Several years ago I worked with a global consulting firm. One of our offerings included a session with a conductor who demonstrated parallels between an orchestra and leading a corporation. A good leader is like the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor knows the overall piece of music and all the individual parts, but does not play an instrument, providing instead the tempo, balancing the sounds from all the musicians, and drawing out the best in every musician as they to contribute to the overall performance. Understanding her own style, the conductor can communicate effectively to the entire orchestra to function as a team. Understanding other styles, she helps each part work together with the whole to accomplish something none of them could do alone. She keeps track of the orchestra as an entity, allowing it to mature and thrive as an organization.
Ever since Greek philosophers studied the phenomenon of leadership, we have been trying to understand what exactly makes leaders effective. Researchers have focused on leaders’ traits, skills, charisma, and situational behavior. Current theories like transformational leadership, servant leadership, and authentic leadership revolve around specific attitudes and behavior that seem to sustain successful leadership. However, no conclusive theory of effective leadership has yet been defined.
When the 65 member Advisory Council for the Stanford Graduate School of Business were polled some years ago on the topic of what is most important to include in the School’s curriculum, there was an overwhelming agreement that the most important thing Stanford Graduate School of Business graduates needed to learn was self-awareness and the resulting ability to reduce denial in their perceptions of themselves and their actions. Pretty impressive. All the tools of the MBA trade – forecasting, strategic planning, financial analysis, among many, many others – were deemed less important than learning the skills of self-awareness and the ability to reduce denial.
There is an emerging recognition that leaders, through their own personality quirks and biases, can derail the most progressive initiatives toward an organization’s sustainable success. Scandals in the recent past have eroded public trust in leadership. As a consequence, the quest for effective leaders who demonstrate moral values is more relevant today than ever. And only leaders who have embarked on the potentially distressing journey of self-discovery can bring ongoing personal integrity to the effectiveness of their organization.
Self-awareness is the practice of engaging in self-reflection and achieving insight, becoming increasingly conscious of who we are and of the extent to which perceptions about ourselves are accurate and congruent with how others experience us. Self-aware leaders are emotionally intelligent and able to self-regulate. They can consistently evaluate their impact on others and therefore are more versatile in their leadership, capable of sustaining a group’s positive adaptation to change.
Self-awareness and Leadership
Think about a leader whom you admire. Identify 10 characteristics that describe why you believe that person – living or dead, a public figure or someone known to you personally – is an outstanding leader.
What researchers have found is that there is not a single best leadership style, but rather great leadership reflects the ability to respond to a situation in a way that is consistent with values and goals. The qualities you identified in your example of an outstanding leader are those you value and the person you identified is someone you see as having been able to express these qualities. Each of us has to establish our own personal authentic leadership style based on our own inherent talents and natural strengths.
Exploring Your Authentic Leadership Style
Think about a time when you personally dealt with a leadership situation effectively, whether at work or in your private life. Take a few minutes to write down some of the key qualities of that experience.
Based on what you have written, what would you say are the qualities your personal authentic leadership style?
How is this list similar or different from first list, in which you described ten characteristics of an outstanding leader?
Finding your personal leadership style can be supported by using the Enneagram, a map of human personality and development. The name, Enneagram, has its origin in the Greek words “ennea” related to nine and gram meaning “a model.” The Enneagram symbol is a circle with nine equidistant points around the circumference. Those points connect by internal lines that create an equilateral triangle, joining points Nine, Three, and Six, and an unusual hexad joining the other six points. The symbol itself is ancient. Using the symbol as a map we can describe patterns of personality as well as highly effective pathways for personal change. The Enneagram is a dynamic model, able to account for constantly changing human behavior while providing a foundation for understanding of underlying motivation. Using this tool we can also predict how we – and other people – are likely to respond in times of stress.
When I am working with clients to help them understand their personal authentic leadership style, I reference the nine Enneagram leadership styles. The chief characteristics listed below are a rough sketch of the richly colored painting that will eventually emerge after deeper investigation. But this is a good place to start.
As you read these short descriptions notice which ones seem to best describe you. You will see that the paragraphs include a range of behaviors, from high level skills to areas of possible deterioration. Like it or not, we all operate within a range of behavior and need to acknowledge not only our strengths but also where we can become entangled in reactivity. This level of self-awareness is what gives leaders the freedom from denial that we talked about earlier.
Type One: The rational, orderly type. Principled, purposeful, self- controlled, and perfectionistic, Ones are concerned with maintaining quality and high standards. They focus on details and like to improve and streamline procedures. They are often good at coaching others on how to improve themselves, be more efficient, and do things correctly. Well-organized and orderly, they can also be overly critical of themselves and others. They dislike waste and sloppiness, but can deteriorate into micromanagement and constant, demoralizing criticism. At their best, they have good judgment, make wise decisions, and model ethical and responsible behavior.
