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Transformation Leadership and the Enneagram

The Enneagram is at its best when it is helping people discover and apply their discoveries to improving their lives and their teams. Though it's certainly a fun tool to just understand yourself, only understanding how you work without applying it to your life can turn this insightful tool into a party game.

There's almost no better place to apply this to your life than to areas where you leading others. Whether you are the team leader at work, a business owner, a parent, a coach, committee head, etc.. being able to employ the insights from your Enneagram Type can transform your leadership style from good to great.

What does transformed leadership look like? It looks like a leader who knows how they work: what triggers them, where they thrive, and where they fall flat in the team dynamic. They know how they show up in conflict and how their communication style jives with some and doesn't with others. They give grace when others react and choose to respond instead of meeting drama with drama. They are clear and direct about feedback and are willing to hear things that are less than flattering. They know their limits and they know where others' limits are as well.

This might sound like an unachievable goal, but take heart that I didn't say that this transformed leader doesn't get triggered, react, or find themselves in conflict. Just that, when they do, they have developed techniques of how to step back, take a beat, and respond in the best way they can.

How to Become a Transformed Leader

Getting to know yourself and observing your interrelationship patterns is the first step on the journey to becoming a transformed leader, and maybe the most fruitful place to start this journey is really dissecting the places where you show up as the worst versions of yourself—your triggers. It's important to be very clear about what triggers are and what they are not because this term has been co-opted by the lexicon as something that almost happens TO us and we are powerless against them. The reality is that your triggers are YOUR responsibility. Sure, it would be nice if the world chose to treat you with kid gloves and never stepped on your toes again, but I wouldn't count on it.

This is both good news and bad news for all of us. I'll start with the bad news. The bad news is that you cannot blame anyone for triggering you. Period. People are only responsible for their actions, not YOUR reactions to to them. Bleh. It's nice to feel like if ______ just changed or _____stopped being a jerk that you would feel better, but it's just not the truth. You need to change your reaction (and maybe get a good ol' boundary into the relationship) and stop waiting for them to change their actions.

That's the bad news. The good news is that your reactions are now under YOUR control and you are empowered to do something about it! You don't HAVE to wait for ______ to change or ______ to stop being a jerk to feel better about your life! You just have to change your reaction to it--mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. Your equilibrium and your ultimate happiness is in YOUR hands. So let's talk about how you can take control of this.

How to Take Control of Your Triggers

First step to taking control of your triggered reactions is to become the most devoted student in understanding them. Really get to know WHY you are triggered. The power of the Enneagram is that it gives you a starting off point for possible explanations for why are you are triggered: Did you feel like they were calling you bad? Or implying you were unwanted? Did you feel like a failure in that moment or totally unseen and defective? Did you feel overwhelmed and incompetent or as if someone was lying to you? Did you feel trapped in an unpleasant emotion or like someone was trying to control you? Did you feel like yourself or others were being treated unfairly or inconsiderately? These are all different WHYS behind many of the triggers Enneagram Types will experience. The actual situation may be different, of course, but the underlying WHY will likely boil ultimately down to one of the triggers unique to each Enneagram Type.

Second step is getting to know the triggers of those around you and how your triggers set each other off. There's nothing more enlightening or empowering in a relationship than seeing how what we thought were innocent questions, comments, observations, or actions are lighting up our colleagues and family members like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Notice it, make notes of what happened before their reaction, and see if there was a way around these interactions. Being aware of how YOU are triggered by others and how THEY are triggered by you gives you the opportunity to finally become aware of how you show up as a leader and offers you the option to change.

Out of your doctorate in self- and other-observation comes the third step, which is changing your reactions to responses. You've done the work of looking at yourself. You've studied your most challenging interactions for information that will help you make a better impact on your team. Now it's time to choose how you will respond the next time you are activated and want to punch a wall. Whatever actual method makes its way into your day-to-day life, the most effective methods will have these elements:

  • The Pause. That's a capital "P" Pause, because it is intentional. Not the breath you take before screaming at your adversary, but the break you take when you know you are about to lose it and want to bring your heart rate down and your breath back online. You see, when we are activated, our amygdala (that fight or flight part of our brains) is the one driving the bus and she likes to scare away the danger by becoming big and scary herself (or running away). By taking breaths and grounding ourselves in our bodies, we allow our more evolved, creative, problem-solving parts of our brains to come back online and handle the situation with grace and intentionality.

  • The Observation. Capital "O" Observation means we coolly observe our own reaction and do not become attached to it--"look at me, I'm becoming so triggered for some reason". We can see that we are triggered and, since we are pausing, we have the choice at that moment if we would like to break the cycle of our reaction pattern.

  • The Response. Capital "R" Response means that we have taken our breath, we have observed we are triggered and may not be thinking at our best, and now we can RESPOND with intentionality of what we need--maybe it's more information, or space, or boundaries, or clarification, or a different tone. Whatever it is, we are able to ask for what we really need and not be REACTING with the intent of squashing the danger in front of us.

Ultimately, becoming aware of our triggers and changing our REACTIONS to RESPONSES will transform ourselves into people who can communicate better, handle feedback better, set better boundaries, know our strengths and weaknesses, and know our limits. To paraphrase Brené Brown: "If you don't work your shit out, you'll work your shit out on everyone else."

Even reading about our triggers and our responsibility to managing them for our own benefit and equilibrium can be...well...triggering. What I invite you to ask yourself is--What is coming up? And what can you do with that information that empowers you?

For more information on transformational leadership or for support and coaching on becoming a more effective, healthy leader, contact me (Kimberly) at


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