What Type Are You? Harnessing the Wisdom of the Enneagram to Supercharge Business Success

By Robert McGarvey Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What type are you? Don’t be surprised if soon you are asked that exact question — or maybe it is you who asks it of an employee or a business partner — and that is because suddenly the Enneagram personality assessment tool is sweeping the world of business.

Proponents swear the Enneagram, built around identifying nine distinct personality types, is crucial in gaining insights into what behaviors you habitually have that may be blocking successes — and what behaviors you may be able to nurture to supercharge success.

Along the way, what had been mysteries — about your teammates, even your own behaviors — suddenly can be seen in a bright, clarifying light when the Enneagram is in your tool bag, say the enthusiasts.

Don’t think this is New Age woo-woo stuff. As long ago as 2013, CNN reported that the Enneagram was in use in leading organizations such as BestBuy, Avon, and Toyota. The numbers have only grown since then. Now the Enneagram just may be at an inflection point: “It’s at the beginning of its popularity with business people,” said leadership coach Jay Hidalgo.

“The Enneagram absolutely is trendy,” agreed Enneagram coach Jenn Whitmer. “Understand the Enneagram and you can understand yourself — and understand your team. Trust is the foundation of a high functioning team. The Enneagram is a tool for building trust.”

Enneagram coach Milton Stewart added that the tool is particularly valuable to entrepreneurs. “It’s very helpful for small business owners. A main reason is that relationships matter a lot in small business and knowing the Enneagram can make you better at relationships.”

Milton Stewart.

Drawing of a human head with puzzle pieces inside.

9 Types

Just what is this Enneagram? The Enneagram sorts all of us into one of nine personality types, from the investigator to the challenger or the peacemaker. Know this: every type can produce business successes. Also know that Enneagram experts say your type is your type; that is, no matter how much you don’t want to be a Type 9 Peacemaker, if the Enneagram says you are, you are. There’s no changing type.

But knowing about the Enneagram and your own type will let you make the most of that type, whatever it is.

Also, know that every type has a good side and a bad. A type 8 Challenger can be loud, dominating, and poison to some relationships, or that Type 8 can be a visionary who sees better, innovative paths for getting things done and, yes, many entrepreneurs are 8s. But again, every type can spawn an entrepreneur, so don't fall into type envy.

And, by the way, knowing a type’s bad side is integral to stopping that behavior. Master the Enneagram, and suddenly, you have the ability to consciously monitor — and put the brakes on — your type’s self-destructive behavior before it does serious damage.

Ask Enneagram experts, and they are quick to insist that what the Enneagram is, in its essence, is a personal development and growth tool. It’s a way to know thyself better — and to perform better too.

The Types: A Deeper Dive

Which are you? Colorful, descriptive names give a sense of the essence of each type.

  1. The Reformer. A perfectionist.
  2. The Helper. Seeking thank you’s.
  3. The Achiever. Coming out on top is what matters.
  4. The Romantic. The imagination of self.
  5. The Investigator. All about knowing the facts.
  6. The Loyalist. Needing supporters.
  7. The Enthusiast. Always up for new adventures.
  8. The Challenger. Where there’s a boat, rock it.
  9. The Peacemaker. Conflict avoidance as a core pursuit.

Each of us is one of the types, but there are nuances and advanced theories. Prolific author and podcaster Beatrice Chestnut, for instance, is a leading proponent of what she calls subtypes, which says that every type has three subtypes and each of us is predominantly one subtype.

Subtypes are our basic instincts. A Challenger 8 for instance, might have survival as its basic instinct or social drives may be the subtype in a group-oriented 8 or an 8 may be highly rebellious, even anti-social when he is a 1:1 subtype. Those personalities all are different? You got that right, but that is the secret of the Enneagram: there always is another layer to explore.

Not every expert buys the subtype idea. Others talk about wings, where a person is a main type but with an added ingredient of characteristics from one or the other adjacent types. So a Type 3 achiever might have a Type 2 Romantic wing or a Type 4 Helper wing, and, certainly, those make for two very different kinds of people.

