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Applying the enneagram to community boards | an insight by Catherine Bell

I recently attended a course by the Institute of Corporate Directors on Governance. During the course, I wondered about our Enneagram community and all of the volunteer boards, committees, associations, social enterprises, and various other Enneagram collectives or groupings. One of the many key learnings for me was the importance of the emergent, strategic, generative board combined with the more traditional fiduciary and results-based board responsibilities. In the emergent generative board, the importance of understanding frames is very important – that is, how you look and reflect on the data and issues – and the role of the board really is emergent, sense making, and learning focused.

According to Richard Powers and Nouman Ashraf, the high performing boards have some common characteristics:

1) Shaping direction for the non-profit through its vision, mission, strategy and policies
2) Ensuring that leadership resources and finances support the mission
3) Monitoring performance and take corrective action
Nouman, Ashraf, Research Fellow, Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, October 2013

As you reflect on the not-for-profits in which you are involved, consider these questions: Is the vision clear? Does the mission align with the vision? Is there a strategy and action plan? Do you monitor performance in a variety of ways, including increasing membership and monitoring the financials? Is your organization thriving or simply surviving? If it is simply surviving, consider getting the board and executive to reflect on the above three points.

Ginger’s blog
Catherine is so very accurate; new forms of community boards are emerging, ones that revitalize organizations in a rapidly changing and emergent environment. But, how can the Enneagram be useful in helping boards rise to this new task? Obviously, knowledge of the Enneagram can assist in helping boards be more interpersonally effective. There is, however, another way for board members to use the Enneagram in making community boards more dynamic and productive and that is through understanding subtypes. These comments will be somewhat generalizations, yet I hope they give pause for consideration.

Self-preservation subtypes
The self-preservation subtypes of all nine enneatypes tend to focus on issues of safety, comfort and survival more than the other two subtypes of their same type. They tend to be less trusting of others – again, compared to the other two subtypes of their type, but this does not mean that a self-preservation Two is less trusting than a social or one-to-one Six, just as an example. In addition, being a self-preservation subtype does not mean you take of all your self-preserving needs. It may mean that you overdo this or, as in the example of self-preservation Fours, you may go against your physical safety and throw caution to the wind. Remember, self-preservation Fours are called “reckless-dauntless” Fours and throw caution away quite easily.

The challenge, however, for all self-preservation subtypes is that their focus tends to be on themselves and less on the community or group. They also tend to be a bit more risk-averse than the other two subtypes. The implications for being on a community board are important ones. Self-preservation subtypes need to self-observe their skepticism and trust-related issues, as well as their aversion to risk. Self-mastery is crucial here: to be able to tell the difference between what you are comfortable with versus what is needed by the board and the community that is being served. In addition, emergent organizing involves risk, and while the risk needs to discussed, risk-aversion – not knowing what will happen and feeling afraid of not being in control, for example – can be a major obstacle to organic, emerging boards.

Social subtypes
Many people, incorrectly, have learned or assume that social subtypes engage in groups, like being on teams (including boards) because social subtypes of all types are focused on the group. Yes, they pay attention to collectives and groups, but some social subtypes are anxious about where they fit into groups (social Fours and many social Nines), while other social subtypes overdo their group focus, while also being more ambivalent about groups (many social Twos and social Eights, for example).

What does this mean in terms of being effective on emerging boards of governance? First, they need to explore their relationship to groups, how they truly feel about them, and then they need to work and resolve these issues. They need to explore how they may suppress their real needs by doing too much for the group. Or they may move forward and then pull back in relation to groups. Social subtypes may also over-control groups or wear themselves down in relation to groups. None of these behaviors really serve organizing, emerging boards of governance!

One-to-one subtypes
Many people, also incorrectly, believe that one-to-one subtypes don’t really relate to groups. More accurately, some one-to-one subtypes do and some don’t, and when they do, they often perceive teams or groups as a collective of one-to-one relationships. And, of course, some one-to-one subtypes strongly prefer relating to only one other.

One-to-one subtypes, to be truly effective board of governance members, need to work on their issues to be effective. They need to not feel overwhelmed by being with more than one person and to not shut down when they need to engage with a collective. The one-to-one subtypes of all nine types who perceive groups as aggregations of dyadic relationships need to learn to expand their perspective; a group is composed on pairs but also trios and sub-groups and the groups as a whole, each with their own set of interactions, expectations and behaviors.

In just about anything we do, our type shows up as does our subtype. Sometimes this “showing up” serves both ourselves and others, but sometimes it does not. Only through self-observation, self-awareness and growth are we able to use the parts of us that serve and work on the parts of us that do not!

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