The Enneagram

Enneagram Chart. The Strivings come mostly from Mario Sikora. The two-adjective descriptions are from the Enneagram Institute, as are most of the Type names.

Most of our readers have taken some sort of personality typology assessment: Meyers Briggs (MBTI), DISC, etc. Typologies are essentially ways of differentiating groups of people from each other for the purpose of self-awareness and other-awareness. In our experience, while we’ve been certified in those instruments as well, nothing matches the power of the Enneagram for better understanding self and others and working together more effectively.

Unlike other articles, all we can do here is to begin to introduce this powerful model. It would take a whole book to describe the Enneagram system in more detail, including longer descriptions of each Enneagram Type. If you’d like more depth, we have a full set of free Enneagram training videos on YouTube that explain the system, the Enneagram Triads, and go into more detail about each Enneagram Type. Just go to YouTube and search for “Clear Impact Enneagram” and you’ll find them.

The Enneagram has been our self-awareness tool of choice for almost 30 years. It describes nine different sets of values and filters through which the world can be seen. Our Enneagram approach does not “put people in boxes.” Instead, we assist individuals in recognizing and expanding the boxes they are already in so that they have more freedom to express their deepest gifts and values. It’s a respectful and dynamic system that provides a path of healthy development for each type, including how to build on strengths and avoid pitfalls. It assists leaders in understanding themselves, those to whom they report, others in the organization, customers/clients and their organization itself through new eyes. When we integrate the gifts of the Enneagram, our energy is freed for productivity and creativity that was previously lost in frustration and agitation.

The Enneagram is focused on much more than surface behavior. It instead illuminates what most likely actually drives the surface behavior, the underlying motivations. We refer to these as governing variables: the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, mental models, filters of perception that guide how we act.

Another way of saying this is that the Enneagram is really not a personality system. It goes beyond personality and describes the nine “deep structures” that then drive the kind of behavior that’s typically called “personality.” Two people with the same Enneagram Type, the same underlying structure, can be very different. One may be introverted, another extroverted. One person might be kind, another might be harsh. One can be analytical, another deeply feeling. One can lead a life of active conflict, another can be conflict-avoidant. Yet all these people are driven by the same governing variables, have the same underlying fears and the same potential strengths.

Until we’ve integrated its wisdom, the Enneagram types generally operate quite unconsciously in us. We don’t notice the assumptions we make, the beliefs we hold, and our particular emotional, mental, and physical patterns. Instead, we operate on autopilot. When people first learn the Enneagram, they tend to be quite surprised at how much of what they considered “spontaneous” behavior is accounted for by the Enneagram type. Later, they are equally surprised at the increase in their ability to lead and perform more effectively.

One of the ways of understanding this processing of learning about ourselves is through what Harvard Professor Robert Kegan, an esteemed developmental psychologist, called the movement from Subject to Object.

Imagine that you you’ve been wearing a pair of colored glasses all your life. You’ve never been without them. You don’t even know you have them on. (Yes, we understand that you’d feel them on your nose, so this isn’t a perfect analogy, but stay with us!). They impact everything you see, but you don’t know that because you’ve always looked at the world through them. Then one day someone points out the colored glasses, and you take them off for the first time. You examine them thoughtfully, and reflect on how they’ve impacted your worldview. You can now see the world more clearly.

One of us (the authors) remembers his first Enneagram week-long workshop. When the Enneagram teacher described his particular Enneagram Type, he recognized immediately that this Type represented the lenses through which he saw the world, and had always seen the world. That Enneagram Type had a particular set of motivations, filters and blind spots. Not just that. He could look back in time at all he had done, in all realms of his life — personal, professional, academic spiritual — and see that these motivations were a common thread through all of them. And not just that they’d been motivations, but that they’d been largely unseen and unexamined motivations. He had literally been looking at the world through those lenses, and now had the opportunity to take them off and examine them, noticing both the positive and problematic ways they had influenced his life.

