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The Enneagram: A Coaching Power Tool

By Donna Glanvill | 21 June 2019 |

The possibilities and pressures of the modern world have created a generation of seekers – people who are stretching themselves beyond their comfort zone, challenging themselves to become more than they are today. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential" and reflects that the profession is growing rapidly, with an annual income estimated at approximately US$2.356 billion.

More and more people around the world are looking to coaching for support in their personal journey, looking for insights that can radically shift them. As a result, more and more coaches are looking for models and frameworks that offer not only ways to engage with people but also ways to help them understand themselves at a deeper level. In recent decades, we have seen the development and rise of a range of powerful coaching approaches, such as narrative and ontological coaching, mindfulness coaching, neuro-linguistic programming, neuro-leadership development, mind-body coaching, and more.

While the Enneagram is gaining popularity as a coaching tool around the world, many people still know little about it, and some see it as a spiritual or arcane framework. This understanding ignores developments in the Enneagram over recent decades that have seen tremendous leaps forward in the reliability, versatility, and power of the framework.

Largely as a result of the work of modern Enneagram practitioners such as Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, the 21st-century Enneagram is finding its place as a highly developed, multi-purpose, potent psychological tool with many possible applications in and beyond the world of coaching and personal development. The depth and dynamic integrity of the tool have made it appropriate and useful in a wide range of coaching applications, methods and approaches.

If you were to ask 20 Enneagram practitioners or enthusiasts what the Enneagram is, you might get as many different answers. Some might describe it as a journey to holism, others focus on the framework’s applicability as a mindfulness guide, and organisational practitioners use it as a conflict resolution tool and a team coaching framework. In reality, the Enneagram is all of these things, and more.

The roots of Enneagram knowledge

The Enneagram is thousands of years old, rooted in ancient spiritual traditions and brought into the modern world through the fields of psychology and personal development by authors such as Naranjo and Ichazo. Today’s Enneagram is a relatively young model, first emerging as a map of nine personality types in the 1960s. We are fortunate that many great Enneagram researchers and authors, such as Jerome Wagner and Beatrice Chestnut, are still researching and teaching today. With great generosity of spirit, these individuals, together with a younger generation of researchers and practitioners, continue to take the work forward.

The Enneagram we know today is the result of numerous experts bringing their domain knowledge, research and insights to this framework. Each of these researchers and practitioners has brought their own lens, field and passion to the Enneagram, adding layers of richness and meaning.

  • Psychologists and researchers with deep Gestalt and humanistic psychology knowledge and expertise have added layers of psychodynamic understanding for each of the nine Types and 27 Subtypes described by the Enneagram.
  • Spiritual seekers and teachers have drawn attention to the essential self and relationship with a higher reality that are embodied in the Enneagram. The spiritual Enneagram work expresses the journey of self-discovery in powerful, inspirational ways, inviting us to work towards holism.
  • Couples therapists and relationship counsellors have researched and mapped the interpersonal dynamics, challenges and gifts that each Enneagram Type brings to relationships, as well as analysing and outlining the patterns of interaction between pairs of Types.
  • Organisational development practitioners have developed the Enneagram as a framework for understanding complex, adaptive human systems. This approach looks at how the various Enneagram Types and energies interact within a team, group or organisational system, including the dynamic tensions and polarities that keep organisations stuck.
  • The latest discoveries in neuroscience layer onto the established tenets of the framework, reinforcing and confirming its assumptions. For example, where the Enneagram suggested three Centers of Intelligence in the head, heart, and gut, scientists have now mapped neural networks in our hearts and guts that function in intelligent ways, confirming this theory.

This ongoing process of intellectual enrichment, research and development has seen each successive wave of researchers and authors building on the knowledge that came before. This layering and refining have shifted the Enneagram from being seen primarily as a map of fixation and dysfunction, to being considered as an emerging body of rich knowledge and application built on a robust framework that scales from individual work to teams, communities, and organisational systems.

As a psychodynamic framework, the Enneagram stands up to this layering and ongoing development because it is not a superficial, behaviourally based framework. Rather, it focuses on uncovering the underlying motivations for behaviour. The robust psychodynamic underpinnings have stood the test of time and of rigorous, ongoing research, so that further development is based on a solid structure, not assumptions and stereotypes.

The Enneagram supports many coaching approaches

The Enneagram is a nuanced and layered system for self-knowledge that offers a precise, rich lens to see our own inner, often invisible, workings more clearly.

It highlights our unique perspective and focus of attention on the world and how that shapes our beliefs, self-image, and relationship with others. It makes us more aware of the boundaries and patterns between ourselves and the systems in which we operate, making it an ideal support to Gestalt-oriented coaching.

