Leadership, the Enneagram, and the Instincts by Mario Sikora

Leadership, the Enneagram, and the Instincts by Mario Sikora

mario_sikora_headshot2Introduction

Last year, the Brazilian affiliate of the IEA initiated a book project that was coordinated by board member Marilena Bigoto to bring together various Enneagram teachers in one volume. That project has resulted in the recently published “O Eneagrama Em Uniao” (“The Enneagram in Union”). The goals of the project were fourfold:

  • To gather quality content from people who know, use, and work with the Enneagram, covering the history and development of the Enneagram as a tool for self-knowledge;
  • Provide a forum to show how various schools of thought can come together and show how their work is complimentary rather than divergent (and thus inspiring the name of the volume);
  • Demonstrate to a wide audience the various applications of the Enneagram, in the words of people who work with the Enneagram day to day; and
  • Create a product (funded by the Brazilian authors) that raises money to create a more sustainable affiliate in Brazil, an affiliate that focuses on social outreach that takes the Enneagram out into the world to those who need it most but can afford the cost of trainings and books least.

The authors of the chapters in the book are: Alaor Passos, Andre Prudente, Domingos Cunha, Irma Anelise, Leandro Romani, Marilena Bigoto, Mario Sikora, and Uranio Paes. The editors of the book were Marilena Bigoto and Alexandre Montandon; English to Portuguese translation was provided by Cristina Bover.

Mario Sikora’s article, originally written in English but translated into Portuguese for the volume, appears below.

For more information about the project, contact Marilena Bigoto at esedes@uol.com.br

The Enneagram is a model that grew out of psycho-spiritual traditions, traditions that are typically wary of the world of Business and Commerce, and some people are hesitant to consider applying the Enneagram in the work world. I have always found this to be a strange hesitation, because even spiritual seekers must earn a living and we all spend more of our time at work than we do almost anywhere else. We often spend as much time with our co-workers as we do with family members. What could be more necessary than applying the powerful insights of the Enneagram to our work lives? The world of work is a great place to work on oneself.

I am not the first to suggest this, of course: many spiritual traditions speak of being “in the world, but not of it;” Gurdjieff called his work “The Work.” All of life is one fabric; attempts to separate our worldly work from our “spiritual work” are artificial and the belief that we can do so is an illusion.

Despite this reluctance, much has been written about how the Enneagram can be used in organizations and the way that our Ennea-type affects our performance. In this article I hope to share what I have learned while working with the Enneagram in organizations for over a decade and a half, and I hope that others can gain from these experiences. Specifically, I would like to focus on the subtypes—the three instinct-driven variations on the nine types. More specifically, I will focus on the three instinctual biases themselves and how they affect our work lives, primarily when it comes to leadership.

The Enneagram is best used as a tool for self-exploration and growth rather than as a tool for classifying others. As we look at the Enneagram and instinctual biases we must always remember that we should use the tool as a probabilistic model—a model that reminds us of potential obstacles—rather than as a predictive model that assumes the obstacles are definitely present. That is, I can’t assume that a person has a particular flaw just because she is an Eight, but if she is an Eight I know there are certain behaviors that she is more likely to demonstrate than others.

Before getting to the instincts I would like to explain the way I approach the Enneagram. While I said earlier that life is of one fabric, it is a perhaps more accurate to say that it is a mosaic and different environments (such as the psycho-spiritual world and the business world) require different sensitivities. Choice of language is one such sensitivity; recognition of differing priorities is another.

The traditional approaches to the Enneagram focus on vices, virtues, fixations, holy ideas, etc. These are brilliant and important insights, but they are not always palatable in corporate environments (especially in the United States). Therefore, wording that captures the essence of the concepts but does not cause discomfort is necessary. (I acknowledge that “discomfort” is necessary for growth, but the coach or consultant should focus on creating existential discomfort with the client rather than superficial discomfort about corporate appropriateness with the HR department.) Much of this article will focus on language choices when presenting the Enneagram.

