Leadership Self-Knowledge and the Enneagram

By Tim Bentum  |  February 1st

Do you know your Enneagram type?

Before you stop reading, hang in with me here. I am a naturally skeptical person when it comes to personality tests. I think we need to be careful about trying to put people into boxes, categorizing them in ways that limit who they are and what they might become. Having said this, we know, as leaders, that having tools and resources available to provide ‘handles’ to talk about ourselves and others can be very useful for growth and development. Many of you are likely aware of the DiSC assessment, the Myers-Briggs personality test, or one of the many other personality assessments tools available. I believe each of those has some value, but I want to introduce you to the Enneagram, which I have personally found to be very useful to my own leadership journey and personal self-growth. I believe the Enneagram offers us some tools and resources that other personality assessments do not. This tool will not only help you with your own self-knowledge, which is critical, but it will also give you a deeper understanding of your leadership team, your staff, and the closest relationships in your life.

The Enneagram has become very popularized in recent years, popularized by a number of well-regarded figures in both the faith-based and secular worlds. People like Richard Rohr, Ian Morgan Cron, and Suzanne Stabile have all written extensively on the Enneagram and have provided many helpful resources. For a more in-depth look at the Enneagram, check out Ian Morgan Cron’s user-friendly website, which is a wealth of information, including courses and tests you and your team can take: https://ianmorgancron.com/

The Enneagram is purported to have Christian roots going back some two thousand years. Its premise is that there are nine types of people (which, for a skeptic, is at least better than claiming there are only two basic types of people). The goal with the Enneagram is to better understand what a healthy version of our ‘type’ looks like versus an unhealthy version of our ‘type’ (which can admittedly fluctuate on a moment-by-moment basis depending on what is going on in our world).

Usually, when I speak with people about the Enneagram, they can fairly easily identify which number or ‘type’ they resonate most closely with after reading the descriptions, although at times, it takes a few tries (or longer) to figure things out. That’s no problem—this is a life-long process. None of the nine numbers or types are better than any other; it is just a system to categorize different ways of seeing the world, particularly by understanding underlying motivations. Understanding your motivation is critical in self-knowledge and leadership development. I’m reminded of a quote about understanding others, which I paraphrase:

“Everyone acts in a way that makes perfect sense to them.”

Here is a concrete example to help illustrate the power of the Enneagram. I know an individual who just loves to connect with, and love on, people. This person is warm, welcoming, and encouraging, and many people enjoy being around them. As I have learned more about this person, I began to identify that this person is likely a ‘Two’ on the Enneagram, which is a category also known as ‘The Helper’. Helpers are wonderful people! They derive a lot of their meaning or purpose from helping others, which is a critical point in understanding their underlying motivation in life. As I’ve gotten to know this person better, I have started to notice that they have a hard time drawing boundaries. They are usually pretty upbeat, but at times appear to be exhausted and maybe even experiencing some form of depression. This person has always been very involved in their work, really loves connecting with colleagues, helping wherever possible, but cannot seem to find an ‘off’ switch which causes many spin-off issues. Suzanne Stabile, also a self-identified ‘Two’ on the Enneagram, has frequently noted, on her podcast and her writings, that her key question in life is to figure out “what is mine to do?” For an Enneagram Two, that is a life-changing, powerful question. It could literally change the trajectory of their leadership and key relationships, and move them from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘healthy’, affecting everything and everyone around them.

And that is just one example. I encourage you to check out the huge amount of Enneagram resources available to dig into your ‘type’. Many counselors, spiritual practitioners, and leaders are beginning to use this powerful tool in their practices. For me, it has become an invaluable way to better understand myself and others. Most importantly, the Enneagram’s deeply consistent Biblical roots, draw on the understanding that we are each ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’

Blessings to you as you lead in these trying times. It has often been noted that character is revealed in crisis. The Enneagram is a great tool to more deeply understand and work on your character in Christ.

Tim Bentum is the Bluewater Cohort Leader and Principal at London Christian High.