This is what Kegan refers to as the move from Subject to Object. He sees individual evolution occurring as we develop the ability to step back and reflect on something that we used to take for granted or that was hidden from us. Aspects that are Subject are unseen governing variables . They’re affecting everything we do, yet they can’t be seen because they’re the lenses through which we look, thus they’re unquestioned, seen simply as part of the self. In Kegan’s words, we don’t have things that are Subject — they have us. We are at their effect, without even knowing it. With the right opportunities for awareness and self-honesty these underlying, deep structures or unseen governing variables become Objects that can now be seen and considered, questioned, and reflected on. We didn’t even know we were wearing colored glasses — now we can take them off, look at them, understand their impact, see the world more clearly, and make different choices. Instead of those things having us, now we have them, along with far more degrees of freedom and ability to respond effectively. The more degrees of freedom we have, the more perspectives we can take, the more we can effectively address the contexts in which we work, and assist our own evolution, along with the evolution of our teams and organizations.

As a common language and model for talking about differences, the Enneagram greatly assists in eliminating energy-sapping power struggles while facilitating appreciation for diversity of perspective and effective collaborative.

Some Basics About the Enneagram

Levels of Presence & Freedom

Clear Impact — Levels of Presence & Freedom

Most presentations of personality typologies (MBTI, DISC, etc.) present each type in a box. “If you’re an INTP (MBTI), or a high D (DISC), this is who you’re likely to be, and how you’re likely to act.” Unfortunately, even the Enneagram can be presented this way by some practitioners.

We don’t just disagree with that way of presenting a system. We actually see it as unethical, particularly in a business setting. Humans are not static. We can all develop. We can evolve and we can devolve. Presenting any typology in a static way is a disservice to the individual and can lead people to judge each other in negative ways.

We make it clear in our training that each Enneagram Type can function at a wide range of Levels of Presence and Freedom. This term comes from Russ Hudson and Don Riso of the Enneagram Institute, the organization through which we are Certified Enneagram Teachers.

Differentiating Levels of Presence & Freedom from Levels of Development

Please bear with us on this one. The distinction really matters.

For a long time, Don Riso and Russ Hudson referred to their Levels as Levels of Development. At some point they shifted from Levels of Development to Levels of Presence and Freedom. We appreciated this change in language, and agreed with it, because what they were describing were dynamic changes that can happen within an Enneagram Type, moment to moment, day to day. This is not what the field of developmental psychology calls developmental stages or levels. Developmental stages or levels are sequential. They happen, one at a time. Each one builds on the previous one. You can’t skip stages or levels. And we just go up, not down, unless there’s significant trauma or illness. Once a child has moved from what Jean Piaget, the great developmental psychologist, called concrete operations to formal operations, for example, generally ages 11–13, they gain the ability to think conceptually and abstractly. Once they gain this ability they don’t revert back except in the most unusual circumstances.

In our article on Capacity, where we differentiate Leadership Capacity from Leadership Competencies, we use the terms Levels of Development or Levels of Development-in-Action to describe the sequential levels or stages that adults can move through. We use those terms in a way that’s consistent with developmental psychology. So we welcomed Riso & Hudson changing their language to Levels of Presence & Freedom.

We want to reiterate that the Levels of Development we describe in that article — Opportunist, Conformer, Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-Creator — are very different from the Levels of Presence & Freedom. And for the Levels of Presence & Freedom we use different terms than Riso & Hudson. They use Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy. We’ve chosen to change those to High Performance, Average, and Acute/Chronic Stress.

We want to continue to make this point, because it’s such an important distinction in our curriculum. As we said, Levels of Development are sequential. We grow through them one at a time. Each forms the foundation for the next level. We can’t “jump levels.” We are all Opportunists at one time in our life, then develop (hopefully!) into Conformers, then Experts, then Achievers, until some point where we “level off.” Many adults never make it beyond Conformer, which is a problem for modern society. While we can temporarily act from lower Levels of Development when we’re stressed, tired, sick, etc., we don’t permanently revert to lower levels in a more permanent way unless we experience brain injury, dementia, or other debilitating conditions.

Levels of Presence & Freedom are much more fluid than Levels of Development. With Levels of Presence & Freedom we can be “all over the map” in a single day depending on contextual factors, our moods, stress, the presence or absence of triggers, our skill level for emotional regulation, and especially two metacognitive skills: the ability to recognize what we are feeling and what is driving that feeling, and then the ability to modify that reaction.

We don’t go through Levels of Presence & Freedom, one at a time, sequentially in our lives. Unlike with Levels of Development, we don’t “start” at Acute/Chronic Stress and then gradually evolve to Average. If we’re lucky we never experience the lowest levels of Acute/Chronic Stress.