The priorities of the work world are different and need to be considered as well. Most organizations—rightly, I believe—are not focused on the spiritual or psychological growth of their employees—these are personal matters and employees should pursue these objectives as they see fit, not as part of a company-required training activity. Rather, organizations are focused on performance effectiveness—the behaviors that will make the organization more financially sustainable in a competitive global environment. Someone using the Enneagram in organizations must be able to draw a link between the work they are doing and financial sustainability if they want the work to be supported by senior management. In other words, they must show that they advance the interests of the organization that is paying them.

This is not a difficult argument to make, however. What are typically labeled as “soft skills”—self-awareness and self-management, emotional intelligence, improved communication and conflict management, etc.—are well-demonstrated as improving business performance. My approach when offering my services is to emphasize the benefit to the organization’s bottom line and consider the personal development (that is, psychological and spiritual growth) that arises from the work to be a fortunate additional benefit.

The Nine Ennea-Types

Most people are familiar with the story of the three blind men describing an elephant—one blind man holding the tail describes the elephant as “long and serpent like;” a second blind man feeling the leg describes the elephant as “strong and rooted;” a third who is holding the ear describes the elephant as “smooth, thin, and flat.” They are each describing only a part of the whole, but the wise person knows that the whole has many parts and aspects whereas the common person thinks that their small piece is the whole thing.

The same is true with the Enneagram—one concept or label does not capture the complexity of the whole and true phenomena. Yes, each Ennea-type has a particular fixation and vice and understanding them is critical to a deep understanding of the characters; but there are other ways to describe the elephant as well.

I refer to the Ennea-types as characters shaped by a non-conscious preference for a particular adaptive strategy.* The strategy is based on an affective need—each Ennea-type wants to “feel” a certain way, and this desire shapes the way they think and act. (The nine strategies are listed in Table 1.)

 

TABLE 1: The Nine Ennea-Types
Ennea-Type Preferred Strategy
One Striving to be Perfect
Two Striving to be Connected
Three Striving to be Outstanding
Four Striving to be Unique
Five Striving to be Detached
Six Striving to be Secure
Seven Striving to be Excited
Eight Striving to be Powerful
Nine Striving to be Peaceful

 

The use of the term “strategies” has two benefits—it is accurate and it is attractive in a business environment. It has the added advantage of being value-neutral; one is not “bad” or “flawed” because of the strategy, one is like every other human who simply has a bias toward one habitual strategy over the others. The issue becomes not one of shame or judgment, but a matter of how one uses the strategy adaptively rather than maladaptively and how one develops the flexibility to use multiple strategies in accordance with the needs of our circumstances.

The Instincts and Subtypes

Here again, alternative language is called for because the traditional language can be off-putting. The biggest obstacle most corporate environments is the use of the term “sexual subtype”—it is simply considered to be inappropriate (again, particularly in the US). The substitution of “one-to-one” for “sexual” causes an additional problem, from my perspective—it doesn’t capture the breadth of what is happening in this domain of instincts. I believe this same problem applies to the other traditional terms—“self-preservation” and “social”—as well. My use of different terminology is not driven purely by political correctness; accuracy and usefulness is a more relevant factor.

I’ve explained elsewhere** why I believe the traditional terms are not as accurate as they could be and the scope of this article doesn’t allow for me to repeat that explanation. A few critical points are necessary to understand before we go further, however:

  • Instincts, while not firmly understood or clearly defined in the scientific literature, are agreed to be biological drives that ultimately increase the chances of reproduction.
  • We have many instincts, not just three.
  • While reproduction is the ultimate (long-term or final) potential outcome of the instincts, there are proximate (short-term) outcomes or benefits as well.
  • These benefits can be grouped into three domains of instincts: Preserving, Navigating, and Transmitting. (These terms correlate to the more-traditional labels of self-preservationsocial, andsexual, respectively.)
  • Each of us has a bias (i.e., non-conscious inclination) toward one of these domains over the other two; we impulsively turn our attention to one instinctive area and tend to differentially value the domains.
  • Our instinctual bias shapes our fundamental values (what is important to us); our preferred strategy influences how we seek to satisfy those values.

