Article - Intermediate

Authenticity and the Enneagram

By Dirk Cloete | 25 July 2019 |
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A client, the senior leader of a well-known, global conglomerate, once confessed that he suffered from imposter syndrome - the feeling that he might be a fraud who did not truly deserve his position. And that at any time, someone might burst into his office saying, “We’ve found you out!”. Although it might be surprising, it is not uncommon. Many outwardly powerful, confident people (especially in the competitive corporate world ) feel this way.

Many leaders struggle to feel and act authentically. As a result, the challenges this creates, have put authenticity at the top of leadership research and writing agenda over the past few decades. Many leaders that report experiencing authenticity challenges aren’t failing to achieve their objectives. On the contrary, they are achieving positive results and receiving encouraging feedback, and yet they still doubt themselves and block themselves from truly ‘showing up’ as a result.

Development programmes and leadership books urge us to be authentic and be true to ourselves. And many leaders ask, “What does it mean to be authentic? If I’m just generally a grumpy, snappy person in the morning, why can’t I lean into that as my ‘authentic self’?” However, that’s not what is meant by being authentic. It is not, for example, an Enneagram Eight saying, “Well, I’m an Eight and that means that I am domineering, aggressive and impatient – all the books say so! Take it or leave it; this is who I am.”

Authenticity is being at ease with yourself and accepting who you uniquely are – both the shadow and lighter qualities – but then choosing to be a higher version of that self.

Authentic leaders have strong values and choose to act consistently in alignment with those values. Their behaviour and actions reflect their beliefs and they follow through on what they say. It enables them to build healthy, trusting relationships with those they work with, as well as a healthy relationship with themselves.

Self-awareness and authenticity

It is immensely challenging to be authentic if you, at your core, do not clearly understand who you are. If you don’t know what motivates you, appreciate the deepest fears that drive you, or the behavioural patterns that you typically follow. Your values, words, and actions are often misaligned, which makes it difficult to build healthy, trusting relationships with yourself and others. A deep and compassionate awareness of who you are is one of the first, critical components of authenticity.

Your authentic self operates from your true values, not from the fears and reactivity that are a distortion of those values. Authentic people do not constantly judge and edit themselves, but are present to their own deeply held values and choose responses that align with these values and beliefs.

“Many of us feel at times as if we are impersonating a leader rather than working out what it means to be ourselves in a position of leadership. Instead of covering up those underdeveloped areas, great leaders learn to operate as they truly are.”
~ Jesse Sostrin, Eliminate Your “Authenticity Filters”

Author and leadership expert, Jesse Sostrin, describes ‘authenticity filters’ as qualities, or ideas, that seems healthy and positive at first glance but can become flaws. More importantly, it can ultimately limit your ability to be genuinely authentic. He gives the example of a leader who is considerate and aims to please others – a strength that, if over-done or over-simplified, can become a flaw.

“If you invest too much energy into being liked and start holding back just to please others, you’ve created an authenticity filter that will rob you of your leadership voice and the opportunities that it brings,” says Sostrin. Although it sounds like he might be describing a lower-integration Enneagram 2, each Enneagram Type has its unique filters and barriers to authenticity.

Authenticity and the Enneagram Types

Each Enneagram Type can be described as a ‘distortion of self.’ Or rather, a story we tell ourselves about the person who we think we are supposed to be - and, mainly, about how that differs from the person we are. Each Enneagram Type, therefore, has its own set of patterns and beliefs that could become a barrier or limitation to being genuinely authentic;  as well as a key path to integration and authentic being.

While Enneagram Ones place a very high value on integrity and truthfulness, they also judge and filter their responses in an effort to be good, polite or correct. This self-judgement poses the most significant single barrier to the Ones’ authenticity, as it makes it difficult for them to accept their anger and feelings internally, let alone express them truthfully to others. Until Enneagram Ones can embrace the part of themselves that gets angry and is imperfect, genuine authenticity will remain out of reach. Others often reflect that they pick this up from the One, sensing frustration behind the polite smile.

