_MG_7405r2_IEA_2013_byKenSergi_Ginger_Lapid-Bogda_960xWhat does it mean to have chops, “Enneagram” or otherwise? “Chops” mean that a person has “expertise in a particular field or activity” (Mirriam-Webster dictionary) to the extent that they are considered a virtuoso. This term is also used in the field of music to suggest a musician’s high level of technical facility as in “You have to have some chops to hit a double G” (Urban Dictionary).

What would it mean to have Enneagram “chops?” How does one get these “chops?” Like a musician, it takes learning, time, and practice and then more practice. It also means seriously and convincingly using the Enneagram for your own development in a demonstrable way. In other words, you “walk your talk!”

What do we need “chops” in to not be just average or good, but to be great? Well, it depends on your area of focus, but a core requirement is a deep understanding of the nuanced Enneagram, which I’ll cover at the end of this piece. First, here are the main Enneagram focal areas for “chops”:

Psychological Enneagram “Chops”

If your focus is the psychological, you need psychological “chops;” just knowing the Enneagram well does not make a person a virtuoso in psychology. For example, psychological “chops” can come from being a psychologically oriented therapist with academic credentials: a psychiatrist, PHD psychologist, someone credentialed as a therapist at the masters’ degree level through an accredited psychological body. For example, Claudio Naranjo and David Daniels are psychiatrists; Jerry Wagner, David Rapkin (an excellent therapist in Los Angeles), Belinda Gore, Fred Boykin and Mona Coates are PhD psychologists; Bea Chestnut has an MA in psychology, a PhD in communication and a MFT license. Their knowledge of the Enneagram sits in the context of their psychological knowledge, their practical experience, their academic training, and their backgrounds integrate with the Enneagram to create a bigger whole. These people have serious psychological “chops.”

There are other, non-academic ways to gain psychological “chops.” For example, Tom Condon has extensive hypnotherapy and NLP training with world-class professionals, and he has also worked in the field for decades. I, as another example, have years of training as a Gestalt therapist, have presented at Gestalt conferences, have a chapter in an early Gestalt book, and taught Gestalt at the University of Santa Barbara. Andres Agudelo has studied Gestalt for 12 years, and both Andres and I received our Gestalt training from direct descendants of Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt therapy.

So if you are teaching the Enneagram from a psychological perspective, what are your “chops?” Simply knowing the Enneagram does not count as “chops,” and if you are doing deeper level psychological work without doing your own work and without solid psychological “chops,” you can easily and unintentionally do psychological damage to the very people you are trying to help.

If you don’t have psychological “chops,” how will you get them? It will take time and resources on your part and a real commitment to excellence. You will need some deep education and training from someone with real “chops,” and you need someone who can supervise your work and give you constructive feedback. Beyond that, even if you have psychological “chops,” you will also need to be using the Enneagram for your own continued growth, development and transformation. If not, all the “chops” in the world will never allow you to create a nutritious meal that will be eaten and digested in a way that furthers others’ health.

Spiritual Enneagram “Chops”

What about the spiritual Enneagram and spiritual “chops?” Think of Richard Rohr, Jerry Wagner, the late Don Riso and the late Theodorre Donson, and Arnaldo Pangrazzi and Leslie Hershberger, all ordained priests or ministers from a variety of spiritual traditions. Think of Santikaro, a Buddhist monk or Sandra Maitri and Almaas of Diamond Heart. All of these individuals work with the spiritual aspects of the Enneagram, and their spiritual “chops” show in the length and depth of their formal spiritual practice and their written work and teachings.

I am not suggesting that to teach the Enneagram, one must be ordained in some way. There are other ways to get these “chops.” Helen Palmer, for example, is a longtime student of Buddhism. Uranio Paes has spent many years studying and working with the indigenous spiritual traditions from Brazil. I don’t nearly have the spiritual “chops” of the above individuals, but I’m getting there, having studied Tai Chi, Yoga, having meditated using a variety of approaches over many years, and spent time in an ashram in India.

To gain spiritual chops (and even being ordained doesn’t necessarily mean a person has truly integrated the spiritual dimensions of reality), it is essential to get some real training from real masters, to read, understand and to reflect on the nature of spirituality, and to have engaged for many years in one’s own spiritual practice.

Somatic Enneagram “Chops”

Few people I know really have “chops” in the somatic aspects of the Enneagram, yet just about everything related to our type and growth is either stored in the body or has a somatic component. It is and has been one of the least addressed aspects of working with the Enneagram, and it may be one of the most important.

Although many people claim to have “chops” in this area, I’ve met few who really do. “Chops” in somatic terms really means understanding the body and how it works, being attuned to energy flows in the body, understanding the somatics aspects that go with each type, knowing what to do with all this information in terms of development, and more. The most obvious person with somatic “chops” is Peter O’Hanrahan. Not only has Peter been a body worker for four decades, he has studied with some of the best in the field throughout the years. Obviously, Peter also has Enneagram expertise, and he combines the two; I have visions of Peter heading up a whole area called “The Somatic Enneagram,” but these are my thought forms and not necessarily Peter’s.

I have met a few others with somatic “chops:” a physical therapist from Italy who can really read body structure and how this relates to type and development and a woman from the northwestern part of the United States who is magnificent (and well-trained) at reading and interpreting physical energy. And I have met and attended sessions from others who think they have the “chops” and they don’t. I know just enough about somatics myself to tell the difference from the talented and those who claim expertise, and I personally want to learn more of real somatic work. This may be grist for another article or blog: how to get serious somatic “chops” from virtuosos.

