How Knowing Your Students’ Enneagram Types Can Help You Guide Them as Leaders

Student affairs professionals are always looking for new ways to engage the students we interact with.

Whether we are preparing to build new teams, or looking to develop student leaders in creative ways, it can never hurt to have new tricks up our sleeves.

Personality and leadership inventories are great tools! They give us a common language when working with students and supply a blueprint for tapping into students’ strengths and encouraging teamwork.  

Most of us already know and love the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, StrengthsFinder, and the Color Code. But, there’s a new kid on the personality block! If you’ve been on Instagram within the last 12 months, you’ve likely seen an uptick in friends, colleagues, and students sharing their Enneagram types. 

In addition to learning something new about ourselves or the ways our students operate, Enneagrams are an awesome way to connect with students on something that feels relevant and fresh. If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, keep reading! 

What is it?

The Enneagram is a geometric figure that maps out nine personality types and their complex interrelationships. While each of us will identify with some traits of all types, everyone has one dominant personality type that guides their motivations and interactions with the world around them.

drawing showing the 9 personalities of the enneagram

Although everyone has one dominant personality type, the way their type shows up in their relationships, leadership style, and day-to-day interactions with the world is complex and wholly unique to each individual. The Enneagram makes it possible for you to do surface-level generalizations or dig deeper into unique applications depending on what you’re interested in. And best of all, students often relate to it more than any other prominent assessment out there!

Knowing a student’s Enneagram type may help you better understand their motivations and behaviors. For example, a Type 9 like me is inclined to avoid conflict and tension, and keep observations and opinions to themselves in order to avoid disrupting the peace; however, if you directly ask most Type 9s what they think, they’ll have something to say! 

Below are the type descriptions according to the Enneagram Institute, followed by a few considerations to keep in mind when working with each type. If you’d like to dig deeper into how to best support each type, the Enneagram at Work website is a great place to start!

Type 1: The Reformer

The Reformer is known as the rational, idealistic type. They are principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic. 

Reformers like to do things the “right” way, and they like to do work that matters! These students appreciate when you recognize their commitment to what is good and right, and the value it brings to the team or the task at hand. 

You can tap into their motivation by painting a big, bold picture of the higher meaning and impact behind the work you’re doing together. A reminder such as “I know these tasks feel unimportant but you’re helping lay groundwork that will allow your organization to reach its long-term goals and you’ll know you had a hand in that,” can help energize a Type One push through when things are tough.

Type 2: The Helper

The Helper is the caring, interpersonal type. They are demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing, and possessive.

Helpers want to love and be loved, and they want their presence to make others better. These students lead with their hearts. Give them space to praise others and bring your team together, but don’t forget to praise their contributions as well so their bucket stays full! 

Write your Type Twos a hand-written thank you note. Or better yet, if you’re working with a team, facilitate a hand-written praise activity so that your Type Twos can communicate their love for their teammates in a comfortable way!

Type 3: The Achiever

The Achiever is the success-oriented, pragmatic type. They are adaptive, driven to excel, and image-conscious.

Achievers are motivated by, you guessed it, achievement! These students will be motivated by their ability to find tangible success, whether it be individual or team-oriented. 

Work with these students on setting and working towards clear goals, but remind them that they still add real value to the student organization or office even when success doesn’t come in the form of an award or new program. Follow up on regular milestones with these students in one-on-one meetings so they can see real progress along the way toward hitting bigger goals.

Type 4: The Individualist

The Individualist is the sensitive, withdrawn type. They are expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.

Individualists bring a unique perspective to their work. They may seem quiet or withdrawn but their minds are at work. Don’t overlook their need to feel valued by you or the group at-large despite keeping to themselves; that includes appreciating their creativity and different way of thinking. 

Have a one-on-one conversation with these students to ask about and affirm their out-of-the-box ideas. You may even give them the confidence to try one of their ideas and watch their confidence grow when it succeeds! 

Type 5: The Investigator

The Investigator is the intense, cerebral type. They are perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.

Your student investigators will often ask lots of good, thoughtful questions. They feel that their top value comes from having insight and knowledge on a variety of topics. 

Be sure to praise them for the other skills they bring to your student community and find opportunities for them to demonstrate their expertise in ways that take the peers’ shared goals to the next level. Make a point to ask investigators questions like “Is there an obstacle or an opportunity we haven’t considered yet?” and Do you have an idea we haven’t mentioned?”.