Many Enneagram Twos compromise their authenticity in their efforts to please and support others. How? By suppressing the parts of themselves that they consider unacceptable or unlovable and shaping themselves according to the desires of those they are with. Twos may pride themselves on their authenticity even as they flatter others, because they prefer not to look truthfully at what they personally need. Twos’ desire to be caring can lead them to conceal the truth from others to protect them, as a further barrier to authenticity. A truly authentic Two can be direct and offer ‘tough love’ when needed.

Enneagram Threes have a challenging relationship with authenticity, reflected by their vice of ‘deceit.’ Threes emphasise a successful appearance, having it ‘together’ above all. As a result, they tend to shape themselves into their ideal image. In doing so, denying, or altering their true feelings whenever those feelings do not match the image they feel they need to project. Threes need to connect to the idea of an authentic self that has value in its own right beyond all the doing and achieving.

Authenticity is one of Enneagram Fours values and a quality that they strive for personally. Many Fours express their own unique, personal style and encourage personal authenticity in others around them as well. However, Fours’ intensity may mask an even more profound truth, that they feel ordinary and not unique, making this appearance of authenticity not authentic itself. Fours grow by owning their true motives rather than fantasising and developing a more realistic acceptance of themselves even with their flaws.

Enneagram Fives are often very private people, preferring to keep their inner world to themselves and not easily sharing with others. However, it does not mean that they are not authentic ! There are many ways of being authentic without over-sharing. By trying to compartmentalise and control the impact others have on them, Fives close off parts of their authentic self and deny some real feelings and needs. By working to connect to their feelings in real -time, Fives may be more able to express themselves truthfully and openly.

One of Enneagram Sixes key characteristics is that they can be disconnected from their own inner voice and guidance. Many Sixes say they often do not know what they think, or how they feel — often seeing multiple perspectives and unable to distinguish their ‘real’ inner voice. Sixes mistrust themselves and second-guess themselves often and can also find it difficult to trust others, creating a further barrier to authenticity truly. The Sixes’ path to authenticity lies in discovering their unique inner authority and sense of ‘ knowing.’

Enneagram Sevens are passionate about living an authentic life, often resisting attempts to make them conform to the rules or norms. However, some Sevens are often only comfortable with the positive, and in avoiding the negative, they reject parts of themselves and hide their true selves from the world. Many Sevens need to begin their authenticity journey by becoming more honest with themselves and confronting what fears underly this pattern. Genuine authenticity requires embracing all of yourself, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We often hear that Enneagram Eights pride themselves on being truthful and not pulling any punches. ‘Telling it like it is,’ hoping that others will do the same rather than beating around the bush. Eights often think that this truth-telling makes them authentic, but the truth they tell is only a small part of the whole. Eights deny their more vulnerable, needy selves and present an image of certainty, knowing, and confidence. Truly authentic Eights are those who have learned to open up and admit that they need help and support.

Enneagram Nines tend to focus on not disrupting themselves or others, which raises a high barrier to authenticity when they are operating in challenging circumstances. Nines prefer to maintain a calm exterior even when they may have strong feelings internally – good intentions that may potentially lead to problems and misunderstandings. Nines’ most significant challenge is their self-forgetting. Their path to authenticity involves awakening their inner anger, frustration, and authentically expressing their feelings and needs.

The path back to authenticity

“When you let go of who you are, you become who you might be.”
~ Rumi

The Enneagram offers us each a personalised path back to our authentic self, by showing us how we have limited and constricted this self and how we can unblock ourselves. This offers us the potential to grow into the best version of ourselves that we can be; reclaiming and embracing the gifts of our essential self and moving beyond the limitations of our Type fixation.

The Enneagram offers us a personalised path back to our authentic self. It shows us how we have limited and constricted this ‘self.’ and how we can unblock ourselves. It suggests the potential to grow into the best version of ourselves; reclaiming and embracing the gifts of our essential self and moving beyond the limitations of our Type fixation.

Read more:

Jesse Sostrin, Eliminate Your “Authenticity Filters”

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