Business Enneagram “Chops”

This is my area of specialty, so it is one I know about in great detail. Having been an OD consultant, trainer and coach since my late 20s, I have nearly 40 years of experience in the field and have long since passed the milestone marker of senior level.

“Chops” in the business world takes both academic knowledge (theory), theory-based practice, lots and lots of experience, and the ability and commitment to learn from each and every experience. This is the only way to get better and better. Three years of full-time coaching puts you just past the beginner stage; 5 years of full-time training, and you have just landed in the post-beginner period (and this also means you have actually designed many of your own training sessions, not that you are implementing a training program designed by someone else); with 7 years of full-time consulting experience, you have joined the ranks of early-intermediate consulting. However, if all you’ve done is one type of consulting  – for example, only team facilitations or only strategy – you are not really a full-range consultant; you are specialty consultant, which is fine, but you must name yourself as such.

There are many people with excellent business “chops” using the Enneagram in organizational settings –for example, in for-profits, non-profits, government agencies and in just about every industry imaginable. There are also many people who have no organizational “chops” or very limited “chops,” and this is a real concern. They may have, for example, little or no experience as a business consultant, but say they are business consultants because either they want to be one or they have done a few team building sessions. I know someone who doesn’t even understand the Enneagram or the types who says on her LinkedIn profile that she has Enneagram training and consulting expertise. I know another person who transitioned into the Enneagram 10 years ago but with no business experience, then started but never completed an Enneagram certification program, and now claims expertise as an Enneagram business professional. This same person has done only coaching and then only uses the Enneagram 50% percent of the time.

There are many places to learn the theory and practice of training, consulting and coaching: universities, institutes (such as NTL) or professional organizations (such as ASTD or ICF), and there are many organizations that teach training design skills, consulting skills, adult learning technology, and facilitation skills. In all three arenas (consulting, coaching and training), those with “chops” know a variety of useful and relevant theories, and these inform what they do. When they are with clients and something works, they know why it works and when something doesn’t work as well as it could or should, they have the “chops” to analyze what went wrong and how to do it differently the next time.

Teaching the Enneagram “Chops”

Most people who have Enneagram “chops” learn it from a combination of reading, training programs, self-reflection and observation, and a great deal of unbiased direct observation of others.

Reading is an excellent way to learn about the Enneagram but … it is important to read from the best (most accurate) authors, and although some readers can tell the difference between the mediocre, the good, and the people who really know what they are writing about, others cannot. And reading alone is not enough because words can only approximate the experience of being in the presence of people of that type. I know many people who relish their first experience being in a training program because there is nothing like first-hand exposure. In addition, words may have different meanings to different people, so real-life exposure to a variety of people of the same type is essential.

Training programs are another way to learn the Enneagram, but of course training programs run the gamut from terrible to excellent and everything in between. If you are already in the Enneagram community or know people who are, it is far easier to find the really great programs, led by people with Enneagram “chops.”  People who teach the Enneagram without “chops” create misinformation, collude with people either turning away from the system or being mistyped, and in the end, hurt the Enneagram and everyone else who pursues it with excellence and integrity. I’ve heard people say the strangest things that they say they have learned from Enneagram “teachers” or read in books.  Here are some of the oddest or most pervasive inaccurate comments I’ve heard in the last few years:

About the system

“I know where the Enneagram comes in terms of history from because a teacher told me so!”

“Our type absolutely comes from ___ (biology or nurture or the spiritual realm).”

“There are more __ (6s or 9s) in the world than any other type.”

About development

“The only way to develop is to go to the high side of your security point, and we always disintegrate in our stress point.”

“The Enneagram is not about development; it’s about understanding yourself.”

About the types

“Ones have no heart.”

“Twos are all manipulative.”

“All Threes lie.”

“Fours are always volatile”

“Fives have no feelings.”

“Sixes are all paranoid.”

“Sevens are all flighty.”

“All Eights are abusive and dominating.”

“Nines are fat and lazy.”

About subtypes

“Social subtypes are all disorganized.”

“Sexual (one-to one) subtypes have the most relationships.”

“Self-preservation subtypes always have food in their refrigerators.”

“It’s important to activate your most dormant subtype since you are not getting your needs met in that arena (but are getting your needs met in your main and secondary subtypes).”

Finally, knowing the Enneagram and being able to teach it effectively are not the same thing. Some talented teachers do not know the Enneagram very well, and they do damage by presenting incorrect information effectively. Some who know the Enneagram well are terrible teachers: boring, constantly lecturing, relying on notes, and with no sense of how to design learning. If you are the former, spend more time learning the Enneagram accurately before you teach it. And if you are the latter, get some teaching skills!


If the Enneagram is going to move forward in a robust and accurate way that is embraced by the audience it reaches, we need to make sure those of us that are teaching it and writing about it have the requisite “chops.”

Yes, the IEA (International Enneagram Association) has an accreditation program for both individuals and schools, and this helps. But ultimately, the way we’re going to develop all kinds of Enneagram “chops” is if we each take a look at ourselves, put our egos aside, and ask ourselves whether or not we truly have the “chops” to do what we are currently doing with the Enneagram.

In addition, we need to be honest with our peers – not coming from a place of competition, but from a place of honesty and support. We need to give one another honest, clear feedback and raise questions when someone really doesn’t have the “chops” to do what they say or imply they can do. Here we can draw from the Enneagram map itself: (9) being awake to what is really occurring; (3) being honest with ourselves, without deceit; and (6) having the courage to take action to get more “chops” or to tell others they need them.


Ginger Lapid-Bogda, PhD, international Enneagram business consultant, trainer and coach, is the author of 4 Enneagram-business books and past president of the IEA. She has certified more than 1000 consultants, trainers and coaches around the world.