In our work together as public school administrators, we employed the Enneagram to improve communication among members of our school district’s leadership team.  (A reflection of that experience appeared in the January-March 2011 edition of Nine Points.)  Naturally, we were grateful when that work grew to include teachers, high school students, and other school-based leaders.

Now, in our roles as university professors, and under the auspices of our consulting partnership, we continue to introduce pre-service teachers, aspiring administrators, and current practitioners to the Enneagram’s transforming power.  In a recent professional development workshop at a local high school, we heard a teacher state, “That’s me” as she read an Ennea-type description.  As their guides and facilitators, we always feel lucky to be present when individuals make their own type discoveries.

But it is rare that the discovery stops with “self.”  When a school leader knows her or his Ennea-type, she or he is then empowered to effect myriad positive changes.  The Enneagram colors every interaction – with students, their parents, teachers, school board members, and supervisors.  And we believe these interactions become more humane and compassionate because of enhanced self-and other-understanding.

To support our work with school leaders (specifically school principals) we began crafting Ennea-type profiles specifically tailored to their unique roles.  These profiles help the principal see herself or himself in job-explicit scenarios.  The principal can then also declare, “That’s me,” and either revel in that fact, or begin to seek healthier ways of leading.  Our hope is that, when complete, this collection of type profiles can become a principal’s or a school leadership team’s self-awareness touchstone.

For now, though, and as a Type One (Gary) and a Type Four (Tom) ourselves, we offer the following two school-leader Ennea-type profiles:  the Perfection or Ideal Seeker (Type One) and the Individuality Seeker (Type Four).

The Perfection Seeker

The Type One is commonly known as the Perfectionist or Reformer.  In our own work, we’ve begun to emphasize that the key difference among types is motivation, or what we “seek” from work, relationships, and life in general.  In this sense, we call the Type One the “Perfection-Seeker,” or (perhaps more flattering), the “Ideal-Seeker.”

Vision: the Perfection-Seeker’s gift

Type Ones bring a tremendous gift of vision to their work as school leaders, and can inspire teachers and students to higher ideals and higher levels of achievement.  But as with all types, Ones also have a dark side, and Type One school leaders can be prone to perfectionism and frustration when their vision is slow to become a reality.

Ones view their experiences through a sharply evaluative lens, judging everything as good or bad relative to their refined and deeply innate sense of what “ought to be.”  Ones have a capacity for assessing every situation and imagining how it could be better.  This idealist vision can motivate Ones to engage in small and large-scale social reform efforts, to push for improvements to their work environment, and (or) to push themselves and others to higher levels of personal and professional performance.

For a variety of reasons, many school leaders struggle to articulate a meaningful vision for school improvement.  As wave after wave of state- and federally-mandated school reforms are handed down from policy makers, many administrators have occupied a largely passive role, trying to faithfully do what they’re told and implement new directives and changes.

Type One school leaders, on the other hand, draw from various reform mandates and movements to articulate their own vision of what schools should become, and can usually share their vision with some confidence, often inspiring teachers to adopt new strategies for improvement.  Type One school administrators tend to be extremely well-organized and seek to maintain an orderly and predictable environment throughout the school, a trait teachers and parents greatly appreciate.

Perfection-seeking has its price

But the One’s tendency toward perfectionism can lead to a grueling work schedule and a failure to complete projects until they meet his exacting standards, hyper-criticism and impatience with self and others, and a reluctance to share decision-making and governance with teachers and other stakeholders.  As a part of the “Instinctive” or “Body” Center (along with Types Eight and Nine), Ones have a vexing sense that they are not in control of their own lives.  This is a particularly perplexing situation for someone so dedicated to fighting for an idealized version of reality.

On this last point, the nature and structures of schools as organizations poses specific problems for the Type One school leader.  Schools are generally understood to be “loosely-coupled” systems in which individuals and groups within the school function with a high degree of autonomy.  Research on the impact of school principals on student achievement is clear: while principals can exert a significant effect on student outcomes, primarily through their role as instructional leaders, that influence is always highly mediated through the principal’s influence on others, especially classroom teaching practice.

