with their questions. They really do want to trust you and your organization. Consider taking the time they need to come to that trust. Because once they trust you, you’ll have a loyal team member for life.

Type 7 – Enthusiast

7’s are full of energy, enthusiasm, and bring joy to almost everything they touch. Often called the most charming type on the Enneagram, they’ll often get out of trouble by turning on their charm. Their orientation to life is for personal fulfillment and to avoid anything painful and anything that could tie them down. They will often jump from task to task, switching as soon as one task gets boring or hard. This is enabled by their constant looking to the future and their automatic ability to reframe everything in a positive light. 

This constant focus on what’s next and seeing only positives can cause 7’s to be seen as shallow. But they’re often quite insightful and have depths many miss.

You may be leading a 7 if you find yourself surprised to be laughing with them and letting them off the hook when you were disciplining them for having done something wrong.

You may be a 7 if your leadership style is always flattening hierarchy. 7’s tend to see people as equals so will do subversive things like calling each person by their first name rather than their title. And if you are a 7, remember the most of the other types aren’t thinking nearly as quickly as you are. Nor are they as concerned with the future as with they are with the present or past. This can feel like a drag to you so you may need to find a person you trust to let you know if you are confusing your team.

A Rough Tool – but Remarkably Helpful

The Enneagram doesn’t claim to be a scientific method. But as you can see, it can be incredibly helpful for in shining the light on why you behave the way you do. And why others don’t seem to be motivated in the same way. 

If you want to learn more, avoid the “assessments” online. Unlike other hardwiring frameworks, the Enneagram isn’t a quick fix. No test can tell you “what type you are.” You discover that by going on a journey and having wise, informed counsel. You can gain that by reading the books listed above (by Suzanne Stabile, Ian Cron, and Beatrice Chestnut) and other authors like Richard Rohr, Helen Palmer, and Sandra Maitri.

As you review the types above, remember that in the Enneagram system, we are each only one number. While we resonate with parts of each, we are only one type. And we stay that number for life. That’s why most Enneagram teachers share the average to negative characteristics of each type. We tend to be most familiar with what we don’t like about ourselves. Once you’ve identified your type, learn about all sides of it. Especially the gift your perspective brings to the world. All 9 types have great things to share. This can free you up to share yours.

If you’re struggling to figure out your type here are two things to consider. First, think about yourself when you were in your early 20s, before you had built up as many defenses and had as much experience navigating the life you now lead. And second, pay attention to the type you least like. That may be the type you are. Press into that one for a while.

Quadrant 3 Leaders are those dissatisfied with blindly following the advice of others. They give space to learning who they really are and what the true nature their organization is. The Enneagram can insightfully cut through to the core or your nature and help you grow into your best self. All 9 types can be great leaders. Knowing your motivations can show you how you lead best!


  1. Tina LaRoche

    Greetings Marc – I was in a webinar on 4/28 “Why are they doing that? Using the Enneagram to lead during a time of stress” and with all of my web-based meetings and workshops, I cannot determine who the source was? During the webinar, there was talk of receiving links to some basic enneagram DIY (gasp!) tests? I have done the more in-depth one and hope to use one for all staff to begin a conversation about our diverse approaches/styles/etc.

    • Marc A. Pitman

      Tina – HA! Love your “gasp!”

      I’m sorry if those weren’t shared. If an assessment is helpful, the two I trust are:

      • The RHETI – This is the one I’ve been most aware of. It uses clinical language that can feel a bit judgmental to those of us who aren’t clinicians. But I love that it gives top numbers that you might be and explains them all. You can purchase it at
      • And the WEPSS – Don’t be put off by the 1980’s internet feel of this site. Jerry Wagner is one of the pioneers of the modern use of the Enneagram. This test is the only Enneagram assessment published by a major psychological test company. This gives you the main type you likely are and fully describes it. At the end, you get suggestions for other types you might explore if the one in the report doesn’t fit. You can purchase it at

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