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Thoughts from China about the enneagram in organizations

I recently had the challenge and honor of presenting a pre-conference session, along with Peter O’Hanrahan and Russ Hudson, on the Enneagram for over 100 people at the IEA China conference held in Shanghai. Peter spoke about the somatic Enneagram, my topic was using the Enneagram in organizations, and Russ spoke of the spiritual aspects of the Enneagram. In the later part of the day, the three of us were on a panel, facilitated by Gloria Hung, where we addressed questions submitted by the audience. All of this was translated into Chinese, which made it even more interesting, since the translation allowed us ample time to reflect on what was being asked and what was being said.

Highlights from my Enneagram in organizations two-hour presentation
Highlight 1
Normally, I prefer interaction to lecture, but in this case lecture was a more appropriate method overall. That said, I did start with my provocative question for them to answer in pairs, a question that has been getting memorable traction when I have used it before.
Question | How did the Enneagram find you?
My proposition, and one I truly believe, is that people who stay with the Enneagram and love the system – as well as use it for themselves and with others – feel as if the Enneagram found them, not that they found the Enneagram. As a result, people who experience the Enneagram in this all have a story to tell, a story that is both inspiring and energizing, allowing them to revisit and rekindle their first Enneagram experiences. For people who think they found the Enneagram, their relationship to the system is fundamentally different, less inspired and the inspiration, shorter lasting and more utilitarian.

I tell my story of how the Enneagram found me, an encounter twenty years ago at Esalen Institute, a growth center in Big Sur, California, a place I had been to many times. On my first Enneagram encounter, the five-day Enneagram program was the only session offered I knew nothing about and I had decided that these five days were the only times I had available for a time-off and time-out. The rest of the story is interesting only to me except that at the end of the five days, upon leaving the meeting room overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, I saw a blimp, except the blimp was in my mind, not the sky. The blimp carried a message streaming from the tail: Your job is to bring the Enneagram out more into the world. I replied: That’s not my plan. Again, the blimp returned with a second message: It doesn’t matter what your plan is, to which I replied: Good, but what am I supposed to do? The third and final blimp message was this: Just be still. It will become clear.

So, how did the Enneagram find you?

Highlight 2
Although there was a great deal of content to my pre-conference presentation, there was a meta-message throughout. The meta-message was clear and became even clearer to me as I was presenting, due to the fact that I had decided to use only pictures in my slides, no words whatsoever. I chose pictures only because of the challenges associated with the translation of words – Chinese has many characters for the same word, but the characters have different meanings – and my not wanting to burden the conference organizers with another set of slides to translate.

My main message was that although some may believe that using the Enneagram in organizations means the trainer/consultant/coach doesn’t need to know the Enneagram as well as those who teach the Enneagram psychologically or spiritually, the opposite is true. When we use the Enneagram in organizations, we must know the system very well so that we can teach it accurately and help people self-type in a shorter period of time – often 3-4 hours – than in other venues, where participants will give us multiple days to teach the system. Add to this that those of us who work in organizations must also know how to use the system in its variety of applications, going way beyond type only and into action.

The second message was that the self-mastery level of the organizational coach, trainer, and consultant must be very high and growing all the time and that this level of development will be readily apparent to participants. What I said in my presentation and share here is that if we are acting in a type-based reactive way, it will show up in organizational settings, raising questions among participants such as these: If the system is so good, then why is this presenter/facilitator not more developed? If growth is good for us, where is the growth in the person we hired?

I also spoke to the need for those working in organizations with the Enneagram to be “real” and not ”slick” or “inauthentic” and to make sure we ourselves do not think we are better than others because we know the system. If participants perceive using the Enneagram as a way to feel above or better than others, as modeled by the Enneagram professional, participants will either perceive the trainer/coach/consultant as arrogant – a value that is contrary to the values of the Enneagram, such as acceptance, humility, and compassion – or they will think that because they are learning the Enneagram, they are above others who are not using the Enneagram. This latter proposition is, I hope, not what we are teaching others.

Highlights from the panel discussion
All the questions were pretty interesting, and what helped is that these were written in advance and dropped in a box, so that strange questions or questions that are actually statements disguised as questions were not included. Two questions were memorable.
Highlight 1
Question | One teacher said I was one type and another teacher said I was another type. What type am I?
My answer | So one teacher says you are one type, another says you are another type, and a third teacher could say yet another type. A real Enneagram teacher does not tell you what type you are! A real Enneagram teacher helps you discover your own type yourself, and our job is to guide you in the process, not let you wander about in the system. Guiding is an art.

Highlight 2
Question | Do I need to give up my habits? What is the difference between a habit and an attachment?
My answer | You don’t need to give up anything you don’t want to. Development is all about choice. The answer to your question is simple and practical. If there is a habit you have you might want to keep but don’t want habits to which you are attached, try giving up or changing the habit and see how you respond. If it is easy to give up or replace and you like it, you are likely not attached to it. If it is hard to give up, explore your attachment to it and then choose!

Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of four best-selling Enneagram-business books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs for professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications, and is past-president of the International Enneagram Association. Visit her website: TheEnneagramInBusiness.com. ginger@theenneagraminbusiness.com

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