Movement on the Levels of Presence & Freedom

We each have a Center of Gravity, the Level of Presence & Freedom from which we function, most of the time. We also have a general range, from how we usually show up on our best days, to how we show up under moderate to significant stress.

What are some of the key distinctions as we function at higher Levels of Presence & Freedom? We are better able to take the perspective of others, to value them for who they are, and to want the best for them, regardless of our own wants as needs. As we move down we tend to view others increasingly as objects in relation to our want and needs. I like you when you meet my needs, particularly my needs for how I want to see myself, and I dislike you (even hate you) when you don’t meet my needs or greatly impact my self-image.

What else? At higher levels of Presence & Freedom we are naturally more oriented to act in accordance with our deeper values. Our relationships are more harmonious, and we are happier and more content. We are more actively self-aware. At average to lower levels of Presence & Freedom we are increasing more self-oriented and unhappy, led by our habits and patterns that were formed when they were very young, and our relationships are increasingly conflictual. We operate more out of unconscious or habit-mode, unaware of the lenses that are severely impacting what we see and how we respond to it.

We mentioned that we refer to the three major ranges of Levels of Presence & Freedom as High Performance, Average, and Acute/Chronic Stress. Within the Average level, where most people function most of the time, there’s a big difference between those at High Average and those at Low Average. We have more freedom when functioning at higher levels and more patterned and compulsive behavior when we function at lower levels. At higher levels our lives are more about contribution. As we go down the Levels, we become increasingly self-focused. At higher levels relationships are more harmonious and interdependent. At lower levels they are more conflictual, and we increasingly see others in terms of whether they are meeting our needs or not. Remember that these Levels are fluid. We each have a Center of Gravity where we function most of the time, and a range of where we tend to go on our best and worst days. On any given day we will move up and down a lot.

Going back to our important distinction between Enneagram Levels of Presence & Freedom, and Levels of Development, there are some similarities with higher functioning on both Levels. People functioning within High Performance in Levels of Presence & Freedom, and those at later-stages of Levels of Development, or what we sometimes refer to as Levels of Development-in-Action, both tend to be more self-aware. But remember, Levels of Development-in-Action are sequential. We gradually “earn” the ability to think and act at higher levels of capacity through our life experiences, including what’s taught and modelled by those around us. When we achieve one of those Levels, we don’t truly “revert” to a lower Level except in the most extreme conditions. Enneagram Levels of Presence & Freedom are much more fluid, including of the course of a single day. An Achiever (Level of Development-in-Action) can function at High Performance (Enneagram) at 10 am, and Low Average (Enneagram) at 11 am. Someone currently functioning at High Average (Enneagram) could, in terms of capacity (Levels of Development-in-Action) function mostly as a Conformer, Expert, Achiever, or Catalyst. Hopefully that’s clear. The two systems are quite different.

Enneagram Exemplars

In our trainings we point out pairs of famous people who are apparently the same Type, but at very different Levels of Presence & Freedom. The word “apparently” is important. Quick searches on the internet show innumerable assertions about the Enneagram Type of famous people. Many assertions are made in a very authoritative manner, and many are made from very thoughtful and knowledgeable Enneagram teachers and practitioners. But they are still just guesses. And, as you’ll find on an internet search, there is lots of disagreement! Unless those famous people actually did their own investigations into their Enneagram Types, and/or worked with experienced professionals, and then publicly declared their Types, all the assertions on the Internet, and in the books of most Enneagram teachers, are at best educated guesses.

With all those caveats in mind about assuming we know the Enneagram Types of others, we present pairs of individuals who may have the same Enneagram Type, the same governing variables, but whose manifestation in the world is radically different, either because they operate (or operated) from very different Levels of Presence & Freedom , or because in some other way they are very different expressions of the same underlying variables. The pairs we present include Mother Teresa and Saddam Hussein, Mr. Rogers (from the TV show) and Abraham Lincoln, Jerry Seinfeld and Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer and the Kathy Bates character from the movie Misery, Oprah Winfrey and Bernie Madoff, the performers Leonard Cohen and Amy Winehouse, the Unabomber and Albert Einstein, Mike Tyson and Woody Allen, John Belushi and Richard Branson. We apologize in advance if you, the reader, don’t recognize all these people. It’s hard to find people who are known by most generations, but hopefully you get the picture from those you do recognize, or you’ll spend a few minutes looking up some of these people.

