Thinking Like a Leader

Like many symbols, the Enneagram makes convenient scaffolding for intellectual constructs. Attempts to create memorable and useful maps and models are often enhanced by a visual pattern. They help the learning process because easily remembered logical patterns help the concepts to which they are attached take root in the brain.

One of the reasons that the Enneagram is so compelling is because of its striking visual pattern, which comprises simple interlocking patterns that create a robust system. Yes, the descriptions of the Ennea-types is useful and valid, but I believe that one of the reason the Enneagram sticks with people is because of the impact of the logic of the visual patterns.

Over the years of working with leaders I have taken advantage of this scaffolding to create a leadership model that describes a set of attributes related to a leader's self mastery, relationships with others, and habits of thinking. Mapping these attributes to the Enneagram not only creates memorability, it also helps to highlight the dynamic interrelationships of these attributes. That is, rather than just seeing the qualities as discreet and independent competencies, mapping them to the diagram helps people better understand how they can support (or impede) each other.

It is important to recognize that there is nothing magical about the scaffolding, and that no model placed on top of the scaffolding is complete or perfect. Leadership is a complex endeavor, and no list of leadership qualities or traits will be complete in and of itself. That said, I have found this model to be a useful foundation upon which to build.

As stated above, the model covers three broad areas: self-mastery (which can essentially be understood as self-motivated behavioral change), relationships with others (particularly subordinates), and leadership thinking (habits of mind that improve judgment and decision-making).

This series of blog posts will address the three attributes related to leadership thinking: rigorcuriosity, and creativity, which, in this model, correlate to points 1, 7, and 4 of the Enneagram, respectively. Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing inherent in these points of the Enneagram diagram that correlate to these attributes, it is simply a useful and sensible heuristic that fits nicely with some general concepts about the Enneagram of personality. It is not to imply that Ones are necessarily more rigorous, Sevens more curious, or Fours more creative that people of other types.

Effective leadership thinking is a big topic, so we’ll break it down into parts. We’ll start off with why it’s important, and then discuss some of the obstacles to effective thinking. In future blog posts I’ll talk about these three attributes in more depth, along with some resources and exercises for developing each of them.

Before I explain why I chose these three attributes to focus on, it would help to explain why effective thinking is so important for leaders.