Join in the debate if you wish — wings or subtypes — but remember this: the type is the main event. “The type is what’s most important,” said Ginger Lapid-Bogda, a longtime Enneagram teacher and author.

As for the arguments about the advanced interpretations, dial in if that’s your style or just plain ignore them and focus on knowing your type ever more deeply.

And keep it all fun. That’s key. “The Enneagram is fun — that’s a reason it is trending,” said Lapid-Bogda.

Ginger Lapid-Bogda.

The History

Experts heatedly debate the origin of the tool. Some say it traces back to antiquity. Others disagree. There’s no decisive evidence for either version.

What is known is that the contemporary history begins perhaps 75 years ago with work done by Bolivia-born Oscar Ichazo and expanded upon by Chile-born Claudio Naranjo. Along the way, US-based Roman Catholic priests — notably Richard Rohr who authored a top selling book on the Enneagram — came to believe the Enneagram was a powerful tool for clergy in counseling parishioners. At first, the American priests kept it as their secret weapon but it soon leaked out and many more of us began to see it as a good starting point for enhanced personal insight. It’s now a fully secularized tool, and that’s helped the acceptance in many businesses.

Know Your Type

Where to begin your personal Enneagram journey? It starts with knowing your type. Online tests are plentiful, but many experts are skeptical. Lapid-Bogda of the Enneagram in Business consulting firm said she does not use them at all, preferring to type clients in a so-called typing interview. Milton Stewart agreed with the skepticism about online tests: 98% of them are unhelpful, he said.

Even so, take an online test or three. Most Enneagram newcomers start there. But view the results as a starting point for your personal typing, not the end.

Then read a book or three. Many experts point to a Beatrice Chestnut book, while others prefer an Ian Morgan Cron book; still others suggest reading both and letting the debate in your head explode as you seek to decide your own type.

Stay open-minded. Many experts tell stories of clients who came in convinced they were a particular type — but left with a changed mind. “I don’t know anyone who should be holding their type as a certainty,” said Lapid-Bogda.

To Hire Based on the Enneagram?

About here many entrepreneurs think they may have discovered the tool they have been seeking to make every new hire successful but stop right there. The experts say this is a no-no. “I tell people not to go there,” said Chestnut.

Whitmer added: “I don’t recommend hiring on the Enneagram number. Any Enneagram number can get along with another.”

The last bit is crucial. Know yourself - your good side and your dark side - as some Enneagram experts term our destructive traits, and you will have much more productive relationships with everybody in your orbit. No matter your type or theirs.

Teammates can already see that the Enneagram is supercharging you and they want to join the ride? By all means, invite them along because a better functioning team just might be a quick result.

One caution from Lapid-Bogda: “Don’t use the Enneagram to manipulate others. If you try to use it to manipulate others it usually will come back against you.”

Use it to benefit all, and that may well be what you get.

The Next Step

Take a deep breath. It is easy to glance at the Enneagram, see a sea of complexity, and run in the opposite direction. Stop. Remember the payoffs. Know the Enneagram, and this will help you better achieve your own goals — by knowing your skills and knowing your weaknesses, you also are better able to control them.

Those payoffs motivate rising numbers of entrepreneurs to stick it out. “The Enneagram takes real work,” said Stewart. “The Enneagram helps liberate us.”

He added, “Work on your number, that’s where it begins.”

Know you are a 7 for instance — many entrepreneurs are 7s because they thrive in chaos — and plunge into the literature about 7s and the many podcasts (just search for Enneagram in Apple Podcasts, for instance, and settle in for hours of listening). Keep probing and that means probing into yourself.

“The Enneagram is a growth tool, “ said Chestnut. “It’s a deep study. As much time as you invest in it that’s what you will get out of it.”

About the Author


Headshot of Robert McGarvey

Robert McGarvey, a veteran journalist who has long covered startups and small businesses, created and hosts the CU2.0 Podcast for credit union and fintech executives which is at 120 episodes and counting.

Related Articles