Coaching style One

When I asked this man the 12 magic questions I use to determine an enneagram style, here are several of the answers that marked him as a One.

I’m writing your biography. What one characteristic shall I highlight?
“My desire for excellence in all things.”

If you were to have a tombstone, what would you like written on it?
“Selfless husband, dedicated father, friend of the downcast, fearless
Creator, son of God.”

What is your pet peeve?
“Being interrupted.”

He also said the one thing he’d like to change would to be more flexible and easygoing. Style One often leads a strenuous inner life. Look at the adjectives on his desired tombstone: selfless, dedicated, fearless and friend of the downcast. These are his inner aspirations. And in style One they can easily become assignments and ultimately rules to live by. Look how virtuous he would have to be to realize all those characteristics. For most of us, fatigue would set in trying to be any one of those. He wants to do them all and would appreciate not being interrupted while he is accomplishing them. Ones focus on working hard, getting things done, and doing them heroically well . They often find it difficult to enjoy life (think American Puritanism) and are often suspicious of pleasure, especially sensual pleasure.

How should you coach him with the knowledge you have of the Enneagram? The first level, of course, is to make him aware of how hard he is on himself. I would probably tell him a story. Here’s one, not really a story, but an actual experiment. A coach was having trouble with his best three runners on his team. They were very good but had plateaued at their best level, but try as they would, they couldn’t improve. The coach thought they could do better, so he consulted an experienced coach and told him the problem. The other coach said to try this: tell them to run only at 90% for several days and see what happens. Puzzled, the coach did as was suggested. All three runners beat their best time.

“Try harder” is usually the worst and cheapest advice a coach can give. (That’s why we invented cheerleaders at athletic contests. They’re not there just for looks, even though it appears that way). Your job is to make your client work smarter. In the case of style One, their search for excellence and perfection can easily make them workaholics. You need to help them not over employ their Enneagram focus.

In addition to the usual coaching type questions, I would look to style 7 for his natural resources. I would talk to him about play, especially because other answers told me he had children. You can’t just tell Ones to play. They have to be led to see playing as virtue –Ones do virtuous stuff well. If you don’t do that, they’ll feel guilty about playing. Coming to that insight will require time and perhaps several conversations.
He has to see that play happens when you combine excellence with pleasure. I would talk to him about the richness and excellence of playing well. The reason high pressure executives play golf is that it rehearses what they must do to perform well on the job: high focus and simultaneous relaxation. Playing music is another demanding task that requires total concentration and relaxation. It’s called playing music, not working music, for an intuitive reason.

If you’d like coaching about your Enneagram style, contact me at

Why we don’t

Business literature talks frequently about how people do not do what is in their own best interests. This seems “counter-intuitive” which is academic talk for stupid, but it really isn’t. What they discovered is that people have a “competing commitment” – an unacknowledged goal or principle that prevents them from doing what they – on the surface – want to do.
Here’s the deal: our enneagram style is frequently a competing commitment. If you are a 7 and have a goal that entails a lot of boredom or tedious work to reach that goal, your seven-ish desire for novelty, change and excitement will sabotage that goal. Our enneagram focus may or may not coalesce with our stated goals. When our enneagram goal conflicts with our stated goal, we often do what our Enneagram focus suggests.