Ep 189 – How the Enneagram Can Help You Feel Confident About Coaching

This episode is special because my closest friend, Susan DeGenring is with me today. We’re going to talk about the Enneagram in coaching. Find the full transcript below.

Before I introduce her, let me explain two things that inspired this episode. First, some of my recent clients learned as part of their coach training, how to use a scientifically rigorous assessment tool with their clients.

And I noticed that those coaches felt more confident about coaching and charging higher prices, and they have thrived in their businesses.

The other thing that inspired this episode is that I recently had a chance to be on the receiving side of coaching with the Enneagram.

I was going through a tough time. Yeah. Even coaches with 20 years of experience of those. And I had lost my joy for life and went into a bit of a depression. So I reached out to my closest friend, Susan, who is a brilliant coach, and she studied the Enneagram deeply in a few sessions with her.

I felt lifted out of my funk with a much more positive outlook.

So let me tell you about Susan … Susan DeGenring is the founder of Still Mind Coaching Solutions and is a leadership development coach and strategist. She delivers goal-based yet transformative coaching using the latest neuroscience and mindfulness approaches.

And Susan’s mission is to create better workplaces by guiding leaders to exercise the privilege of power responsibly with more clarity, humanity, and strategic intent. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Most recently she has certified to become a mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher, employing mindfulness practices paired with two decades of leadership development experience to help clients recover from burnout and build resilience as organizational leaders.

So I’m so glad, Susan, that you’re on this call. This is going to be fun.

Susan DeGenring:

Thank you so much, Rhonda. You know, you coached me into finding my niche, so I’m really appreciative and it was such a great pleasure to work with you around the engram. And, you know, you were a great example of why using an assessment when coaching can be so powerful.

Rhonda Hess:

Well, I’m kind of curious about that for everybody listening. What are the reasons that you use an assessment to coach?

Susan DeGenring:

Well, there are two things and part of me realized this, especially when I was coaching with you, because we have multiple lines of relationship. You’ve coached me. I’ve coached you. We’re really, really close friends.

And so, having an assessment like the Enneagram helps because it meant that the Coachee doesn’t have to take my word for it. You know, they get data about themselves from an objective source. And then we work with that together.

I don’t have to try to lead them anywhere to understand themselves because I mean, we all know this right, coaching can become very subjective and reflect our own biases too much if we’re not conscious about it. So it helps balance out the coaching. It keeps me from getting too attached to my own perspective on who they are and what they need.

And again, I think it really helped coaching you because it helped me keep my boundaries a bit cleaner and focus on you and what you were saying.

Rhonda Hess:

You know, that makes so much sense. And when we worked together, it was so clean. Didn’t ever feel like you were leading me. I didn’t ever feel like you were using anything in our past to inform you. I felt like you were really staying present with me in the moment. And so that’s really important.

And I just wanted to reemphasize the part about bias because bias is something that we really need to own in coaching. And I’m saying this all the time to my clients, you know, I’ll say: “Well, here’s my bias about that.” And I say that because I want them to hear that I’m owning that so that they can be in their open mind and decide what’s right for them.

Susan DeGenring:

Right. Well, that’s great because that brings me to my second point, which is of course really related. But I’ve been learning a lot from studying neuroscience and people learn best if they self-generate insights, instead of being pointed in a direction or being told what to think

This has become a very big deal, at least in organizations, around giving people performance feedback.

And so there’s a level of autonomy that you can get with a good assessment that our brains really love when getting feedback, because autonomy is a huge brain based motivator, if you will.

And so the Coachee gets to choose what they want to focus on and at what level of inquiry they want to go. You know, not everybody wants to dive deep. So they get to titrate in a way.

And they’re brought to self-awareness by seeing what resonates with their own personality structure and how to grow rather than trying to stretch themselves into some other set of characteristics that someone who told them they should have coaching or somebody from their family or their group of peers said: “Hey, you should do this because you’re broken and you need to be fixed.”

Right? So in other words, they choose what to change for themselves.

Rhonda Hess:

Yeah. The assessment really lets you stay out of those weeds. So what inspired you to choose the Enneagram to serve leaders in organizations among all the other tools that you have and your expertise?

Susan DeGenring:

Maybe I should quickly describe what the Enneagran is a little bit. And bear with me. I’m just gonna go back a little bit in time to its roots.

So that Enneagram is an ancient framework. The name comes from Ennea, which means nine, and that refers to the Enneagram’s nine pointed symbol. And the symbol was found 28 centuries ago in, you know, the writings of Plato and Pythagoras.

