(An excerpt from the upcoming book “The How & Why: Taking Care of Business with the Enneagram:  A Practical Framework to Drive more Effective, Efficient, and Sustainable Business Results and Relationships” by R. Karl Hebenstreit, Ph.D.)

One of the most common questions I am asked by fellow Organization Development practitioners is “How do you introduce the Enneagram to business executives without having them immediately resist it for being too ‘California woo woo’ or evocative of a satanic cult?”

Having introduced the Enneagram to countless executives and business professionals, I’ve found that not teaching it to them is the best way to make it understandable and meaningful immediately.  That’s right, instead of putting the onus on yourself, involve the executives and business people in the process of learning it – or rather teaching it to you and each of their colleagues.  We’re basically employing the coaching practice of asking the appropriate questions and gleaning the information from our clients to drive optimum commitment and understanding.

Consider this exercise to drive the point home.  Take a flipchart sheet of paper (or use a dry erase whiteboard) and draw a circle in the middle of it.  Add in the Enneagram Type numbers (1 through 9) in their appropriate locations around the circle and ask the group “What motivates people?”  Or, alternatively, “What inspires people?”  Or, “What do people really find important?”  Go ahead.  Repeat this question (or the additional flavors of it) to yield a robust and meaningful list of values that can be easily placed within and assigned to the overall categories identified in the Enneagram system.  Our goal here is not to try to type or box anyone, but rather to understand that each of us has a different, default focus of attention.

To provide greater understanding about the role of “default operating systems,” ask the workshop participants to each take out a blank piece of paper and sign their name on it.  (If you feel comfortable with humor, you can ask them to take out a blank check (if anyone still has/uses checks!) and sign their signatures on the bottom right hand corner and give it to you!).  Now ask them to switch hands and repeat the task.  (Alternately, this exercise can also be conducted without paper, by asking them to cross their arms in front of themselves and then asking them to cross their arms the opposite way).  The debrief of the exercise consists of asking:

How did it feel the first time you signed your name (or crossed your arms).  Typical answers will include:

  • Natural
  • Muscle memory
  • Easy
  • Didn’t think about it at all
  • Fast

Then ask how it felt the second time.  You will likely receive answers along the lines of:

  • Illegible
  • Hard
  • Took longer
  • Had to concentrate more and exert more effort

Now explain the point of the exercise:  As human beings, we all have default ways of thinking and doing things that we have developed, honed, and strengthened throughout our lives and have now become second nature to us because of our comfort in doing them.  This doesn’t mean we can’t do things in different ways – it just means that when we do things differently, it may take longer and not be as elegant and pretty.  But if we practice accessing the new skill or behavior, it, too, can become very natural and more easily accessible.  And it will make us more effective in situations that may call for this new perspective, behavior, and skill.

Indubitably, if you are conducting this in a corporate, for-profit background, some of the first responses you receive will revolve around money, bonuses, challenges, and other rewards and recognition for meeting and/or exceeding performance goals.  And that is the generally accepted and used model in US organizations.  But it’s not the full story.  Keep asking yourself that same question and keep brainstorming answers.  At the end of 10 minutes, you’ll probably have a relatively long list, including some of these possibilities:

  • Ethics
  • Beliefs (including Spiritual/Religious)
  • Values
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Fear
  • Comfort
  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Fun
  • Adventure
  • Relationships
  • Family
  • Helping others
  • Continuous learning
  • Knowledge
  • Power
  • Control
  • Authority

Given enough time and gentle prodding, you may have even come up with the more elusive:

  • Collaborating with others / a collaborative work environment.
  • Being unique/special; Doing unique/special work
  • Purpose, meaning

It is common for it to take a relatively long period of time to tease out the values associated with Enneagram types 1, 4, and 9, especially in for-profit organization audiences.  Play with it.  Explain that some values are more readily associated with for-profit organizations and that the Types 1, 4, and 9 may be more attracted to non-profit organizations.

When you receive answers that could reside in more than one type (i.e., recognition is affiliated with Types 2 and/or 3), you can place them in both places and/or tease out the real underlying motivation by asking, “Recognition for what?”  This will help the group see that different people want to be recognized for different reasons (and that there are different types of recognition).  Sometimes, you will get some very interesting answers, such as Sex or Beer (you can also have fun with this and pretend to mis-hear “fear” as “beer” and add it into the diagram at point 7, to be explained later).

Now, arrange all of your answers around a circle, placing each one with the Enneagram Type to which it is most aligned.  You will most probably end up with a diagram that looks very much like this:


The groundwork has now been laid to help explain the Enneagram framework to businesspeople.  Once people are given the opportunity to come up with these answers on their own, the point is driven home: there is more than one way to motivate people.  Different people are, indeed, motivated by different factors.  The next step is to then walk around the circle explaining each type by name(s), the best way to motivate and demotivate each type, and the strengths that each type brings to the workplace (the latter part is to combat criticism that traditional Enneagram models tend to focus too much on the negative aspects of each type).

