The Enneagram for Influencers

Please join us on May 11 for a workshop led by Dr. Kay: The Enneagram for Influencers—A Faith & Work Forum, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley ($15 fee; free for students)

Allow me to propose this unscientific experiment: If you’d like to know what intellectual and emotional pre-occupations the influencers of our culture are currently wrestling with, find a brick-and-mortar bookstore that sells only new books, then do a slow walk through the business and psychology sections.  

I recently tried this at the impressive Compass Books at SFO Terminal 2 and came away with this conclusion: Many of us who lead others remain very concerned about

  • strengths-finding, 

  • leaning in, 

  • increasing our emotional intelligence, 

  • daring greatly, 

  • following the irrefutable laws of leadership, 

  • and (for over fifteen years now) going from good to great.  

Some of you who devour books in these sections will have heard echoes of titles that are currently still on your nightstand.  Trust me, they are on mine. But if Christians believe that Jesus himself is the leader of leaders, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16), then we have access to an even deeper rubric to examine our own lives as influencers.  

To what degree do the character and competencies of Jesus’ way of leading show up in us? How can we reframe leadership as a type of loving service of those we lead, while also not forsaking measurable results and legitimate achievement?  

Instead of reinventing the wheel of leadership every decade or so, Christians (and others) have access to a far older tool for assessing our characterological and leadership weaknesses, which also offers us tailored prescriptions for change.  

The Enneagram describes nine basic personality types (ennea = nine in Greek), with at least three variations within each type.  All of these types apply just as easily to patterns of bad and good leadership. The Enneagram’s oldest documented form dates to the Christian desert monk, Evagrius of Pontus, who spoke of several mental preoccupations that routinely sabotage us. Sometimes he called these “thoughts” and, at other times, referred to them as “demons.”  For example, Evagrius referred to “acedia” (listlessness or sloth) as the “noon-day demon” that drags us down as the day grows hot.  

While Evagrius certainly believed in literal demons, he also believed that these patterns describe mental habits that we become fixated upon. These habits cause us to become specialists in certain rigid ways of seeing and acting, patterns that crowd out our ability to respond to God and to his call upon us.  With Evagrius we have an early Christian personality diagnostic, and, by a small extension, a diagnostic of our personality-specific blind-spots as leaders today.  

Later theologians—such as John Cassian, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas—further developed the tradition of “Deadly Sins” which also became known as the “Capital Vices.”  A “vice” is not merely a naughty act, but it is a habitual quality of our personality that is “vicious,” meaning that it is destructive of the good. 

What our vices effectively destroy is love. So, the vice of “acedia” is a well-oiled quality of our character that is lazy about love, lazy about doing the hard thing that is really the most loving thing for the family or for the organization or for the people we lead, and lazy about answering Christ’s call to lovingly serve others with our influence with the same energy that he himself served us with his life and death.  

Most failures of leadership occur when we fearfully avoid a specific application what I’ll clumsily call “leaderly love” because of our personality-specific blind-spots to the kind of action that the moment really calls for. For example, a leader with an Enneagram Type 1 personality (The Perfectionist) may motivate people with their high standards, but they also tend to be miserly with praise because they are always aware of what’s not right.  Jesus, by contrast, has the highest standards in the world (Matt. 5:17-20), but still poured out love and affection to those who fall short.  

A Type 3 leader (The Achiever) certainly accomplishes a lot but also struggles with vanity about his or her resume in a way that distracts from serving organizational values.  Jesus, by contrast, achieved the greatest of all things in his inauguration of the kingdom of God, but he did his achieving through service and humility (Phil. 2:6-9).  Type 7 leaders (The Joyful Person) inspire others with their zest, energy, and optimism, but their dark side is to be gluttonous about pleasure. They lose interest in projects or people that become too routine or difficult, hurting those who depend on their follow-through. Jesus, by contrast, is in every way the Lord-of-Festal-Joy (John 2:1-12) and also willing to experience the greatest forms of physical and spiritual pain in order to serve his followers. 

In the end, while we are living a boom-era for some very good books and models for leadership development, the Enneagram is a promising tool to access the deeper scriptural wisdom about Christ-like leadership. For those interested in taking the next step to the leadership implications of the Enneagram, I recommend Beatrice Chestnut’s The Nine Types of Leadership, as well as any of Ginger Lapid-Bogda’s books on the Enneagam in work settings.  While none of these take a specifically Christian approach, the scriptural fingerprints are all over the Enneagram system for those with eyes to see.  For those who are new to the Enneagram but are seeking a more specific Christian introduction, I often recommend Marilyn Vancil’s Self to Lose, Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the Nine Enneagam Types.  And join me on May 11th as we spend time focusing on the Enneagram as a tool for Christian growth in the arenas where we are called to be influencers!