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The Enneagram and the Practice of Law

January 3, 2018

By Jennifer L. Gibbs
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You may have heard of the Enneagram in passing or at dinner parties, and growing interest may be considered by some to be a fad, or a parlor-game, similar to interpreting astrological signs, or business-focused personality typing such as Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder.

However, those that study the Enneagram know that it is much more than a personality-typing system and can have a profound effect on how we view ourselves, our relationships and perhaps our society.

The Enneagram has been classified as “a sort of GPS of wisdom” and “a shortcut to understanding what drives people, and to discover[ing] strengths and blind spots around yourself and others.”[1]

Study of the Enneagram could provide attorneys an important tool in helping to understand the various personality types of those with whom they come into contact professionally, including clients, opposing counsel and judges. The Enneagram may also lead to stress reduction, enhanced self-understanding and self-awareness.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram has been defined as “an ancient spiritual and psychological system that reveals nine different aspects of human consciousness and personality.”[2] The founder of the Enneagram Institute, Russ Hudson states: “At its core, the Enneagram helps us to see ourselves at a deeper, more objective level and can be of invaluable assistance on our path to self-knowledge.”[3]

The word “Enneagram” comes from the Greek words ennea (“nine”) and gram (“something written or drawn”) and refers to the nine points on the Enneagram symbol.[4]

The Nine Personality Types

The nine different Enneagram types, identified as numbers One through Nine, reflect separate habits of thinking, feeling and behaving, with each type connected to a unique path of development.[5] “It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.”[6]

Although one’s Enneagram type will remain the same throughout his or her lifetime, the characteristics of the type may either soften or become more pronounced as one grows and develops. The following is a brief description of each Enneagram type.[7]

1. The Reformer — The rational, idealistic type: principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic

  • Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
  • Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced

2. The Helper — The caring, interpersonal type: demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing and possessive

  • Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved
  • Basic Desire: To feel loved

3. The Achiever — The success-oriented, pragmatic type: adaptive, excelling, driven and image-conscious

  • Basic Fear: Of being worthless
  • Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile

4. The Individualist — The sensitive, withdrawn type: expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental

  • Basic Fear: That they have no identity or personal significance
  • Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create and identity)

5. The Investigator — The intense, cerebral type: perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable and competent

6. The Loyalist — The committed, security-oriented type: engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious

  • Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
  • Basic Desire: To have security and support

7. The Enthusiast — The busy, fun-loving type: spontaneous, versatile, distractible and scattered

  • Basic Fear: Of being deprived and in pain
  • Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content — to have their needs fulfilled

8. The Challenger — The powerful, dominating type: self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational

  • Basic Fear: Of being harmed or controlled by others
  • Basic Desire: To protect themselves (to be in control of their own life and destiny)

9. The Peacemaker — The easygoing, self-effacing type: receptive, reassuring, agreeable and complacent

  • Basic Fear: Of loss and separation
  • Basic Desire: To have inner stability — "peace of mind"

Each of the nine Enneagram types falls into one of three centers of intelligence. Types eight, nine and one are in the “body” or “instinctive” center, where the dominant emotion is anger or rage. Enneagram types two, three and four are grouped in the “heart” or “feeling” center, with the dominant emotion of shame. Types five, six and seven are classified as the “head” or “thinking” center, with the dominant emotion of fear.  Notably, “all nine types contain all three of these emotions, but in each center, the personalities of the types are particularly affected by that center’s emotional theme.”[8]

Each Enneagram type typically has a wing. Recognizing that no person is a pure personality type (except perhaps Rob Bell who describes himself as a seven with a seven wing),[9] most Enneagram teachings state that everyone is a unique mixture of his or her basic type and usually one of the two types adjacent to it on the circumference of the Enneagram — called a wing. For example, if a person is an Enneagram type nine, he or she will likely have either a one-wing or an eight-wing, and the personality as a whole can best be understood by considering the traits of the nine as they uniquely blend with the traits of either the one or the eight.