And over the next two millennia, this nine pointed framework kind of became a center point around which philosophers, scientists and theologians were trying to organize some core questions about what it means to be human. Questions like:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What drives me?”
  • “And how is it different from what drives other people?”
  • “How can I feel more fulfilled?”
  • “And why does change sometimes seem so hard?”

I mean, these are they’re great questions, no matter what niche you’re coaching from.

Susan DeGenring:

I think if someone’s trying to accomplish a goal, start a coaching practice or coach moms who are working from home or whatever it is, if we jump 700 centuries forward to the early 20th century, that Enneagram symbol was brought to the West as an organized way to study personality types, which brings us to today’s conversation about coaching, right? Because the modern Enneagram and particularly the assessment that I use, which is called the IEQ9 — which I really love, cuz it’s like IQ EQ — it’s a highly validated scientific instrument, the most accurate one that you can get for the Enneagram and it gives answers to these human questions.

So it’s like a map of human nature. That’s how it seems to me. I like to talk about the Enneagram as nine different patterns of how we think feel and behave according to our type or personality structure.

Susan DeGenring:

You know, our personality is a response to the environment, to the people and to the stressors we were born into. And those responses become embedded in our neural pathways and brain chemistry. And we now know that those things can shift and change.

The Enneagram helps us see what might be blind spots, like our weaknesses, or what’s motivating us that we can’t really understand until we take a look at it and see what’s driving the way we think feel and behave.

I think, I mean, you reminded me in our experience together that it can really lead to some profound shifts in our own experience of our lives and how we interact with them and still harnessing the power of our own personality.

Rhonda Hess:

What’s so amazing about coaching and how the Enneagram really helps this is that it really doesn’t matter who you’re coaching or what you’re coaching them about or what they’re trying to accomplish. All human beings are kind of — they’re made the same in a way in the sense that we act and feel and think from our experience and especially sort of the primary scenario — what we were born into, as you said.

Where each individual is really different is in the WAY they think and the way they feel and the way they act.

And so as I’m working with my own clients, I’m always just kind of thrilled, amazed, and also really stretched to try to be with that human being and all that they bring to the table and not try to make them like a previous client or not trying to think of what I’m doing with them exactly the same as what I did before. And it keeps me really fresh. It keeps me on my toes.

Susan DeGenring:

Right? Yeah. That’s a great point about the Enneagram. And we’ll talk about this in a little bit about how it helps you understand each client as they’re different. And it also helps clients understand other people that they have to work with.

But one of the things that I also love about it, lest it sound like it’s a little bit too psychological or ethereal, is that the Enneagram is really useful to coach anyone, to find a path to satisfaction or effectiveness, or to be a more balanced version of themselves.

It really doesn’t matter what niche you’re working with. You can use it to support your clients in moving forward, overcoming blocks and getting unstuck. And isn’t that what coaching’s about really?

And in my particular niche, I do work with people and organizations, particularly leaders, and sometimes teams. And I have found it a wonderful asset in these last two or three years to help coach people, to manage fear and anxiety and uncertainty that was brought on by the pandemic and all the other attendant effects that have come with that.

Susan DeGenring:

And so having people look at themselves and what’s driving them and have a path to shift to something that’s more healthy for them helps people recover from the trauma. And that’s a word that people are using more and more about what’s happening in organizations and groups where no matter what kind it is, whether it’s corporate or not in profit, or they’re reeling from this unrelenting change shock, I call it. And the Enneagram has been really helpful for people because they can see that they’re not broken and that there are pathways that they can take to be more healthy.

Rhonda Hess :

And when you were helping me with the Enneagram, one thing that I noticed — and I don’t know if everybody’s like this — but I know for me, when I understand myself better, I can have more compassion for myself. And therefore I’m actually able to lift out of a difficult mindset. One piece of understanding about myself, just lifts me up.

But also when you are working with your clients, it’s … there’s this repetition, right? This sort of incremental learning and therefore transformation happens.

Susan DeGenring:

Yeah. Thanks, Rhonda. You know, I will say that working with you on the Enneagram inspired me to go back and look at my own assessment, you know, and I’m even considering hiring another IEQ9 coach, you know, to help me with a few things I’m struggling with right now. Because the truth is we can be very blind to our motivations and what’s driving us. And even if we’ve done tons of personal development work ourselves, it’s not hard to, you know, fall back. Sometimes it’s just the nature of being human.

Rhonda Hess:

Mm-hmm. Everybody goes up and down, everybody surges forward and falls back.