The Three Instinct Domains

The Preserving domain is a group of instinctive impulses that relates to nesting and nurturing needs. They are inclinations to ensure the resources we need to survive, to ensure that we are safe and secure, to ensure shelter and comfort. In addition to these fundamental “self”-preservation needs, however, this domain also includes preservation of artifacts, traditions, our offspring, and those others that we hold dear. It is a desire to ensure not only that we survive, but that those who carry our genes survive and prosper, and that we have the resources necessary to ensure that survival.

The instincts in the Navigating domain help us navigate, or orient to, the group. They help us understand group dynamics, social status, cultural mores and they equip us with skills that enable us to know who we can trust and develop reciprocal relationships with. As social creatures we need to understand how the group works and how to be accepted into it. We have to gather information about others but only reveal enough about ourselves to remain in a favorable light. We need to know who is in “the tribe” and who is not, and how we can ensure we remain a part of the social security network. The navigating instincts help us do that.

The Transmitting domain of instincts enhances the likelihood that we will attract the attention of a desirable mate and it equips us to demonstrate reproductive fitness. This domain is about attention and intensity; it is about display and seduction. Commonly thought of as being focused on one-to-one relationships, it is more accurate to say that this group of instincts enhances our ability to make sure some part of ourselves passes on to the next generation—our genes, our ideas and values, our artifacts. Yes, it leads one to seek connection, but connection that increases the opportunities for transmission rather than connection for its own sake.***

It can be helpful to see the instinctual biases as an independent, but limited, typology. For example, people who are Preserving types will share some characteristics with other people who are Preserving types regardless of their Enneagram type. But, as with the Ennea-types, we must be careful about oversimplifying and making too many assumptions about how the instincts will manifest in any given individual. Some preserving types take a minimalist approach to maintaining resources, keeping on hand only what they need, while others will warehouse an overabundance of resources. What they share is an instinctual focus on preservation, even if they manifest those instincts in different ways.

Further, people often contradict themselves in the instinct domains; preserving types will pinch pennies one moment but extravagantly indulge their desires the next. (This is probably due to the modular nature of the brain—different mechanisms have evolved over time that support the same need but do so in conflicting ways; both conservation of resources and indulgence support one’s well-being under different circumstances.) These contradictions can be confusing, but if we understand the root of the conflicts and that they ultimately serve the same end, they become easier to work with.

Finally, when it comes to drawing distinctions within the instinctual domains, it should go without saying that different Ennea-types will express the instinctual biases differently. While, for example, a Transmitting Nine and a Transmitting Eight will share some fundamental values (namely, a desire to “transmit”), their different adaptive strategies will cause them to satisfy their values in different ways. A Transmitting Nine and a Transmitting Eight may look similar in some behaviors and attitudes but they will be very different in others. Of course, this same issue applies to issue of the Ennea-types as well; we can’t say that all people of a given type will be the same in every way; we must qualify our assertions based on subtype differences as well.

These caveats and qualifications aside, let’s look at how the instinctual biases influence leadership.

Leadership

Our character expresses itself in all areas of our life, and how we lead is often an outcome of who we are. Our leadership style can’t help but be influenced by our Ennea-type—Eights tend to be more directive leaders while Nines tend to be more consensus-building in their approach, for example—and our instinctual bias shapes our leadership as well.

The scope of this article does not allow us to go into great depth, but

below are some observations I’ve made over the past 15-plus years that I have been working with leaders. I want to emphasize again that the Enneagram should not be used as a predictive model; it should be used as a remedial model or a model to make one aware of probabilities. When I work with a client, I can’t assume that because they are a Navigating type they will definitely exhibit a particular behavior, but I can use the model to help me watch out for particular tendencies and as a guide for helping the client remedy maladaptive behavior.

