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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

A What? An Enneagram

by Shel Horowitz

Like many previous Family Business Center presenters, Theresa Gale of Maryland-based Transform, Inc. sees that different personalities in a family business significantly impact business success. Gale, who spoke at the Center's March, 2001 gathering, believes that once you have a language for understanding these personalities and the impact they are having on the business, you create the possibility for dialogue&emdash;and thus for change and improvement.

But the model she uses goes a lot deeper than the usual four-part matrix. In fact, she gave an overview of a nine-pointed model, named the Enneagram, that describes nine distinctive ways of thinking, acting, communicating, making decisions, managing people or a business. While each style has it own natural strengths, it also has limitations and blind spots that impact business success.

  1. Moving clockwise, the first style is the Perfectionist. Perfectionists are focused on doing things right. They work very hard, hold everyone to high standards of excellence, especially themselves, and look to eliminate error. Perfectionists may come across very judgmental and critical, they like clearly defined chains of command with established policies and procedures, and focus on getting tasks done the right way.
  2. The Helper, or Giver, focuses on personal relationships and helping others, sometimes at the expense of themselves. Helpers align themselves with powerful allies and take pride in being indispensable to those they help. They want appreciation for what they do yet may not ask for it and can be crushed by criticism or disapproval&emdash;so give feedback gently.
  3. Third is the Producer: a classic Type A multitasking workaholic, focused on achieving, competing and winning. With having an abundance of tasks to do, the Producer focuses on quantity rather than quality, and may cut a few corners to complete a task. In sales, they will often overpromise. In management, they focus on the results and often miss the contributions of others who helped achieve the results.
  4. The fourth style, The Romantic, focus on deep feelings, creativity and self expression. They thrive in a work environment where their work is viewed as unique and authentic. Able to understand and tolerate a wide range of emotions, they tend to be good listeners and are able to inspire others toward a vision &endash; personally, however, they may be unable to attend to work when overcome by feelings.
  5. The Observer, the fifth style, focuses on protecting their privacy, gathering the 'facts' and avoiding emotions. Since privacy is so important, this individual needs time to process and react before making decisions. Information is viewed as power and typically the five style is the 'keeper of the information' not giving it out unless asked. The Observer tends to avoid face or telephone interaction in favor of more impersonal methods (e-mail, memos).
  6. Troubleshooters, the sixth style, focus on anticipating or avoiding danger. Through the use of questions, worst case scenarios and 'what if's' they try to anticipate what might go wrong and warn others about the potential dangers. Safety is paramount, and thus they sometimes come across as doubting, suspicious, or meddling. As long as their loyalty is not questioned or undermined, they make a very powerful contribution to a team.
  7. The Visionary, the seventh style, focuses on keeping their options open, staying positive and seeing the potential that each situation offers, even the negative ones. They're hard to pin down, don't like details, and often discount others who aren't positive and upbeat. A Visionary will synthesize ideas so that the course of action is obvious&emdash;but then someone else has to be around to implement and manage them.
  8. The Eighth style is the Boss who is focused on power, control, truth and justice. Typically this style takes the lead wanting to ensure that someone is in control and that others on his/her team are being treated fairly. The Boss is high-energy, direct, (overwhelmingly so for some employees), confrontive , quick to anger or blame, yet holds no grudge once the situation is over.
  9. Finally, the Mediator wants peace, avoids conflict, and tries to build consensus, predictability, and involvement of others. Mediators have difficulty staying on task, prioritizing tasks and may procrastinate or avoid decisions when potential conflict could result. If you're working with a mediator, don't mistake understanding for agreement&emdash;a nod of the head does not mean they agree with you.

Gale believes that understanding how these different personality styles interact and impact others around them has important applications in business: leadership development, communications, succession planning, customer service, sales, and many other areas.

The study of the Enneagram model is not to be taken lightly due to the depth and accuracy of the information it provides so hopefully these brief descriptions will interest you enough to further check out the model. You can contact Theresa at (301) 419-2835 or visit the company's website at www.transforminc.com.

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