Susan DeGenring:

Right. You know <laugh> and that doesn’t mean you’re broken. It just means you’re human being and you’re working. I mean, I think what’s so freeing about the Enneagram is it basically says: “Look, this is just your structure. It’s not good or bad. You’re not a bad person because you are driven to these things. It’s just the way you are.”

But there are also ways that you can move toward a more integrated self, a better, higher performing version of your own self. And that’s what I love about it.

Rhonda Hess :

And that’s really where it’s at in the world today. I mean, I don’t really think that language would’ve been so common even 20 years ago. You know, I think that there have been a lot of advances in neuroscience and a lot of advances in performance. It’s always inner work.

Susan DeGenring:

Yeah. And you know, I can see in my own path as a coach, even working with you and with other mentors and teachers, as I moved along, I get to see how my particular structures of thinking and fixations my own sort of leanings towards certain types of patterns of thinking or patterns of emotion or patterns of doing. I can see how those get in my way from, you know, creating as effective a coaching practice as I want. So that’s one of the things that I love about the Enneagram is that it gets underneath the surface behavior and it gets to the underlying drivers.

Rhonda Hess:

Yeah. Felt it!

Susan DeGenring:

I think the Enneagram, it has this idea of — I like to say we’re nuts with a hard shell around us. Like, you know, we’re all a walnut with this hard shell around us that is the personality we’ve been developing right since we were born onto the earth. And the Enneagram helps peel away that hard shell.

What is always a main intent for me in coaching is to help people expand the gap between an event or a stressor and their reaction to it so that they have more conscious choices available to them about how they’re going to be as they pursue whatever goal they’re pursuing.

The Enneagram is structured in such a way that not only do you get to plumb those depths or pull those threads, if I’m gonna mix all my metaphors up here, but it also gives at least 10 different levels or lenses to look through to help someone deal with challenges they’re struggling with — or if they’re not struggling, how to get better at what they do within the range of who they are as a person.

Susan DeGenring:

And so I almost never go through all those 10 different levels that the Enneagram can take you with any one person, because we pull just one thread and it opens up. And I think you experience that kind of, from what you’ve said, it just opens you up to understanding how you can be more effective, more strategic, how you can be kind of the best person.

You can not to try to be different than who you are because your organization says you need to, or because you think you’re not good enough.

So I always think that one of the things that’s so important for a coach is to be able to offer the voice, the countervailing opinion, that you are good enough. It’s one of the best ways I think we can serve our clients as they work to accomplish their goals.

Rhonda Hess:

You know, there are days … there are moments … where you just feel unhappy with yourself. It’s really good to come back to “I’m good enough.”

So, Susan, I’m just curious what kind of breakthroughs have you seen or have you’ve helped people to get to through the Enneagram in your leadership coaching?

Susan DeGenring:

I’ll just take an example of a client who was a new senior director of marketing, and she was promoted over her peers with more seniority. She was really struggling with how to communicate with and direct those around her, who now reported to her.

She intellectually understood that not everyone does things the way that she does them. She was a super high achiever and bottom line … she got stuck in this vicious cycle where— if people didn’t do things the way that she explained to them that it could be done — she wasted tons of time and drove her teammates further into not wanting to take on more responsibility because they felt like they could never meet her high expectations. And that’s exactly the opposite of what she wanted to do.

So, once she understood that she was so driven to perfection and high achievement, and she was in this vicious cycle, she figured out how to set more general guidelines, within which people could give their own ideas. And, you know, she had to build more trust and let go. And it was no easy feat for her, but the Enneagram was the field out of which all this understanding was harvested and the solutions to the problems presented themselves. It was great.

Rhonda Hess:

Yeah. It’s a really fantastic story!

This has been so helpful to hear the way you articulate all this Susan, because you really understand the breadth of this tool. And I just thought, somebody listening might want to take the Enneagram, especially the one that you mentioned, which is called IEQ9. There’s more breadth. And then, if they wanted your help to coach around what the report shows, how could they best reach you?

Susan DeGenring:

And by the way, I’ll say that the IEQ9 was designed specifically for people to use to coach others. So that’s another reason it’s so incredibly valuable.

So anybody could contact me at moc.gnihcaocdnimllitsnull@nasus OR go to my website StillMindCoaching.com and sign up for a free Strategy Session. I would love to talk to anybody about this.

You can tell I’m very passionate and enthusiastic about it, but I am that way because it works. And it gives me such a lift myself to see other people lift out of their own way and get what they want.

And thank you so much for having me. I really have enjoyed talking with you.

Rhonda Hess:

My absolute pleasure. Stay inspired and make things happen!