Type Number & Name Motivated By: Demotivated by: Value Add to Team
1.  Perfectionist/Reformer Doing the right thing, ethics, values, morals Unethical/immoral leadership, inequality Discernment: Focus on finding out what’s wrong and fixing/improving it; moral compass
2.  Helper / Giver Connections, relationships, being needed Feeling unneeded or unappreciated for their contributions/support Helpfulness, seeing what’s needed and fulfilling the need
3.  Performer Goals, achievement, money, recognition Harming their reputation or image of being the best at ____. Focus on goals, efficiency, getting things done, action orientation
4.  Romantic/Artist Beauty, originality, uniqueness, being special Feeling common, ordinary, “run of the mill” Creativity, identifying what’s missing, empathic connection to feelings and emotions
5.  Observer/Analyst Data, Learning, Information Forced connection to people Analysis, Objectivity
6.  Loyal Skeptic Comfort, security, safety Threats to personal safety, comfort, security Contingency/worst case scenario planning
7.  Adventurer/Epicure Fun, opportunities, options, experiences Limits Ideas, innovation, fun, excitement, spirit
8.  Boss/Protector Debate, Challenge, Control Injustice, Threat to their turf or people Execution, action orientation, accountability holding
9.  Mediator/Peacekeeper Harmonious, collaborative, positive environments Change to the status quo, Conflict Collaboration, seeing all perspectives

This will, inevitably, generate many epiphanies from workshop attendees, who will, just due to human nature, then start identifying people in their home and work lives that exemplify these characteristics.  Although it is obviously valuable to understand the Enneagram type of their direct reports, peers, customers, bosses, and other stakeholders (to motivate and reward them appropriately, communicate and present to them according to what is important to them, not push their hot buttons, etc.), there is no way for them to know for sure another person’s Enneagram type simply based on observable behavior.

At this point, it is necessary to quell this natural human response and advise them of the danger in typing other people.  Despite the fact that people may behave in a certain way, we have no way of really knowing the reason WHY they do so – most of us have not yet mastered the art of mindreading.  By predicting or guessing another person’s type, we are falling under the seductive spell of the fundamental attribution error/bias whereby we attribute our interpretation of their behavior according to our limited and self-referencing personal history and viewpoint rather than truly understanding theirs.  Remind them of the ethics of any self-assessment/personality typing system:

  • The only person who is qualified to assess, accept, reveal, and publicize his/her type is the person him/herself. Since most of us are not mindreaders, we do not know what is going on in people’s heads and we can’t identify their motivations.  Because we don’t fully know anyone, we also don’t know their backgrounds, level of integration, histories, traumas, etc. that can contribute to their behaviors and mask their true motivations.  There are also myriad factors (such as parental overlays, strong wing associations, subtypes, etc.) that can make some types look and act like other types.  For these reasons, we should not guess or share another person’s type (without their permission).  Especially not over social media.
  • Each type is equally valuable and has unique gifts and strengths (strengths which, if overused, could become weaknesses). There is no one type which is better than any other type.  We need them all to gain a full and robust perspective of the world (otherwise we only see a 40 degree limited sliver of it).
  • It is, at minimum, unethical (and sometimes even illegal) to make employment decisions based on an assumption or revelation of someone’s type. This question should never come up in an interview as it has no work-related legal bearing.  Any person of any type can be successful in any job to which s/he aspires and for which s/he has developed the necessary skills and competencies.  Aspiration and interest/passion always trumps an archetypical personality type that may lack aspiration/interest in the work.
  • As with any self-assessment instrument, we have to rely on the person’s self-awareness level for an accurate report. It sometimes takes people years to correctly type themselves (after mistyping themselves many times over).  Sitting with a panel or group of their own type sometimes helps people select their own type as they tend to feel a kinship and a “coming home” when surrounded by kindred spirits.  Great progress continues to be made in the arena of highly validated and reliable assessment instruments that can assist people in their journey of identifying their probable type (i.e., see Integrative Enneagram Solutions).
  • Each framework is designed and intended to be helpful and contribute to self-development and self-improvement. It is not to be used for evil purposes such as manipulation.  Or to determine marriage/mating compatibility.

Remind them, too, that this simply serves as an introduction to the system and that the purpose of this exercise is to show that there are nine different primary motivators for people and that others are probably motivated by factors that differ from their own.  And that is how you can quickly and effectively energize a group of businesspeople to embrace the Enneagram without thinking of it as too touchy-feely or the spawn of the devil.  And how you will interest them in asking you back to run this exercise with all of their direct reports.  Good luck!


Karl’s 20+ year career spans the areas of HR and OD in the clinical diagnostics, life sciences, healthcare, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, professional services, high-tech, and real estate services industries, having worked at Merck, Bellcore, AT&T, Lee Hecht Harrison, Cushman & Wakefield, Kaiser Permanente, and EMC²; he is currently the Organization Development Business Partner at Bio-Rad Laboratories.  His clients range from individual contributors to SVPs being coached in interpersonal effectiveness/EQ, strategic thinking, professional growth/development, team building, and new leadership role assimilation.  His PhD is in Organizational Psychology from CSPP and his MS is in HR Management from Rutgers.