Type Two: The helpful, interpersonal type. Generous, appreciative, people-pleasing, and possessive, Twos are sensitive to the needs of others and seek to be of service. They appreciate the talents of others and act as confidantes and mentors, and are good at networking. However, they typically have trouble saying no to requests and tend to become stressed by trying to help too many people. They dislike impersonal rules and work situations and can deteriorate into favoritism and time-wasting over-involvement with individuals. At their best, they are empathetic and caring.
Type Three: The adaptable, ambitious type. Focused, excelling, driven, and image-conscious, Threes know how to work efficiently to get the job done according to customer expectations. Often attractive, charming, and energetic, they are conscious of the image they project of themselves as well as of their team and company. They like getting recognition and are attracted to success and positions of prestige. They can be competitive and workaholic, driven by the need for status and personal advancement, deteriorating into cutting corners to stay ahead. At their best they have an unusual ability to sense what will be successful and are willing to coach and mentor others to be as successful as they themselves want to be.
Type Four: The introspective, artistic type. Expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental, Fours deliver personalized service and/or develop distinctive products known for their refinement and sense of style. They can be uncompromising in their pursuit of the right effect, word, or design and of gauging the personal impact of a product. They dislike tasks that they believe are not creative or do not give them room for their personal imprint. They may be hypersensitive to criticism and can deteriorate into moodiness and erratic work habits. At their best, they bring intuition and creativity into the workplace and enrich it with their sense of depth, style, and appreciation of the personal dimension.
Type Five: The perceptive, provocative type. Curious, innovative, secretive, and eccentric, Fives are tireless learners and experimenters, especially in specialized or technical matters. They like to understand in detail, spend time on research, and follow their curiosity wherever it leads. They are highly analytical and preoccupied with discovery, not paying attention to project time constraints and relationships. They can deteriorate into arrogance and non-communication, intellectual bickering and one-upmanship. At their best, Fives are visionary pioneers, bringing strikingly new ideas and profound depth to their work.
Type Six: The engaging, loyal type. Likable, responsible, anxious, and suspicious, Sixes are diligent and reliable workers. They build alliances and partnerships that help orient their co-workers and get things done. They are able to assess the motivations and relative merits of others and scan the business environment for potential problems. They dislike taking risks and want consensus and predictability. They can be indecisive and have difficulty taking responsibility or action without group authority and can deteriorate into evasiveness and blaming others. At their best, Sixes are self-reliant, independent, and courageous, often calling a group back to its root values.
Type Seven: The accomplished, upbeat type. Spontaneous, versatile, impulsive, and scattered, Sevens thrive on change, variety, excitement, and innovation. Often articulate and humorous, they are able to get others to support their ideas. They are in touch with the latest trends and are constantly looking for new possibilities and options. They are natural multitaskers but can also get overextended and lack follow-through. They can deteriorate into endless talk and distractions, scattering their energy and talents and leaving many projects unfinished. At their best, Sevens focus on worthwhile goals and become highly productive and accomplished.
Type Eight: The powerful, decisive type. Self-confident, commanding, willful, and confrontational, Eights have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and the willpower to make it happen. They make difficult decisions and see serious problems simply as challenges to be met, obstacles to be overcome. They want to be in control and find it difficult to delegate tasks or share leadership. They champion people, protecting and empowering them, but also can deteriorate into intimidation to get their way, making unnecessary enemies both within and outside the organization. At their best, they are magnanimous and generous, using their strength to improve others’ lives.
Type Nine: The easygoing, accommodating type. Receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent, Nines create harmony among group members by emphasizing the positive so that conflicts and tensions can be eased. They are supportive and inclusive and work with everyone, humbly allowing others to shine. They dislike conflict and division in the team and try to create harmony and stability. But they may accommodate others and avoid self-assertion too much, becoming secretly angry as a result. They can deteriorate into ineffectual “make-work,” stubborn passivity, and serious neglect. At their best, they are able to negotiate differences and bring people together in a stable but dynamic way.
Discovering Your Enneagram Type
In addition to recognizing yourself in these descriptions, there are a variety of assessment tools available for discovering your Enneagram type and hence your authentic leadership style. However, these tools can only reveal how you see yourself, and we are all likely to view ourselves in ways that are influenced by interactions with other people: early relationships within our families of origin, living with a spouse or life partner, the company culture, the CEO, or our immediate supervisor. Assessment scores should always be validated by further reading and reflection.
Because I was trained in the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, I use their tool, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator, available at The Enneagram Institute. There are a variety of other tests. Or you may prefer to work with an Enneagram-trained coach to help you discern your authentic leadership style. In future blogs I will explore how to work effectively with the Enneagram in coaching and professional development.