In a previous article we introduced you to Polarity Thinking, one of the most powerful tools we use to help build leadership capacity. “Leadership capacity” is the ability to think and then respond more effectively during times of increasing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) and rapid change. We describe the difference between leadership capacity and leadership competencies in this article. We highly encourage you to read it. We think it may be the most important article we’ve written.
In another previous article we described our approach to the Enneagram, a model that we see as the most powerful self-awareness system for understanding our strengths, habits and patterns, and bringing out the best in ourselves and others.
In this article we’ll also be introducing you to our unique contribution, The Enneagram Polarities, using Polarity Thinking to deepen the integration and application of the wisdom that comes from knowing your Enneagram type. Please read the Polarity Thinking article first, unless you’re already quite familiar with this concept. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it would help to read that article as well.
Introducing The Enneagram Polarities
We’ve both been certified Enneagram Teachers for over 25 years. We developed this original contribution around 16 years ago. For those who do not know the Enneagram, all we can do here is provide a brief overview and refer you back to our more in-depth article, including links for our free Enneagram Video Training Course.
Some Basics about The Enneagram
- Although we can have aspects of many Enneagram Types, at our core we are only one Type, and identifying that type is vital because each Type has a different path of development, and different elements that are most important on which to focus.
- People of each Enneagram Type can function at a wide range of Levels of Freedom and Awareness. At higher levels people are naturally more oriented to act in accordance with their deeper values. Their relationships are more harmonious, and they are happier and more content. They are actively self-aware. At average to lower levels people are increasingly more self-oriented and unhappy, led by their habits and patterns that were formed when they were very young, and their relationships are increasingly conflictual. They operate more out of unconscious or habit-mode, unaware of the lenses that are severely impacting what they see and how they respond to it.
- These Levels are fluid. On any given day we will move up and down in our functioning within our Enneagram Type.
The Enneagram Types (brief overview)
We’ve chosen to use Type Names from the Enneagram Institute, and Strivings from Mario Sikora’s work (with one change).
- Enneagram One, The Idealist, Striving to Feel 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 Feel 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 Feel 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 Feel 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 Feel Competent. 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 Feel 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 Feel 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 Feel Powerful. At their best they are magnanimous, vital, championing 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 Feel 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.
The Enneagram Polarities
Every Enneagram Type has two connecting lines, as you can see on the Enneagram chart. These lines are given different names and meanings in different systems: Line of Integration, Line of Stress, Line of Security, Support Strategy, Neglected Strategy, etc. While each of us does not change our Enneagram Type during our lifetime, we take on higher and lower aspects of other types, depending on our reactions and responses to life situations, and the Level of Freedom & Awareness at which we are functioning in our core Type in those moments.
While these are common uses of the connecting lines, this is not the basis of our contribution of the Enneagram Polarities. It’s important to distinguish this application from those more typical uses.
Each Enneagram Type is also called a “point” — Point One, Point Two, etc. Michael Goldberg, an Enneagram teacher, once said to us something like, “What is a point? It’s the extreme end of a line.” The implication was that, when functioning at higher levels, each Enneagram Type can move more freely and in a healthy way along both of its connecting lines, rather than being locked in an extreme or fixed way of interacting with the world. We took that insight and then integrated it with our Polarity work.
Let’s use an example to show how the Enneagram Polarities work. One of us is an Enneagram Three. You will see on the Enneagram Symbol that there are two connecting lines, from Type Three to Type Six and Type Nine. Here are our two corresponding Polarity Tables. They show pairs of polarities that correspond to each combination. So, for the Nine/Three combination, you see the polarity pairs Being & Doing, Accommodating & Asserting, Background & Foreground, etc. For the Nine/Six combination, you see Me & We, Confidence & Doubt, Standing Out & Fitting In, etc.
These tables are not complete. We keep adding to them or adjusting them over time.
Here is the Polarity Map he created on one of the Nine/Three polarities, Doing & Being. We always start with the pole we think a person, team or organization is likely to over-privilege. If he had been an Enneagram Nine he would have done a Polarity Map on Being & Doing.
Completing this map was powerful for him. The bottom left quadrant really brought home how his agitated Doing-ness had created problems throughout his life, and how important it was to integrate the high end of Being. Because he had already done a lot of inner work around this issue, reflecting on the high side of Being was deeply moving for him. He now reflects regularly on this Polarity Map (but not yet often enough, given his propensity for Doing!) as a way to remind him of how he would love to live his life.
Notice how he found it helpful to fill in the top and bottom boxes: The goal that would come from balancing this polarity, and the fear of what his life would be about if he was unable to do so.
And here is the Polarity Map he did on the Three/Six polarity of Me & We. Again, if he was an Enneagram Six it would have been the polarity of We & Me.
As with all polarity maps, the high side of Me (top left) is beautiful. But look what happens when it is over-privileged (bottom left). When combined with the high side of We (top right) he saw that resulting in “A Beautiful Life,” while not correcting his imbalance would lead to being “Chronically Unhappy.”
The other author is an Enneagram Eight. Here are those two charts, and her Polarity Maps.
Based on the Eight/Two line:
And based on the Eight/Five line:
Below are all the other Enneagram Polarity charts we have created. If you know your Enneagram Type we strongly encourage you to do at least one polarity map for each of your connecting lines.
Clear Impact Consulting Group is Dr. Joel M. Rothaizer, MCC, ABPP and Dr. Sandra L. Hill. We are organizational/team effectiveness consultants, executive coaches, and leadership development specialists. We hope you have found our approach to Polarity Thinking intriguing, including its application to the Enneagram. It is a central part of our capacity-building work with individuals, couples, leaders, teams and organizations. Please let us know if you have any comments or questions. Our website is www.clear-impact.com and our email firstname.lastname@example.org. We open-source all of our curriculum. Please see https://clear-impact.medium.com/ for all our Medium articles and our website for additional materials.
Clear Impact Enneagram Training Videos
- There are four Training Videos. You can learn the Enneagram system in the first three.
- We introduce the Enneagram in the first video: Clear Impact Enneagram Training, Session One — YouTube.
- We go through most of the Enneagram types in the second video and talk about introduce some tools and perspectives: Clear Impact Enneagram Training, Session Two — YouTube.
- We complete the Enneagram types in the third video: Clear Impact Enneagram Training, Session Three — YouTube.
- The fourth video starts out as a review (always helpful) and then goes into an important related topic, the Instinctual Variants. Clear Impact Enneagram Training, Session Four — YouTube.