What does an Enneagram 2 leader look like? An Enneagram 2 is naturally wired to help. What could go wrong?
Pizza, Politicians, and Personality Assessments
Ask any room and you’re likely to receive passionate responses on our favorite topics. It’s funny how people end up in different camps.
Those in leadership development aren’t immune to this tribalism. If I mention I’m an INFP (introversion, intuition, feeling, perception), I’ll likely get an earful from someone in the DiSC, Clifton Strengths, or Enneagram camps explaining the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs assessment.
Understanding ourselves and those we lead is critical in maintaining our flexibility as leaders. Any of these assessments will certainly lead to greater understanding. With that said, I recently learned something significant about myself with the Enneagram. What I learned was troubling, but also eye-opening.
He Didn’t Have To Be
In May 1999, I was given the honor of becoming a husband and father on the same day. No, we weren’t a procrastinating couple who poorly timed a shotgun wedding. My beautiful bride was a single mom to a charming 3-year-old. That day, we became an instant family of three.
(I know what you’re thinking. What a great guy, a hero comes to save the day. Hold that thought…)
I’m not sure if it was in our honor, but three days after our wedding, Brad Paisley released his debut album. On that album was his first chart-topping hit, He Didn’t Have to Be. I’ll admit, when the words of this song first hit my radio, I had to fight back a few tears:
When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new
It always winds up feeling more like a job interview
My momma used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone
Who wouldn’t find out about me and then turn around and run
I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old
He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go
The song continues to describe a situation similar to our newly formed family of three. The song ends with the boy, now a father himself, declaring: “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.”
In a way, this song described what I thought I had been looking for in life, a purpose. I was going to be a father to the fatherless. I was going to be the rock, the helper for two people who needed me. This sounded like a job for an Enneagram 2 leader.
The Enneagram 2: “The Helper”
I recently finished “The Story of You” by Ian Morgan Cron. His latest book seems to be a unique approach, using the Enneagram to process our past stories. Stories form for each of us to address certain circumstances earlier in life. This processing helps us fact-check our old stories in the light of where we are currently in life. While those stories may have been helpful in the past, they often no longer apply. Cron not only walks us through processing our past but also guides each type through rewriting our current story to align with our current circumstances and future goals.
Each of the nine Enneagram types has virtues and deadly sins. An Enneagram 2’s virtue is humility. Ironically, the Enneagram 2’s deadly sin is pride. When we are at our best we willingly help those in need. At our worst, we become arrogant and begin to believe we don’t need the help of others. At our worst, we resent the lack of appreciation from those we serve.
According to the Enneagram Institute, the lines on the Enneagram represent our characteristics under stress and those that shine when we grow.
Under stress, the 2 slip into the dark side of the 8: aggression and controlling behaviors.
When growing, the 2 aligns with the habits of healthy 4s. We begin to realize that we need the help of others. We realize that it’s impossible to pour into others when we are not filled.
Living a Country Song
For a time, the words of Brad Paisley’s song became my anthem. I certainly wasn’t perfect, but I felt I was doing well as the solid rock for my wife and son.
I’m not sure what it says about my maturity level, but I seemed to relate well with our 3-year-old. We often found ourselves cross-ways with his mother due to our mischievous ways. We occasionally bumped heads as he was growing up, but he was my little buddy.
As my son grew up, I began to picture an amazing future for him. When he wanted to, he could be successful in any subject in school. Harvard, MIT, or Standford were within his abilities.
He would eventually tower above most people with his 6′ 5″ frame. With that height and some effort, there was a good chance he could play Division I college football.
With visions for my son’s future in sight, I began to push him towards achieving these goals. I knew what was possible with a solid education. I knew the effort required to land a spot on a Division I football team.
What I didn’t expect was the resentment I started seeing in my son. The more I attempted to set him up for success, the further we drifted apart. When he started down a path that conflicted with my goals, I pressed him even harder.
The more I “helped” my son, the more he resented me. When my efforts were ineffective, I pushed even harder with an aggressive and controlling approach. I was helping him achieve his maximum potential. Why wasn’t my son singing praises about his father? Shouldn’t he be declaring “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be“?!
When Helping Hurts
In their book “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself”, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert walk through many examples of how the best intentions fall short. Often, these helping intentions can cause more harm than good. They describe the pitfalls that occur when those with resources attempt to help those in need. It’s not enough to offer assistance, we must understand the need:
“…They actually know something about their situation, and we need to listen to them! …it is reflective of a god-complex to assume that we have all the knowledge and that we always know what is best.”
This thinking easily traps Enneagram 2s. We are often so eager to “help” that we neglect to put the effort into finding out what others really need. Even more dangerous, unhealthy 2s can begin to believe our “helping” elevates us above those we are helping. Unfortunately, we can inadvertently slip into this thinking with anyone we are helping, not just the poor.
When we look down at those we are “helping” it’s no wonder our efforts aren’t received with gratitude. When we don’t receive the gratitude we expect for our efforts, our “helping” turns into a resentful downward spiral.
The Enneagram 2 Leader
Enneagram 2s are supposed to be selfless, caring, and supportive. Our willingness to help defines us. We should be naturally wired for servant leadership. Where did I go wrong?
As leaders, we are often responsible for casting a vision for the teams we lead. We can help others align with that vision. We can even help others see what they are capable of. However, we must realize that others’ dreams are not ours to own. For dreams to materialize, the dreamer must own them.
Somewhere along the way, I began to take ownership of my son’s dreams. Rather than listening to his struggles and future desires, I made assumptions. I would grab the wheel whenever I saw him veer off course. I thought, “If I could just take control, I could prevent him from the inevitable collision with the rocks ahead.”
Some time has passed since those turbulent years, and my son is now a father himself. I recently asked him, “What do you think I could have done differently to prevent you from taking those destructive paths?” He thought for a minute, “There wasn’t a damn thing you could have done. Sometimes people just need to learn a lesson for themselves.”
I’ll be honest, my son’s response challenged me. I didn’t want to hear that answer. I’m a leader, there had to have been something I could have done to alter his path.
I had to realize that was outside my role.
As Enneagram 2 leaders, we are well equipped to help others in times of need. We are naturally gifted in helping others reach their full potential. However, we must resist the urge to think we can become anyone’s savior. That role is already spoken for.