This means that principals must usually work within existing structures and use the power of influence to realize their visions for school improvement.  They cannot control the process or use their own personal power and effort to make their vision a reality.  Healthy and highly-effective Ones appreciate their limitations and trust the process that the ideal will be realized in time, whereas unhealthy Ones become easily frustrated by the slow pace of change, or resentful and critical when others question or challenge their vision.  As the One “goes to” Four, he can become increasingly withdrawn, alienated from others, and overwhelmed by conflicting and negative emotions.

Practices for wholeness: Seeking perfection in what is

To maximize their health and effectiveness, Ones should consciously engage in reflective practices that help them become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and build on their core gifts to gradually transcend more negative habits of mind.

Body-based practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation are highly recommended for all Enneagram types.  For the One, these strategies are particularly helpful since the idealism of the One tends toward spending an excessive amount of time in one’s mind.  Body-based practices reconnect the One to the reality of present moment and help her see the goodness and completeness of what is.  Ones should spend time every day reconnecting to their breath, and consciously becoming aware of the mystery and wholeness of reality.

Ones often think the truth of their convictions is self-evident and obvious to others.  This is a blind spot that can lead to dismissing other perspectives.  Ones need to consciously monitor the tone of their messages, practicing boldness in their vision-seeking, but tempering it with compassion for others.  It is sometimes helpful for the One to ask himself, “Would I rather be right, or effective?”  Which is not to say one’s “rightness” must necessarily be compromised to be effective, but the One nevertheless can sometimes sacrifice his effectiveness by insisting his is the only perspective to be considered.

Above all, Type One school leaders must consciously acknowledge their interdependence with others.  Ideal visions are co-created.  While the One may serve as a great source of inspiration and focus for building a vision and plan for school improvement, they cannot do the work alone.  Their relationships, and a healthy sense of what is right in every situation as it is, serve as the foundation for a Type One school leader’s effectiveness.

The Individuality Seeker

Next describes a rarity among principals, superintendents, and other district-level supervisors.  And the very fact that Type Four school leaders are rare in such roles appeals to their individuality-seeking nature.  Because of this, we naturally call the Four school leader “The Individuality-Seeker.”

However, this sought-after quality can be the Four’s downfall when he reaches unhealthy levels and begins to see himself as a hopelessly misunderstood outsider.

Type Fours are commonly called “Epicures,” “Artists,” or “Hopeless Romantics” because of their penchant toward what they consider to be expressions of good taste and their habits of holding on to relationship-regret, and old hurts and grudges.  (Individuality-Seekers’ memories are detail-oriented and long, which can work to a school community’s favor or detriment.)  Fours can also, then, be described as sensitive, withdrawn, dramatic, and self-centered, regularly making their “enemies” walk on eggshells when they attempt to communicate or rectify a past wrong.

Healthy Fours crave authentic interactions; therefore, they can be tonics to teachers, parents, and students who want to cut through “edu-speak” and get real.  Excessive meeting without purpose is the bane of the Individuality-Seeker’s corporate existence; likewise in schools and district offices.  The Four wants to drop, and occasionally, tear down the veil that he thinks covers honest words and actions.  If he can, using open communication, the school’s mission is advanced.  And if he can’t, or won’t because of an imagined obstacle or heightened sense of self-consciousness, he will retreat inside himself, sabotaging his previous good work.

Equanimity and high standards

The Individuality-Seeker finds himself in a quandary.  He desperately wants to avoid the mundane.  However, school administrative roles demand a certain level of mundane-ness, be it in the form of “red-tape” paperwork, data analysis, or other seemingly non-creative endeavors.  The Type Four school leader’s challenge, then, is to reframe such work’s context and find its greater importance in the grand scheme of things.  For example, assessment data analysis (a common task for any school leader) might, on the surface, appear as a monotonous task to the Individuality-Seeker.  But when placed in the context of informing instruction to enhance individual student achievement, data analysis becomes exponentially more important than it was before.