The Enneagram reveals our deeply held beliefs about what kind of place the world is, as well as the stories we tell ourselves about who we need to be in order to survive and thrive in that world. It identifies problem narratives and key points of reframing for each of the unique personality types. In this way, many Narrative and Ontological coaches find great application of the Enneagram in their work.

The Enneagram can reveal the core avoidances, triggers, and defences for each individual, making many of these blind spots and defensive processes more visible. In this way, many coaches and leaders who are working with Neuro-leadership and Neuroscience principles in their coaching find that the Integrative Enneagram powerfully aligns with and supports these principles while helping to clarify the development path or ‘new neural pathways’ that need to be built.

The challenge of each Enneagram Type is the risk of fixation – of operating on autopilot, driven by fears and assumptions but never becoming truly present in their own reality. We coach clients to become more present and compassionate towards themselves, connecting to the higher intelligence of their head, heart, and gut and discovering the habits that keep them limited. This makes mindfulness coaching and the Enneagram an ideal fit for each other.

The iEQ9 tools go deep

A key element of coaching is working with your client to discover the often-unconscious beliefs and self-talk that keeps them stuck in their habitual patterns. These beliefs and self-talk are the internal programming that limits our ability to see the world clearly, remain mindful and build authentic relationships. The challenge, of course, is that these blind spots are blind, and can be difficult for the client to see at first. Many coaching plans take the first months to get to know the client, using various tools to try and mine the stories that the client holds and may need to change.

The Integrative Enneagram products offer both the coach and the client a deep insight into the stories, beliefs, and psychodynamic structures playing out for the client, as expressed by their Integrative Enneagram profile. An Enneagram profile indicates what drives an individual’s personality from the deepest levels, including the core wounds and worldviews that shape their interactions with the world. Coaches find that the tools accelerate their process with clients by giving both coach and client a peek at the deepest, often hidden beliefs and assumptions that are likely keeping this client stuck.

Our Integrative offerings go beyond just the Core Enneagram Type, which can represent something of an over-simplification, to take into account Instincts, Subtypes, Centers of Expression (Head, Heart, and Gut) and Levels of Integration within that profile. We measure these different aspects of the individual’s profile independently, rather than using a simplistic measurement and then extrapolating assumptions, to ensure that your clients’ integrated profiles are as comprehensive, accurate, and unique as the clients themselves.

Our Integrative Enneagram offerings are not linked to any particular coaching model or methodology, but rather aim to be a rich resource that individuals and their coaches can apply in many different contexts. We incorporate Enneagram knowledge from all credible sources, including our own research, and include best practices from Neuroscience, Mindfulness, Somatics, and Emotional Intelligence.

The importance of accreditation

Nobody owns the Enneagram and there is no requirement that coaches and practitioners be certified in order to work with this tool. However, the depth and psychodynamic complexity of the Integrative Enneagram framework mean that training and accreditation in rigorous, proven methodologies and theory are often needed when you begin working with the Enneagram.

The Enneagram offers us a mirror that reflects all of the rich, detailed and often conflicted complexity of us as human beings. For many people, this mirror represents a massive shift in awareness, challenging many of the deep-seated beliefs and assumptions we hold that help us feel safe. It is important, therefore, to apply the Enneagram only where you are personally competent and confident as a coach.

The universalist framework of the Enneagram links to and reinforces a wide range of fields of practice, coaching methodologies and approaches. Our accreditation training and supportive community can help you decide how the Enneagram links to and enriches your own area of practice, as well as sharing their knowledge and skills.

In addition to the profound insights reflected already, the Enneagram also offers rich pathways and pointers for development. A deep understanding of the framework allows it to truly become more than a box to put people into, and accredited practitioners are trained to skilfully guide clients through a journey not only of discovery, but also of integration and growth.

Summing up

The Enneagram is an ancient framework, practised and enriched for centuries and rooted in the oldest spiritual traditions, but also supported and reinforced by the latest insights and breakthroughs in neuroscience, personal development, organisational change and development and other fields. As an archetypal framework, many people find the Enneagram deeply resonant and easy to understand, making it possible to apply this tool in a wide range of contexts and interventions.

Coaches find that the tools can radically accelerate their process with clients but also reflect the client back to themselves in a more objective way, giving them deeper insight into their own personality and, therefore, more sense of empowerment in the coaching process.

The Enneagram community is continuously refining, developing and enriching our collective body of knowledge and curiosity about new applications. How might the Enneagram be right for you?

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