Which type of fire service leader are you?

The study of Enneagram identifies nine leadership types to help you better know yourself and lead your members


Have you heard of Enneagram? I’m guessing that for most of you, the answer is no. I was only recently introduced to this concept as a way to better know myself, my motivations and my leadership style. And aren’t we, as fire service leaders, always looking to hone our leadership style for the greater good of the organization?

I should acknowledge up front that I majored in psychology during my undergraduate studies, so I’ve always been interested in personality studies, but I had never heard the term “Enneagram.” I am familiar with instruments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which have been around for decades, but Enneagram was new to me.

The Enneagram of Personality, as it is called more precisely, is a tool to identify how an individual’s personality is determined by their life experience.

The Enneagram of Personality is a tool to identify how an individual’s personality is determined by their life experience.
The Enneagram of Personality is a tool to identify how an individual’s personality is determined by their life experience. (Photo/Getty Images)

A brief history: From ancient Greece to modern business

The seeds of Enneagram can be traced back as far as the ancient Greek study of man and the types of personalities exhibited by individuals. It is believed that sometime in the Middle Ages, there were those who branded it a part of witchcraft – that such study was akin to trying to alter the soul. It was then officially banned from further study.

But the concept persisted over time, and over the past 20 years or so, Enneagram has become more widely viewed as a legitimate study within psychology. In fact, it is now used extensively in business coaching to understand the types of leadership styles exhibited by individuals, and how they can collaboratively contribute to problem-solving by employees ranging from junior team members and researchers to the executives of Fortune 500 companies.

Nine types: The Enneagram of Personality

The word “ennea” from the Greek means nine. Naturally, in the study of Enneagram, there are nine distinct personalities and, therefore, nine different types of leadership styles:

  • Type 1 leaders are those who “do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.” Most Type 1 leaders value structure and high standards of quality above all other things.
  • Type 2 leaders are the “people-pleasers” who want to be liked and appear to be likeable above all other things.
  • Type 3 leaders are “compulsively productive professionals” that like to set goals, genuinely enjoy working toward those goals, and want to look good doing it.
  • Type 4 leaders value self-expression and usually wants to be seen as a unique, aesthetic and/or special individual – a one of a kind.
  • Type 5 leaders are the “knowledgeable observer” or the quiet specialist who is called upon as an authority, especially to help resolve an impasse.
  • Type 6 leaders are skeptics, questioning everything along the decision process, but usually qualify as troubleshooters to get things back on course because they analyze every facet of an issue
  • Type 7 leaders are the “visionaries” focused on innovation with an eye on the future, not necessarily with their head in the present.
  • Type 8 leaders are powerful leaders who want to act quickly by moving things forward, primarily from their position of strength.
  • Type 9 leaders are the “consensus builders” who want to move forward by defusing conflict – a mediator who attempts to be inclusive of all opinions.

It should be noted that leaders at times pick up some traits of other leadership types; as such, there are usually three subsets for every leadership type, but that discussion is too detailed for this brief article. Learn more about the subsets in Dr. Beatrice Chestnut’s book “The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century.”

In focus: Examining a single leadership type

Enneagram experts offer approximately 15 to 20 general questions for each leadership type that the leader scans to determine which set primary style best fits them.

To help illustrate one of these major types, we will use my own assessment – a Type 3 leader. For Type 3, there are approximately 20 questions, including:

  • Are you laser-focused on goals?
  • Do you seek to do the best possible job in the most efficient way?
  • Are you good at reading an audience?
  • Do you identify with your work?
  • Do you love to check things off your to-do list?
  • Are you a high achiever or overachiever?

Type 3 potential strengths: Each leadership type has its strengths and weaknesses. For a Type 3, the strengths can include:

  • Setting and meeting goals
  • Working hard to get the job done/executing the plan
  • Competing to win/striving to be the best
  • Inspiring others to drive for results

Type 3 potential weaknesses: There are also several weaknesses:

  • Being viewed as overly aggressive
  • Overworking toward a goal to the point of physical or mental exhaustion
  • Trying most everything to avoid failure
  • Failing to listen to valuable input from others about potential problem areas
  • Damaging relationships by pushing others too hard

Personal analysis: I am a neophyte in the study of Enneagram, having read only a few books on the subject; however, based on what I have learned about my personal leadership style, I can understand now why my leadership style sometimes clashed with others who might have viewed me more a benevolent dictator than a leader. Looking at the situation through the lens of the Enneagram, I can see that, in several instances, there may have been a better way to lead change that would have resulted in a win-win for more individuals, had I understood the type and needs of those who had to implement a new process. Saying “Make it so!” may have worked for “Star Trek’s” Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but may not be the best of all options today in the long run.

Department applications: Where to start?

If you are interested in learning more about Enneagram personality types, I recommend first reading more about them from expert. There are many websites offering information about this study, but ensure the material is from a legitimate source.

Second, determine where you are within the personality and leadership types. Ask those close to you if the type you’ve chosen fits. Think about how your strengths may help you better lead your members, and watch for the pitfalls that each type may have.

Finally, if you want to expand this to the leadership in your department, it’s important to obtain buy-in from your staff and people. While major corporations spend time, energy and a lot of money to teach the benefit of this study, this would likely be financially difficult for any fire or emergency service department – so it’s best to go slow. That said, getting your key staff members on board may help improve the leadership dynamic within your department as you draw on the combined strengths and best leadership qualities of your chief officers. Maximizing your strengths will help you work together to achieve those common goals that improve the training and safety of your personnel, which will subsequently result in a better response to the needs of the community that you serve.

Stay safe!

Suggested reading list

There are several good books that you may want to read for more on Enneagram and its uses in both learning your personality and leadership type:

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