I have also observed that there is a particular pattern related to the instinctual biases that affects leadership. It seems that one domain is dominant and often “over-attended to,” one domain is paid some attention but often in a conflicted way, and one domain is relatively ignored until circumstances force our attention to it. Others have noted this, but my observation has been that the ordering of the domains tends to consistent so if you know which domain is dominant you will know which one is secondary and which is tertiary. The ordering seems to be in the following patterns:

  • Preserving dominant—Navigating secondary—Transmitting tertiary.
  • Navigating dominant—Transmitting secondary—Preserving tertiary.
  • Transmitting dominant—Preserving secondary—Navigating tertiary.

Understanding this pattern can be very useful because it tells us not only where a client may be over-using their instinctive drives, but also what necessary instinct-related behaviors are probably being neglected. For example, if a leader is a Preserving type there is a very good chance that he or she is not only overly focused on preserving behaviors but that he or she is probably neglecting the necessary transmitting behaviors of leadership and conflicted in the navigating domain.

Preserving Leaders:

The Preserving domain of instincts is related to the preservation of resources and the well-being of oneself and the people in the proverbial nest. Those people may well include co-workers and subordinates, and Preservers often spend a lot of time worrying about their own security and the security of those for whom they are responsible. Note that they may not be effective at ensuring that security, but it will be a disproportionate worry for them. I have known Preserving types who fixate on having enough of the things they need but still being reckless with their finances; others who focus so much on preserving their resources that they are stingy in the appropriate use of those resources. The commonality is the amount of time spent focused on preserving related-issues even if they express the focus via different behaviors.

Therefore, I will write about what each instinctual type is “drawn to”—i.e., where their attention and focus goes—with the acknowledgement that they may not be good at actually doing those things or even find pleasure in doing them.

Preserving-type leaders tend to be drawn to the fundamental, “nuts and bolts” issues related to business and organizations. They tend to be more cautious and conservative, and more risk-averse in general. They tend to want to ensure that administrative issues are in order and that procedures are being followed. They can be resistant to change and new ways of doing things, and they often like to be the Devil’s Advocate who challenges new ideas. They often prefer tradition to risky experimentation. These tendencies can make them good leaders for organizations that need stability and order. The downside, of course, is that they can be too resistant to change, conservative, and tradition-bound and may struggle in a fast changing environment.

Navigating Leaders:

The Navigating domain of instincts is related to issues of identity within the group, trust, and reciprocity. These instincts help us know what our status is within the hierarchy, how to build collaborative relationships with others, and how to navigate the politics of the group. Navigating types are generally interested in the exchange of information—seeking insights about people and sharing gossip. They want to track the actions of those within the group, thus they like to be around people even if they don’t engage with others. They are sociable, but also somewhat guarded—revealing enough to be accepted but not so much that they will be rejected.

Navigating leaders are drawn to issues related to group dynamics and interpersonal communication. They track group cohesion and status changes; they tend to be attuned to organizational politics, intuitively knowing which levers to pull in order to move projects around obstacles. They are able to instinctively read the pulse of the group, assess morale, and know who needs to be pushed, who needs to be nurtured, and who the influencers are. They tend to be good at identify the needs of the various constituencies in the organization and finding ways to satisfy them. Navigating leaders tend to be good in the “forming” stage of team dynamics, where the group is finding its identity and ways of working together. They may, however, become too focused on the political dynamics of the group and spend more time on the politics than on the organization’s ultimate business goals.

Transmitting Leaders:

The Transmitting domain of instincts is related to displaying the reproductive fitness of the individual and his or her ideas or creations. These instincts help us attract the attention of others, seduce them into seeing our desirability or the desirability of our creations. Transmitters know how to stand out and draw attention, to charm and cajole, to create an intense connection that induces the other to be open to what we have to offer. Transmitters tend to be charismatic and intuitively know how to lure others into their orbit. They are typically ambitious and apparently self-confident, and they can be willing to take risk get what they want.