Whether these Enneagram Typings are all accurate, or not, seeing these pairings highlights the dynamic nature of the Enneagram, that demonstrates that no Types are better or worse than other Types. What matters is how we show up within our Type.

Enneagram History

The Enneagram in its present form is generally thought to have originated with Oscar Ichazo in Chile, who introduced it in a 1972 workshop to a group who then disseminated the model. But its roots go much deeper.

Much has been written about the possible history of the Enneagram. No one really knows where it came from and exactly how it was disseminated. The Russian mystic George Gurdjieff (1866–1949) certainly used it, but from whom did he learn it? For now we will just highlight one powerful aspect.

The Odyssey is one of oldest works of literature that is still read today. It was written between 700 or 600 years B.C.E. (Before the Common Era, which used to be marked off by the birth of Jesus of Nazareth). It was likely an oral story before it was written down by the Greek author Homer. It chronicles the journeys of Odysseus (Ulysses) after he fights the Trojan War (smart guy, coming up with the Trojan Horse!) as he tries to return to his home in Ithaca. The trip home is supposed to take about seven weeks, and instead takes ten years as he goes through many challenges. During that time he goes through nine separate realms before returning home. A colleague of ours, Michael Goldberg, proposes that these are, in sequential order, exactly representative of the nine Enneagram Types: The first realm represents Type Nine, then Type Eight, and the last one is Type One. We find his book compelling. And, if true, that’s astounding. It means that the basics of this Enneagram system were known before 600 B.C.E, Given that the Odyssey is seen as having come from an oral tradition of storytelling, who knows how far back this was known?

This is one of the many reasons that we see the Enneagram as “the real thing,” that each human being is actually one of exactly nine deep structures and core patterns. It’s as if we are formed out of nine different molds. This isn’t just an arbitrary way of dividing humans up along different dimensions. The assumption among most Enneagram practitioners, including us, is much deeper than that. We see the Enneagram as the core system that defines individual differences at the level of deep structure or governing variables.

Beatrice Chestnut has described how the Enneagram system is apparently also present in Dante’s Inferno, written in the early 1300s. So this is ancient wisdom we’re sharing, not some “pop psychology” fad.

The Enneagram in Infant Temperament

David Daniels, a psychiatrist teaching at the Stanford School of Medicine, was a wonderful Enneagram Teacher. He pointed out that Thomas & Chess (1977) identified nine different styles of infant temperament that show up between 3 and 18 months, and demonstrated how these mapped directly onto the nine Enneagram Types. Isn’t it striking that researchers studying infant temperament also came out with nine styles, and that they map so closely to the Enneagram Types. This is another cross-validation both of the system in general, and the idea that we are either born with these Types, or they form very early.

Each one of us is One Type. We remain that Type for life.

Most personality systems identify people on two to four factors, and then provide descriptions based on where people fit on each. So, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) places you on four scales: Introverted vs. Extraverted, Sensing vs. Intuitive, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving, assigns you a “type” based on these factors, and then makes predictions about who you are and how you’ll act.

The Enneagram is very different, at least the way we understand and present it. We assume, as do the vast majority of current theorists, that we are either born a particular Enneagram Type, or that a Type forms very early (at least in the first couple of years), and then remains constant for the rest of our lives. That is, once we are an Enneagram Type, we will be the same Type until our last breath. But remember, this is not a life sentence! Every Enneagram Type has the potential to be equally wonderful (or not), depending, of course, on our Level of Presence & Freedom.

People often ask us which Enneagram Type makes a better leader. We tell them that if you give us a list of everyone’s Enneagram Type, and their Center of Gravity on the Levels, we’ll ignore the Type and choose the person who functions, in general, at the highest Level of Presence & Freedom.

The same is true about the almost inevitable question, “What Types work best in a relationship?” Our response is always the same: “This isn’t like Astrology, where someone can say that if you’re an Aries you’ll get along best with a Virgo.” Any two Types at High Performance, including the same Type, will tend to get along well and have a compatible, collaborative relationship, be self-aware and likely develop a mutually caring relationship. Any two Types at High Average will tend to get along well, with a little more conflict, particularly when their unconscious “social roles” clash with each other. Any two Types at Low Average will tend to have a lot of conflict, see each other primarily in terms of their own wants and needs, and be angry or rejecting or pull away when those needs aren’t met. Any two Types at Acute/Chronic Stress will likely have severe difficulties. With relationships, it’s all about Level of Presence & Freedom.