Type 6: The Loyalist

The Loyalist is the committed, security-oriented type. They are engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

Your loyalist students are going to be dependable and play their roles in your working relationship (or on the team) consistently. They are constantly balancing a healthy awareness of potential issues with a quiet anxiety related to those. 

Give these students a safe space to communicate their concerns and provide a feeling of safety. Help them channel their overthinking into productive problem-solving exercises during your one-on-one time. And praise their commitment and consistency, either privately or in front of a group if you have the opportunity.

Type 7: The Enthusiast

The Enthusiast is the busy, fun-loving type. They are spontaneous, versatile, distractible, and scattered.

The enthusiasts you work with are going to bring the energy and a lighthearted spirit to all you do! They’re optimistic and will bring out the best in others through the joy they bring. 

Recognize the ways they put the wind in the sails of your projects when their enthusiasm is focused on the job ahead. And help them focus that enthusiasm by asking directly, “What excites you most about this project? Awesome; let’s start there!”

Type 8: The Challenger

The Challenger is the powerful, dominating type. They are self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational. 

Challengers are always ready to make things happen. They’re bold, and when they see a goal, they move full-steam ahead. Tap into these students when you know a project needs a jumpstart. Let them know how much their confident approach is valued, though reassure them that they’ll still be an asset even when they relinquish a little control. 

Ask your Type 8s “What do you think is the best next step forward?” Whether it’s for an individual project or a team, they’ll be the most likely type to offer a solution to get things moving.

Type 9: The Peacemaker

The Peacemaker is the easygoing, self-effacing type. The Peacemaker is receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent.

Your peacemakers are calm and thoughtful. They’ll never rock the boat. On the surface, they may not seem engaged. But they are constantly observing and able to see multiple sides of an issue. They’re welcoming and will be great teambuilders. And while they usually won’t speak out with controversial statements, if you ask them directly and give them space to provide a thoughtful answer, they’ll be happy to weigh in. 

Pull your Type 9s aside after a meeting or give them space in a one-on-one meeting by asking direct, open-ended questions, like “What are your thoughts on the timeline we discussed? Would you make changes if it were entirely up to you?”

5 Great Uses

If you’re interested in utilizing the Enneagram with your student leaders, try some of the ideas below! 

1. Incorporate the Enneagram into your initial team-building retreat. 

There are several free online versions of the Enneagram test (such as here and here) which you can send to your students to complete before a team-building experience. Dedicate some time to allow everyone to share their type, express whether or not they feel it was accurate, and elaborate upon how they identify with the traits associated with that type.   

2. Combine the Enneagram with another personality or leadership inventory and dig into the overlap.

Maybe your students have already completed the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory, and you’d like to see if there are patterns in how Enneagram types are represented among your introverts and extroverts. Or maybe they’re curious about which Enneagram types have more perceivers or judgers. Examining the overlap can lead to some interesting conversations and connections among students and give you even more insight into the unique ways in which your students find motivation and energy.

3. Use Enneagram types as part of an icebreaker. 

If you’re in charge of kicking off weekly meetings, you might cycle through different opening activities or discussion prompts each week. Next time, ask a question about the Enneagram! It could be something practical, like “How does your Enneagram type influence how you like to receive feedback?” Or it can be a more creative prompt like “Which fictional character of your Enneagram type do you relate to the most?” (Here’s one starting point to help with the latter.)

4. Tap into Enneagram types in your individual advising and motivation sessions.

We know that all of our students are wired differently; their motivations, their fears, the ways they view success, and how they like to be coached differ per individual. Understanding your leaders’ Enneagram types can go a long way in helping tailor your advising and motivation styles. For example, a type 8 will have no issue telling you what’s on their mind, but you’ll have to dig a bit to get that information from a type 9. Neither of those approaches are right or wrong, but they are very different, and your understanding of that difference will allow you to best support and develop each student.

5. Lead a workshop based on how Enneagram types impact leadership.

If you want to go beyond teambuilders and icebreakers, create and lead a workshop on the connections between the Enneagram and leadership. After every participant has taken the test, give an overview of the types, then allow students to break into small groups based on their type to debrief their strengths, along with the ways they are motivated and act under pressure. 

Are you interested in learning more about Enneagram types? The resources are endless, but below you’ll find some good starting points. Enjoy connecting to your students in this way!

How have you used Enneagram types to better understand and support students? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @ShaunaJPrentice!

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Shauna Prentice

About the author: Shauna Prentice is a student affairs professional whose greatest passions include women's leadership, her blind beagle Nora Lou, and good coffee. She currently serves as the assistant director of fraternity and sorority life at the University of Cincinnati. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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