Transmitting leaders are often charismatic and bold. They are often good at articulating a goal or vision and moving others toward it, seducing some and driving others as necessary. They often intuitively understand the mind of the market and the customer and are persuasive sellers of the product, company, or dream. They can be competitive and are often the alpha males and females of the group. Transmitting leaders tend to be good in the start-up phase of a business when the organization needs an inspiring vision to rally around. On the downside, the transmitting instincts can cause these leaders to focus too much on themselves, their accomplishments and their desirable qualities.

Secondary and Tertiary Domains:

Because of the predictable order of the instincts, we also have clues for what to look for regarding the leader’s secondary and tertiary instinct domains.

Preserving leaders, for example, often neglect the leadership behaviors related to their third instinct—those very leadership capabilities that are typically the strengths of the Transmitting leaders. They tend to be understated and conservative, focused on process to the neglect of inspiration. They may neglect the “selling” component of leadership, failing to focus enough on marketing and sales or the selling of the vision. They are often ambivalent and conflicted about the needs addressed by the Navigating domain of instincts—they have some tolerance for the organizational politics but see it as a diversion; they may understand the value of “management by walking around” or talking with people to gauge the emotional temperature of the team but always find reasons to neglect doing so.

Navigating leaders frequently neglect those activities addressed by their tertiary instinct domain—the Preserving instincts. They may fail to appropriately value or follow process, overlook threats to the company’s competitive position, and ignore details that could be the signs of bigger problems. As in Aesop’s fable, they can be the grasshopper who wants to chat and enjoy the sunshine with the ant rather than the preserving ant who is preparing for the winter. They are often conflicted in the leadership areas of the Transmitting domain. They want to shine, but are hesitant to draw too much attention to their gifts; they may want to drive a vision, but worry too much about the political impacts of doing so.

Transmitting leaders, though seeming outgoing and “social,” typically neglect the leadership duties supported by the Navigating domain. They have little time for gossip or organizational politics beyond what it takes to advance their agenda. Their social interactions are usually transactional and have a definite purpose—to charm and sell their ideas when necessary—but they are not usually great listeners and quickly grow weary of social small talk. They are conflicted in the Preserving domain—they want to accumulate the resources necessary to fill their goals and they want to be comfortable and pampered, but they can be reckless—aiming to acquire the whole pie rather than only the amount they need—and forget to be appropriately conservative when conservatism is called for.

Again, it is important to point out that while these descriptions are useful, they are generalizations and there are many subtleties that can be addressed if we were to look at the 27 subtypes, which are the results of the interaction of the instincts and the strategy. A Navigating One may be more detail-oriented than a Navigating Nine, for example, but they are not nearly as detail-oriented as a Preserving One or even a Preserving Three. Transmitting Fives aren’t typically as charismatic and outgoing as Transmitting Sevens, but they can be more extroverted and energetic than many Preserving Nines or Preserving Fours.

In conclusion, we have to be careful when making assumptions about broad groups of people, whether we are looking only at the three instinctual biases or the nine Ennea-types. However, it is clear that accurately identifying a leader’s instinctual bias can help him or her develop important and vivid insights into their nature and the nature of their leadership. Combining this with an understanding of each Ennea-type’s strategy makes the value even greater. It is my hope that leaders and those that work with them can use this article as a starting pointing point for further exploration and growth.

Notes:

*The inspiration for this choice of terminology is Claudio Naranjo’s reference to the Ennea-types as “adaptive strategies” in “Character and Neurosis.”

** For example: http://ninepointsmagazine.org/instincts-and-subtypes-looking-through-a-modern-lens-mario-sikora/

***An important note here: These instinctual biases are evident in children and the emphasis here is not to imply a Freudian sexualization of the child. Instinctive behaviors are common in the young of many species before they are applied to their evolutionary “purpose.” Kittens, for example, play to enhance the hunting skills they will need later in life. The display behaviors of a child who is a “Transmitting Type” serve survival (through attracting attention and special treatment) in the short-term, or the behavior are active but serve no immediate advantage at all, many years before they serve the longer-term function of displaying reproductive fitness in adulthood.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Skip to toolbar