Benefits of Enneagram Study

On a personal level, Enneagram study can increase confidence and self-esteem, improve positive thinking, increase compassion for self and reduce self-judgement and self-criticism. Enneagram work can also improve interpersonal relationships by enhancing understanding of reactions and behavior patterns, which may increase understanding and tolerance of others. On a professional level, Enneagram work can improve communication between colleagues, develop firm leadership role and enhance business procedures.[10]

The broad utility of the Enneagram has likely prompted its use by numerous organizations in coaching, training programs, communication, conflict resolution, leadership development and organizational change initiatives. These include the Walt Disney Company, Motorola, Silicon Graphics, the CIA, Kaiser Permanente Research Center, the Federal Reserve Bank, VLSI Technology and many others around the world.[11]

The Enneagram in the Law

Self-described “recovering lawyer” Jennifer Alvey reports that most lawyers are ISTJ’s on the Myers-Briggs test; however, this is likely the case because there are more ISTJs in the general population.  Another type in particular — INTJ — occurs with five times greater frequency in lawyers than it does in the general population (men and women combined). And there are seven times as many INTJ women in law as there are women INTJs in the general population.”[12]

ISTJs most frequently correlate to Enneagram type one, equally divided between one with a two wing and one with a nine wing.[13] The majority of INTJs identify as type five, with a large number also identifying as type one.

Importantly, there are lawyers of every Enneagram type, although some Enneagram types may be better suited for some areas of legal work than others. Tim Leishman, who advises professional services firms on strategy and leadership development, said he does not tend to use Enneagram in his practice with lawyers because he considers it too revealing. “From my perspective, looking over many years at a lot of different assessments, it’s the one that really shows your inner self in a way that can be frightening because it is so accurate about your inner drives.”[14]

Unlike Leishman, who does not use the Enneagram with lawyers, attorney and “law firm refugee” Jane Harrington writes that personality and working styles instruments (like the Enneagram) can provide the insight and self-awareness attorneys need to grow and better organizational development in law firms.[15] However, this introspection may be new to lawyers: “For a lot of my clients, it’s the first time they’ve ever thought about what their personality is.  Understanding how individuals approach problems is useful for identifying and developing leaders.”[16]

Understanding your Enneagram type can be a transformative event in that it may prompt individuals to appreciate more fully their natural gifts and self-imposed limitations. “People report that they are more able to find deeper satisfaction in their work, and in their relationships, when they more fully comprehend the natural way they and others think, process and respond, based on their type.”[17] The Enneagram can show a person the lens through which they view the world.

Understanding one’s own Enneagram type can not only serve as a tool for personal growth, but it can be critical to establishing and maintaining relationships with co-workers and clients. Recognizing that others view the world through a different lens, with different basic desires and fears, can lead to increased levels of compassion and empathy.

For example, what if an attorney is an Enneagram type one (the reformer) whose basic desire is to be good, to have integrity, to be balanced, but the client is an Enneagram type four (the individualist) whose basic desire is to find themselves and their significance (to create an identity)? Try as he or she might, the attorney may not develop a close relationship with the client, one built on trust and mutual understanding. This could be due to the fact that Enneagram types one and four can sometimes be like mixing oil and water because they see things from the opposite points of view. But if the Enneagram type one attorney recognizes and respects the Enneagram type four client’s perspective and celebrates the client’s uniqueness, the relationship may flourish.

Additionally, if an attorney is trying to solicit a new client away from its existing firm, and the client representative is an Enneagram type six (the Loyalist) whose basic desire is to have support and security, the attorney may have an uphill battle — not because of lack of legal and interpersonal skills, but because of the fears and desires of the potential client.

At the end of the day, the lawyer who can utilize the gifts of the Enneagram to recognize and appreciate that not everyone sees and navigates the world through the same lens will be the lawyer with the more successful and rewarding life, and very likely a more successful and rewarding practice.

Jennifer L. Gibbs is a partner with Zelle LLP in Dallas, Texas.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its​​ or their respective affiliates. This article is for general info​​rmation p​​urposes an​​d is ​​not intended to be and​​ should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[2] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[3] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[4] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017). The Enneagram symbol starts with a circle, meant to signify “unity” or the “law of one.” The center triangle of the enneagram signifies the “law of three” which states that every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources: The Active, the Passive and the Neutral. The six-pointed figure of the enneagram (the Hexad) represents the "law of seven," which considers the path of movement toward and away from anything in our world as not a straight line, but rather periods along the journey of striving, failing and striving again. Both the law of three and the law of seven are illustrated by the lines of integration or disintegration whereby each type takes on characteristics of other types during stress or growth.  For example, Enneagram type 4 takes on characteristics of Enneagram type 1 in growth, but characteristics of average to lower-level 2s in times of stress.  See also Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge (She Writes Press 2013); (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[5] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[6] Id.

[7] The descriptions, including basic fears and basic desires, are taken directly from

[8] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).


[10] (last visited Dec. 28, 2017).

[11] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[12] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[13] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).

[14] (last visited Dec. 27, 2017).

[15] (last visited Dec. 28, 2017). 

[16] Id.

[17] (last visited Dec. 26, 2017).  

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