The enneagram system sorts individuals into nine personality types
In businesses, it has been adapted as a way of bringing insight into oneself and others
A report shows it is on par with the Myers-Briggs system and other well-known psychological systems
The system is typically taught in a half-day to two-day course
Can a quasi-mystical system rooted in ancient philosophies bring enlightenment, efficiency and a better bottom line to organizations?
For a growing number of companies across the world, the answer seems to be yes. From small businesses in Europe to U.S. government departments, a popularized personality typing system, known as the enneagram, is being promoted, with claims that it improves teamwork, communication and leadership.
“The enneagram” refers to an ancient symbol – a circle inscribed with nine points – with each point indicating a different personality type, driven by a set of fears, motivations and behaviors.
Key to the system is that when you understand these, you can change and direct your behavior in order to reach your full potential – and bring it out in others.
It might sound a little hokey to some, but a yearlong study conducted in 2004 by Saville & Holdsworth reported that the enneagram is on par with the Myers-Briggs system, the Big Five and other well-known, accepted psychological systems.
“It is a sort of GPS of wisdom,” says Pernille Lauritsen, founder of Mindjuice, a leadership training company in Denmark that has used the enneagram for the past 7 years.
“It is a shortcut to understanding what drives people, and to discover strengths and blind spots around yourself and others.”
Do you know someone who alphabetizes their spice cabinet? They may be a type 1, organized and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. Often they are teachers, idealists, and advocates for change.
The corporate boardroom is likely to be frequented by a number of type 8 personalities. Self-confident, protective and even heroic, under stress they can turn into ego-centric bullies who are secretive and fearful.
“The enneagram allows you to grasp the reality other people are living in, to see where they are coming from, their filters, their points of view – and then speak directly to that,” says Helen Palmer, one of the worlds key authors and experts on the enneagram, and co-founder of the Enneagram Worldwide.
The enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back to ancient Greece. But it was not until the 1960s when Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo used it to explain the human psyche that it started to enter the mainstream. It was brought to the U.S. and popularized by a student of his, American-taught psychologist Claudio Naranjo, in 1971.
Palmer, who was among Naranjo’s first students, says the enneagram has since been given a major push by modern neuroscience. “It proves we can retrain and improve our brains,” she says.
Today, the system is used in therapy and education, and can have a strong spiritual dimension – but one of the first and major fields of use is business, where it has been adapted as a way of bringing insight into oneself and others.