Because of her high aesthetic and relational standards, the Individuality-Seeker’s school can be a haven of genuine refinement and culture.  The Type Four school leader seeks new, innovative ways of being and of school success.  Because of this, parents and supervisors are usually assured that the Individuality-Seeker is on the cusp of new research and original, if not necessarily time-tested, leadership methods as long as she remembers to clearly communicate her vision’s roadmap and its rationale.  Occasionally, the Four can assume that communication is unnecessary, thinking that surely everyone sees the obvious value in her actions (they are crystal clear to her, after all).  In these cases, the Four may potentially translate innocent requests for clarification as questioning of ideals and actions, and, if not mindful of this potential, can slip into unhealthier modes of being.  (See Ginger Lapid-Bogda’s Bringing Out the Best in Yourself at Work for examples of how each Ennea-Type potentially filters work feedback.)

The Individuality-Seeker is prone to self-judging (occasionally to the point of self-psychological abuse) because he is so emotionally honest.  Part of the heart, or feeling, center (like the Type 2 and Type 3), the Four thinks that he identifies with his feelings stronger than any other type – feeding his “misunderstood” self-image – and must therefore regularly remind himself that he is not his feelings.  Because of this stronger feeling-identification, the Four also feels set apart and socially awkward, a quality that can be cause for great school stakeholder misunderstanding.  Paradoxically, the Individuality-Seeker desires deep, meaningful connections with people but has difficulty taking the necessary risks in order to form lasting relationships.  The Four school leader must always be mindful of this tendency.  Thinking that no one else understands his feelings can ultimately be very harmful to leadership perceptions, and the meaningful relationships (with all stakeholders:  teachers, students, parents, staff, board members, and supervisors) that he so values.

Too, when unhealthy Fours move to Type Two, they can become so emotionally demanding of their closest confidants – clingy one minute, and aloof the next – that Individuality-Seekers who find themselves in this state also risk finding themselves actually leading no one.

In healthier states, though, Individuality-Seekers move to their point of integration, Type One.  In this mode, the Four demonstrates a goal-oriented, productive,but still individually creative, condition.  It is also in this state that the self-aware Individuality-Seeker taps into his potential to accept and honor the creativity and individuality of his faculty members and school.  Practicing a calming, compassionate equanimity and demonstrating an ability to remove personal feelings from the work equation, all worthwhile ideas are honored as valuable contributions to the uniqueness and specialness of the school and organization.

Practices for wholeness: Growing equanimity by acknowledging individuality of others

To maximize their health and effectiveness, Four school leaders should find creative outlets – preferably within the school community and environment, but outside, too.  Perhaps the Individuality-Seeker has a talent to share with teachers and students in classrooms.  Students who see their leader valuing written or other artistic forms of expression receive the message that classroom practice is both important and also valued in the real world.

Additionally, since many Fours are prone to embody the true definition of a nature-loving Romantic, these school leaders could experience the regenerative effects of outdoor meditation and reflection.  This could take the form of reading or journaling, too.

Finally, Individuality-Seekers could intentionally (but also, importantly, sincerely) practice acknowledging the special and unique qualities of others.   While this might seemingly diminish Fours’ senses of “individual self,” in actuality it could lessen the more negative feelings of self-consciousness (as well as narcissism’s grip on their lives) while heightening abilities to affirm their teachers’ and students’ work (thus affirming their own work as the school leader, and ultimately their own self-acceptance).

The Type Four is an enigma as a school leader.  And make no mistake:  he likes it that way.  But when the Four practices equanimity and recognizes that all meaningful contributions to the school organization can be considered unique and special in the big picture, then his school community flourishes and so does his leadership.

An Ongoing School-Leader Self-Awareness Journey

While our school-leader Ennea-type profile drafting continues, we are encouraged that some principals have already benefited from our available work.  One principal is using her Enneagram knowledge to strengthen the collaborative work of her school leadership team (comprised of other administrators and guidance counselors).  Another related how a basic knowledge of the system and type descriptions improved his communication during parent conferences.

Dr. Tom A. Stewart, College of Education/Dept. of Teaching and Learning, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee USA

Dr. Gary W. Houchens, College of Education/Dept. of Education Administration, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky USA

As we complete profiles, we publish them on our website.  And we eagerly invite feedback.  Please visit us at and send your comments to [email protected].  We want school principals of every Ennea-type to be able to definitively state, “That’s me,” and then take next steps along her or his leadership journey.