The Lines Connecting the Enneagram Types

You’ll see on the Enneagram diagram that there are lines connecting Types Three, Six, and Nine, and then lines connecting Types One, Four, Two, Eight, Five and Seven. Most Enneagram diagrams have arrows on those lines. One set of arrows goes from Types Nine to Three to Six and back to Nine. Another set of arrows goes from Types One to Four to Two to Eight to Five to Seven and back to One. We have a handout that goes into depth about the meaning of these lines. Please send us an email if you’d like a copy.

There’s some disagreement among Enneagram practitioners about the precise meaning of these lines and arrows. Most all would agree that we don’t change our Enneagram Type, but that rather, in certain situations, we take on higher or lower aspects of other Types, as represented by the lines and arrows. Our perspective on these lines and arrows is largely adopted from Russ Hudson, a wonderful friend and profound Enneagram teacher and theorist.

We’d like to demonstrate some of this movement along the lines by using the example of a Type One, the Reformer, whose life Strategy is striving to be Perfect. We could have chosen any Enneagram Type. Remember again that we never change our Enneagram Type. The movement along these lines shows general tendencies that arise, depending on what’s going on within us and in our lives.

We’ll describe three of these lines: The Direction of Stress, Direction of Integration, and Direction of Security. There are other meanings attributed to these lines that are in our handout.

Type One’s Direction of Stress

We mentioned that each Type has a Center of Gravity. Looking at our chart of Levels of Presence & Freedom, that might be Level Three: At this level of High Performance in general I’m self-aware, reflective, and relatively content. Or it might be Level Four: At High Average I tend to have a fairly harmonious life, as long as my Social Role as a reasonable, objective person of integrity is being seen and honored, by myself and others. Or it might be Level Six: At Low Average my life is much more internally and externally conflictual, a battle of my needs against the needs of others. Or (hopefully not) it might be at Level Seven: At this Acute/Chronic Stress level I’m actively imbalanced and destabilized.

Whatever my current Center of Gravity, stressors will arise in my life that challenge my current level of functioning. If I’m unable to handle those stressors well at my current level, one possibility is that I start descending down the Levels, and become increasingly conflictual or self-absorbed. As an Enneagram One I might in particular become more irritated and resentful (The Emotional Fuel of this Type, as you’ll see below), or more critical of myself and/or others (the Habit of Mind of Type One, as we’ll discuss below as well).

Another option is to stabilize myself by taking on some of the qualities of Type Four (the Direction of Stress), at the same Level of Presence & Freedom that I was functioning at, in that moment. If this is a new concept it might be a bit confusing, so please stay with us. As an Enneagram One, if I was currently at Level Five (whether or not this is my usual Center of Gravity), I might take on some of the qualities of Enneagram Four at Level Five. Normally principled and resistant to feelings (because, in my mind, they get in the way of making the best decisions), I now find myself emotional. I might give myself permission to complain or be moody or even self-indulgent. This may help to stabilize me.

We have only the most limited understanding of Sacred Mathematics. We’ve heard it said that the Enneagram embodies three Spiritual Laws: The Laws of One (oneness), Three (reconciliation of opposites), and Seven (movement). If you take the fraction 1/7 and write it as a decimal, it becomes 0.142857142857…. This is the exact order of the Directions of Stress: One moves to Four, Four moves to Two, etc. Just another facet of the Enneagram’s magic.

Type One’s Direction of Integration

I’m already doing well, increasingly self-aware, perhaps with a Center of Gravity of Level Three or Four. As I continue to develop and grow, I begin to integrate some of the higher qualities of Type Seven (my Direction of Integration). My tendency was to be overly serious, assume I’m right, and see things in a black-and-white way. Now I’m learning to be more playful and nimble, to see more shades of grey, and to better see the values in perspectives other than my own, all higher qualities of Type Seven. I’m more accepting of the moment, rather than always feeling like something isn’t quite good enough.

