In many cases, the type they actually are is something they don’t want to believe about themselves because, for some reason, they see their own type as negative in some way. Another factor is that they perceive another type as extremely positive, and so they want to be that type. Much of their perception – wanting to not be their type and/or wanting to be a type they are not, and sometimes these two occur simultaneously – often has a social context to it. Let me offer several examples:
Example 1 | the Astronaut
This person, Sharon, was on the alternate astronaut list, so she was very well-educated. In addition, she was highly self-reflective and insightful. She could not identify her enneatype, as hard as she tried and as much as I tried to guide her. To give you a picture of Sharon, she dressed like a 4 (beautiful, colorful, unique flowing dresses), related interpersonally like a 2 (always focusing on others), and had the energy of 9 (very temperate in her emotional responses, easily soliciting other’s ideas in an easy-going way). After a weeklong program, Sharon was still at a loss for her type, but she really wanted to know. At the program’s end, I simply gave her a book (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, in this case, because of its depth) and said this: “You’re smart and you really want to know. So why don’t you read this book, then get back to me when you know.”
Three months later, Sharon emailed me and said this: “Yes, I figured it out. I’m a 1, but didn’t want to be because my mother (who was actually a nice person) was a 1, and I didn’t want to be like her [Sharon listed the reasons, none of which sounded so bad at all, but this how Sharon reacted]. So I’ve spent my life being “not-Mom” instead of being who I really am. What a relief.”
It is now obvious why she had 4,2,9 in what she showed to the world (and to herself), since 2 and 9 are wings of 1, and 4 is an arrow line. It’s not as if we didn’t discuss 1 as a possibility in the program, but Sharon was softly adamant that this was not her. There’s a lesson in this: if we give people time to discover who they are, provide them with the resources, and if they really want to know, they will figure it out!
Example 2 | the German Leader
Peter, a leader in a German manufacturing company, participated in a multiple-day leadership program in which the Enneagram was introduced early on. Peter identified himself as an 8, but as the week wore on, it became more and more obvious that he was more likely a 5. He kept himself apart from the group, had very little “presence felt as strength.” Yes, there are of course quiet 8s, but Peter made himself invisible and quiet 8s still have a power that can be felt even when they say nothing. Peter said nothing and constantly disappeared while staying the room. There were many other reasons why 5 seemed an almost perfect fit, and 8 did not.
The problem for me (or I would have said nothing) was that Peter kept referring to himself as an example of an 8 during the few times he did speak. With no other 8s in the group, I was concerned about other participants thinking that Peter was an exemplar of 8 and, thus, not really understand type 8 very well. So I said this to Peter day 4 or a 5 day program: “Peter, have you ever considered the possibility of your being a 5 with a strong link to type 8? I was just wondering.”
Peter got very reactive and highly defensive and said this: “I must be an 8. All the leaders in my organization at high levels are 8s. Only 8s are leaders, and I am a leader.”
His reaction was highly informative. There was no way he would consider being anything other than an 8, even when all the data we (I was with another person who knows the Enneagram well) had strongly suggested led to a 5: Peter’s mental assumptions, his emotional responses, his behavior over several days. But Peter was a “wannabe” 8. Maybe a better term was he was a “had-to-be” 8, and so he could not be himself. When I tried to share and give examples of great leaders of each type, he would have none of it.
Given his reluctance not to consider the type I think he is, I gave up further conversation with him about it. To pursue it further would have served no purpose. But I do remember him and still feel saddened that I think it must be hard to try being someone you are not. And as a leader, authenticity is closely related to credibility, one of the most crucial qualities for any leader to possess.