#138 What Number are You?

I actually wasn't planning on writing this week.  I couldn't find anything that I felt I could pin down enough to make sense of.  It has been an intense week of discovery and understanding and clarity in many ways, and there are a lot of half-formed and somewhat incoherent thoughts floating around.

This morning though, a friend of mine asked me to take an Enneagram  personality test.  I took the 38 question sample test and then looked at my results. It absolutely floored me how accurate they were!  In fact, many of the issues that she and I have been discussing over these past months became very very clear in just a few moments.  It turns out that who I am and many of my common behaviors and feelings and methods of operating are not all that original.  In fact, there are only 9 types of personalities indicated by the test itself, so at best, using the way it works, there are only 243 total permutations available. On the results page however, were tips and hints and suggestions as to how to best communicate or deal with each of the 9 types. 

While this was another sort of "Ah Hah!' moment for me personally, it also opened up another discussion between she and I regarding leadership and the Army. And then what I wanted to write about became clear.

The Army really only has one leadership model to work from.  It is a hierarchical system, top-driven, and based upon position, power (both real and perceived) and rank and title.  The qualities that it requires or applauds or accentuates are things like toughness, decisiveness, aggressiveness, perseverance, respect etc.  A leader who can Be, Know, and Do.  A leader who is comfortable with themselves and the requirements of their position and their role.  Someone who is cool under pressure, and calm in crisis and grounded in a solid sense of right and wrong and who can keep an eye on the overall objective when the situation doesn't turn out as expected. 

So far so good.  The Army has requirements for it's leaders.  No problem.  In fact, those qualities listed above are probably highly sought after in other organizations as well.  I'm sure corporate America would highly praise those same attributes in their employees too.  

The issue becomes what happens when the individual's personality traits don't fit the model the Army requires?  If you accept for a moment that there are 9 different personality types outlined in the Enneagram, and the Army, generally speaking, prizes only one of those types, then what are we to do with the other 8 types of people?  Do they have a place inside the organization?  How do we make best use of their talents?  Importantly, are we trying to force round pegs into square holes?  Maybe even more importantly, do we need to expand the Army model of successful leadership to include those types of personalities other than the ones who naturally fit the leader paradigm we have established?  My answer to the last two questions is we are and we do.  We are spending a lot of time with the wrong personality types in the wrong places in the organization, and recognizing that would drive home the need to expand the requirements of leadership to include other models not currently valued.  Simply put, the Army will always need people like George Patton or Douglas MacArthur, but people like them will not be successful without people like Dwight Eisenhower or George Marshall.  You can't have Norman Schwartzkopf without having Colin Powell.  

Over the last 6 months, I have outlined many of the aspects of my personal journey towards self-awareness.  It has been a demanding and interesting and powerfully uplifting time of my life.  There have been some very hard and difficult days, and some where the understandings have come quickly and easily.  It was hard to admit that I failed to provide my platoon authentic leadership in 2006 when they needed it most.  It took months to get to that point.  Other awarenesses have become clear to me very quickly, the pains and hurts easy to let go of.  Others have been amazingly slow coming and I have had to revisit them time after time to become comfortable with my understandings.  As one layer of the onion would get peeled back, another set of challenges would have to be confronted.  Sometimes what I thought was clear 3 months ago, only turned out to be a single layer of the issue.  It contained a complexity I could not then understand.  Three months later, another layer gets revealed.  That is why it is a journey.  Not everything can be revealed at once. 

Today was one of those days....A day when a lot of other pieces seemed to come together for me.  I failed to provide my platoon 'authentic' leadership in 2006.  Fact.  Kind of.  It's a little more complex than that.  What I really failed to do was provide them my authentic leadership in the way that they needed it to for the situation and time we faced.  I was trying to be something that I am not.  Trying to be an Army model leader, when, by personality type, that's not the model that suits me best.  I am not a failed leader, I was the wrong guy for that situation.  There was another guy, readily available, who might have been the right guy.  It's not that I am not a solid leader, it's that the type of leadership, the method, the way I operate best - and most authentically - wasn't what was needed at that time.
The key to any successful leader is their authenticity.  That they remain true to themselves.  That they know and understand and live comfortably in their own skin.  That they operate in concert with who they truly are.  That there not be any distance between their core self-understanding and their outward behaviors.  That who you see is who you get.  As soon as you try to force someone into a model that does not suit them, and then force them into roles and positions they are not suited for and are not comfortable with, then they will be forced to become false representations of themselves. They will become actors.  Once someone starts acting out of concert with themselves, it is a long slow slippery slope until you end up one day not being able to tell who you are anymore.  Trust me on that.  It took 5 years of sliding to see how far from my authentic self I had slipped.  The journey back has been amazing, and has transformed my life, but it isn't something I would want to have to do again. 

To be fair, the Army does administer personality tests in different organizations and at some points along the leader development spectrum, but it is often too late when they do.  If your career path has already been laid out for you as an Infantry officer for example, 10 years into that path may not be the time to find out that you are ill-suited to the type of leadership model that that path requires.  Especially if promotions and paychecks and careers and your livelihood are hanging in the balance.   The organization should start much earlier in a person's career path.  That way, the possibility of aligning the right person with a particular personality set to the right place in the organization where they can best contribute using the totality of their skills, abilities and attributes is greatly enhanced.  I saw an article today online that said the Army needed to draw down its over-all size by 50,000 Soldiers.  I wonder how many people we might lose only because we are putting them in the wrong place where they don't match up with the needs of the organization?  Just a thought, but not everyone is George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower was not considered a stellar officer during his early career.  It shouldn't be chance, fate, or patronage that keeps people like Eisenhower around, it should be by aligning the way they are best suited to contributing with the needs of the organization.  

I am a Type 4.  A Type 4 heavily influenced by Type 3 and Type 6.  The Army only seems to like Type 8.  What type are you?

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.



  1. Authenticity, now there's something worth thinking about. Is there anything in popular culture that really encourages authenticity? Our media through advertising and top rated TV shows seem to be responding to an insatiable appetite for being something we are not. Is not the huge debt burden our countries' people are living under an illustration of buying stuff we don't need, with money we don't have to impress people we don't like? Our hearts are deceitful and history is littered with evidence that mankind is wicked. Neighbour turning on neighbour, tribe on tribe country on country. This is where the philosophy of 'self' is such dangerous nonsense: 'self-worth', 'self-discovery', 'selfish'. Authenticity requires acknowledgment of our flaws and weaknesses and susceptibility to exploiting our friends and colleagues for personal gain. We are blind to our blind spots and accountability is so important if we are ever to see those prejudices and lies we have inadvertently adopted.

  2. Agree with Adrian....again, makes the perfect case for real self-awareness....or mindfulness (the cogntive part of self-awareness as opposed to the affective/emotive part)....the authentic self-aware leader can see his/her blind spots...or if they can't, they will ensure that those who surround them let them know....

    Leader development needs to help leaders be who they are...not who they wish they could be in some dream world....then they can improve on their weaknesses and strengthen what they are already good at....

    old models and old mental models are just that....old....lets go with new stuff that we have learned over the last 10 plus years...

    think, reason, act, learn, grow.....