Type One’s Direction of Security

Sometimes, when I’m in situations where I experience safety and trust, while still at the Average level of Presence & Freedom, I explore my Direction of Security. This is also Type Seven, but at the Average level rather than High Performance. If I’m functioning at High Average, I explore Type Seven at this same level, and might allow myself to become more playful and uninhibited. I let my “silly side” out and show more emotional range and humor. On the other hand, if I’m functioning at Low Average, I’ll tend to explore Type Seven at this level, and can be impulsive, distractible, and scattered. I can even quite selfish, all behaviors I generally won’t allow in other settings.

Seeing the Lines as Polarities

Our article on the Enneagram Polarities uses the lines in another way. Enneagram Types are often referred to as points, for example Point One. Enneagram teacher Michael Goldberg once made the comment, “What are points but the extreme ends of a line?” From this perspective, an increasingly healthy Type One would be able to functioning anywhere along the continuum from Type One to Type Four, and anywhere along the continuum from Type One to Type Seven. Rather than being rigidly locked into one way of thinking, feeling and acting, there would now be much more versatility, the ability to respond more effectively to whatever is arising. Please see that article for more details.

Some Other Essential Elements in Understanding the Enneagram

  • No one “owns” the Enneagram. Anyone can say they have expertise in this system, or even create their own certification. Different theorists use different names for the Types and some have different understandings of the lines that connect the Types. Reader beware. There is absolutely great stuff out there, over-simplifications, and worse. People can learn a little about the system and then jump on the bandwagon and believe they’re ready to be a practitioner. Beware anything you read that says that it’s easy to find your own Enneagram Type, or to determine the Type of another person. Also beware people who overly trust any Enneagram Assessment as an accurate way to pinpoint Enneagram Type. A good Enneagram practitioner should be able to help you determine your Type without using any assessments. When this is true, the practitioner can use an assessment to help point in the right direction, while also understanding that all Enneagram assessments are correct some of the time and incorrect some of the time. And please don’t try to determine your Type by going on the internet and taking a free assessment. We heard one well-known Enneagram teacher say that up to 40% of people are incorrectly typed.
  • Many people say that we have all nine Type within us. This can be a glib statement. Sure, we have aspects of all nine Types. We can all have some of the gifts: integrity for Type One, compassion for Type Two, competency for Type Three, etc. We can also have some of the pitfalls: criticalness for Type One, giving-to-get for Type Two, being chameleon-like for Type Three, etc. But at our core we are only one Type. We’re not a mix of several Types. This is important. It gives the Enneagram its power and specificity. And this is why it’s so important to identify the correct Type .
  • There are important cultural and contextual influences to understand when considering the Enneagram. Each individual is embedded in multiple cultures and contexts (national, organizational, ethnic, professional and religious) and these dimensions of experience impact how each Type shows up. An Enneagram Eight (The Challenger, Striving to be Powerful) from New York will likely appear very different from an Enneagram Eight from Tokyo, although they have the same overall life strategy, gifts, habits, patterns and blind spots. Their underlying structure is the same, but they will likely appear very differently. Similarly, we can take on qualities from our parents’ Enneagram Types, and that of our city and country, that make it harder to identify our own Type, particularly at first.
  • No Type is better than any other Type, although some Types are drawn more to some roles than others.
  • No two Types naturally get along better or worse. It all depends on Level of Presence & Freedom.
  • The Enneagram should never be used as an excuse for poor behavior or poor performance, although we see this happening regularly. It also is inappropriate to use the Enneagram as a way to blame self or others. “Stop being such a Four!!!”In our professional work we support a respectful, compassionate approach.
  • Importantly, from our perspective, the Enneagram should not be used to put people into boxes, to identify “who you are and what you’ll do.” Our approach helps people see the boxes they’re already in, and how to greatly expand them.
  • You are not your personality. Your personality is the vehicle you’re riding in; it’s the lenses and filters through which you see the world and your patterns of perception and behavior. “You” are much greater than that.
  • The Enneagram identifies “Your Story,” the narrative you apply to your life. It organizes your perceptions.
  • Some people want to use the Enneagram to manipulate others. Of course, we find this unethical. It’s helpful to understands other people’s Types so we can integrate their perspectives, better understand them, and facilitate high-level communication.
  • Relying on external behaviors leads to mistyping. When people take Enneagram training, they often think they can identify the Types of their co-workers, managers, partners or other family members. They’re often wrong. Despite our level of experience, the two of us are often wrong when we try to guess what someone’s Type might be. Each Type is an “inside job.” The assessment of Type needs to be thoughtfully and carefully done by people themselves.
  • Finally, remember: You have no choice about whether you have an Enneagram Type, or what that Type might be. You can only identify it correctly or incorrectly.

