“I don’t know if I can ever trust him again,” Lisa tells me during an extended coaching session recently, speaking about her tenuous relationship with her supervisor. “He yells and demands we hit our targets at any cost, even at the risk of losing relationships. I just don’t feel safe, like he won’t have my back anymore. That is really scary.”
Lisa, a regional operations leader for a public organization, began our coaching engagement with one goal: to learn what makes her guarded, defensive, and closed off at work. Most especially, she wanted to understand (and change) the negative impact this was having on the relationship with her military-trained C-level boss.
She also knew she had issues trusting her colleagues in the workplace and she saw how much it was holding her back. She missed out on close relationships, she wasn’t getting the results she wanted because others couldn’t connect or collaborate with her. She didn’t know what to do and she was stuck in her own fear.
How many of us can relate?
But, this begged the questions: Where did Lisa’s fear come from? And, why did her fear, which felt so personal and deep-seated, show up so prominently at work?
In executive coaching, we shy away from diving into an individual’s personal or childhood traumas, as this work should be explored with a clinical psychologist or therapist*. However, it is imperative that coaches skillfully address the unconscious patterns, beliefs, and contexts that shape a leader and drive his/her behavior – especially when it seems out of place or inappropriate to circumstance.
In my own growth and maturation process, I’ve spent thousands of dollars, decades, and abundant sweat and tears navigating experiential learning programs and various tools to help me understand myself. A handful of these experiences very seriously changed my life. Yet, as each layer of the onion peeled away, there I was –with the same underlying anxieties, hopes, needs, and fears. I couldn’t shake myself.
What I really needed was one, comprehensive system for making sense of all that was going on under the surface, and subsequently showing up in my behavior at work.
Enter the Enneagram… the queen of all personality systems.
The Enneagram is a robust personality typing system that traces back to ancient times, yet was scientifically validated in the early 2000s as a reliable personality indicator. The word enneagram comes from the Greek words ennea (“nine”) and gram (“something written or drawn”) and refers to the nine points on the Enneagram symbol. The nine different Enneagram types, identified as numbers One through Nine, reflect distinct habits of thinking, feeling, and behaving, with each type connected to a unique path of development. Each of us has only one place, or number, on the Enneagram. (I am a Type 3, with a 2 Wing, in case you’re curious.)
Out of all the tools, the leadership development experiences, or team development exercises I’ve ever seen, [envoke_twitter_link]the Enneagram continues to provide the most meaningful, holistic, and long-lasting wisdom for every business leader I work with.[/envoke_twitter_link]
Let’s revisit Lisa. In our coaching work together, Lisa discovered that her personality type, Enneagram Type Six, is anchored in loyalty: Sixes have a core need for security and a core fear of being unable to survive without support. This creates emotional and thought patterns devoted to seeking certainty and security, often through ultra responsible activities and worst-case scenario planning.
As Lisa discovered how these patterns of needs and fears played out in her work relationships, she realized two things: (1) it was safe and okay to look her fear in the eyes and examine where it was productive/unproductive, and (2) maybe her colleagues weren’t out to get her after all.
While our Enneagram type (or hardwiring) never leaves us, as we grow more aware of how deeply it directs our lives, we begin to experience some freedom from its grips. We get to choose how we respond to life’s circumstances instead of our instinctual reactions choosing for us.
In Lisa’s case, she began to feel more comfortable reaching out for genuine connections, building trust with her peers, and most importantly, having courageous conversations with her boss to feel empowered and aligned in her leadership role. She even invited him over to her home for a family dinner and they spent time getting to know one another – as parents, friends, siblings, children of aging parents. She told me later she gained tremendous appreciation for him based on this experience, specifically his approach to parenting and prioritizing his family.
This shit works.
I know because after reconnecting with various clients over the years, they tell me they are still using the Enneagram to develop themselves, or with their spouses to improve their marriages, or with their teams to build healthy team cultures.
In my own experience, the Enneagram has left me with this:
- Immense compassion for myself and others (versus judgment)
- Connection with anyone on the planet (underneath it all, we’re vastly diverse and yet remarkably the same)
- Energy and vitality where there was once stagnation
Today, I use the Enneagram with every leader I coach and every team I develop. I’ve built organizational cultures using the language and insights from this system. If you know the Enneagram would benefit you, your team, or your business (like I do), let’s have a conversation to explore how.
*Also, a great therapist or teacher is a must for anyone looking to “wake up,” in my humble opinion. Not even the best of us made it out of childhood unscathed (sorry). For personal recommendations on therapists, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: © 2016 The Enneagram In Business