Core Features

There are many Core Features we use to assist people to understand and work with their Enneagram Types. We outline these features here by applying them to Type Ones. These include:

  • Striving or Strategy. This comes largely from the work of Mario Sikora. It’s a way of understanding the organizing strategy that people of each Type believe they need to achieve to have a fulfilling life. For example, for Type One, the Reformer, it’s Striving To Be Perfect. The strategy is to correct self and others to align with their principles, to do the right thing.
  • Core Qualities. These are the positive qualities at a high level, the gifts of the Type. For Enneagram One they include being idealistic, objective, aligned with deep values and principles, a deep commitment to fairness and doing the right thing, and a love of goodness, alignment, sacredness and order.
  • Emotional Energy. This is the “fuel’ of the Type, in a negative way. It’s what runs the personality structure. The higher the level of “fuel” the more “pull” or “push” there is toward lower levels of Presence & Freedom. For example, for Enneagram One, the fuel is resentment, chronic simmering anger and the frustration that others don’t care as much as I do.
  • Habit of Mind. This is what our mind does to support the Emotional Energy. For example, for Enneagram One it’s Judging, seeing the way I and others and the world are never good enough.

· Basic Fear. This is what’s operating, deep below the surface, to drive the pattern. For Enneagram One it’s fear of being defective.

Wake-Up Call. This is what pulls each Type from High Performance into the Average range. For Enneagram One it’s an insistent sense of obligation and pressure to fix everything themselves.

Identifying Your Enneagram Type

As we mentioned several times, every person is only one Enneagram Type. We were born with that Type, or it formed in our first year or two of life, and we remain that Type until our last breath. Because of this, identifying that Type is vital because each Type has a different path of development, different elements that are most important on which to focus. Some people recognize their Enneagram Type through our training videos, but it generally takes working with a skilled Enneagram Consultant to be sure you have identified the correct Type. Our experience has been that, even after attending an Enneagram training or watching our videos, many people are incorrect about what Type they think they are. Perhaps this is because not many of us have taken a deep dive into why we really do what we do. Please contact us if you would like to learn your Enneagram Type and explore how this self-awareness tool can have a major impact on your happiness, satisfaction, and connections for the rest of your life.

Considering the Complexity of Living

We are currently living in very challenging times, including a reduction in human connection. Few of us are unaffected by grief or anxiety. All Enneagram Types, during times of acute and chronic stress, and particularly in these challenging times, can “project” onto other people. This can mean that we see qualities in others that are really disowned parts of ourselves (“I’m not angry, but you sure are!!”). Or we think we see in others the attitudes that are parts of the “story” of our Enneagram Type (“I always worry about whether people are approving of me, so I see you as being disapproving, putting me down”). Often, we’re feeling something, insecure for example, and then project blame on others for why we are feeling that way.

An Overview of the Enneagram Types

Enneagram Chart. The Strivings come mostly from Mario Sikora. The two-adjective descriptions are from the Enneagram Institute, as are most of the Type names.

Please watch our free training videos for more depth, or read some of the excellent books out there (and remember that not all of them are of equal value and depth). For years we have recommended Don Riso & Russ Hudson’s book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram for those who have a self-awareness/spiritual orientation. We like the work of Ginger Lapid Bogda from a more business-oriented lens.

Up to this point, we’ve applied theory to Type One people. Now we would like to give you an overview of all the Types, with the understanding that these are very brief descriptions. If you don’t already know your Enneagram Type, please use them just to begin your search.

Enneagram One, The Idealist, Striving to be Perfect.

At their best they are rational, dependable and highly principled. They care about doing the “right thing” and aligning their lives to their values. At average levels they tend to measure themselves and others against an internal standard of “shoulds,” and both they and the world tend to fall short of the mark. They are aware, or hyper-aware, of expectations. Under stress they become more rigid, critical and judgmental of themselves and others. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming moody, temperamental and self-pitying. They can project that others view them as bad or defective, or that others are flaky and irresponsible.

Enneagram Two, The Helper/Mentor, Striving to be Connected.

At their best they are empathetic, kind, compassionate, and caring. They naturally attune to others and enjoy being of service. At average levels they can “give to get” because their self-image and value depends on being viewed as “helpful.” Under stress they become more intrusive and blind to their own needs. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming angry and punishing of themselves and others. They can project that others see them as unlovable, or that others are self-absorbed and hypersensitive.

Enneagram Three, The Achiever, Striving to be Outstanding

At their best they are authentic, high performing, adaptable, admirable and effective. At average levels they are constantly driven because their self-esteem lies in being viewed as outstanding by themselves and others. Under stress they become more chameleon-like (doing what they perceive it takes to be viewed the way they want to be seen), task-focused (at the expense of themselves and the people around them), and deceptive. They can also respond to acute stress by zoning out and detaching. They can project that others view them as worthless, or that others are anxious and insecure.

Enneagram Four, The Individualist, Striving to be Unique

At their best they are creative, unique, sensitive and deep. At average levels they can overly identify with negative feeling states (envy, past hurts and pain, and feeling misunderstood or unseen by others). Under stress they become more self-absorbed, envious, moody, and hypersensitive. They can also respond to acute stress by excessively taking care of others. They can project that others see them as having no significance, or that others are critical and heartless.

Enneagram Five, The Observer/Investigator, Striving to Know

At their best they are curious, insightful, focused and integrative thinkers. At average levels they tend to withdraw from the world in order to make sense of it and resist sharing who they are. This is especially true if they perceive they are not in a position to show they “know” what they are expected to know. Under stress they become even more withdrawn, detached, and antagonistic. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming flighty and escapist. They can project that others view them as incompetent, or that others are angry and intimidating.

Enneagram Six, The Troubleshooter, Striving to be Secure

At their best they are committed, team-oriented, trustworthy and dedicated to provide needed security to themselves and others. At average levels their minds go towards negative thinking (what if…..what could go wrong) and they overly focus on safety and security. Under stress they become more anxious, indecisive, reactive and suspicious. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming workaholic and deceptive. They can project that others are unwilling to support them, or are the ones contributing to a lack of security, or that others are lazy and stubborn.

Enneagram Seven, The Enthusiast, Striving to be Excited

At their best they are playful, energetic, spontaneous and joyful. At average levels they can restlessly pursue positive experiences, be impatient, have trouble focusing and committing, and be very irritated by any tasks seen as repetitive, tedious or boring. Under stress they become more restless, flighty, and distracted. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming sharply critical and judgmental. They can project that others are trapping them in pain and deprivation, or that others are antagonistic and detached.

Enneagram Eight, The Challenger, Striving to be Powerful

At their best they are magnanimous, vital, championing, vulnerable and courageous. At average levels they can protect themselves (consciously or not) by keeping others off-balance and hiding their vulnerability. Under stress they become more combative, intimidating and bullying. They can also respond to acute stress by shutting down and withdrawing. They can project that others are trying to harm or control them, or that others are needy and intrusive.

Enneagram Nine, The Peacemaker, Striving to be Comfortable

At their best they are calm, peaceful, supportive and harmonious. They are natural mediators in conflictual situations. At average levels they can “check out” to avoid conflict or having their comfort disturbed. Under stress they become more disengaged, overly compliant, stubborn and passive-aggressive. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming highly anxious and fearful. They can project that others are disconnected from them, or that others are superficial and inauthentic.


So many of our clients continue to use the Enneagram as their primary model for self-awareness, self-development, and working more effectively with each other. We often hear people say, after learning their Types, something like, “I wish I’d known this 20 years ago.” Please take the time to cull its gifts.

Please let us know if you have any comments or additional questions.

Clear Impact Consulting Group is Dr. Joel M. Rothaizer, MCC and Dr. Sandra Hill. Hopefully, this article has stimulated some new thinking. We open-source our curriculum. Please subscribe to our Medium articles. You can find them all at Clear Impact Consulting Group — Medium. We welcome hearing from you. Our website is You can email us at partners[at]



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Clear Impact Consulting Group

Clear Impact Consulting Group

Building individual and organizational capacity through executive coaching, organizational/team effectiveness consulting and leadership development.