One of the oldest systems alive and well in the area of personal growth and business is called The Enneagram (any-a-gram).

The roots of The Enneagram go back to the sacred geometry of the Pythagoreans, who 4000 years ago studied the deep symbolism of numbers. In Greek ennea means "nine," gram means "letter": the term enneagram refers to a circular symbol depicting nine personality styles. A purely arcane bit of ancient or "primitive" cosmology? Note well: today The Enneagram is taught in the Stanford MBA program and used by organizations as large and diverse as Motorola, the CIA and the Oakland A's. By all these groups and many more, The Enneagram has come to be seen as one of the most cutting edge tools available for enhancing human potential and facilitating growth in the workplace.

One reason it enjoys such prominence is that it is one of the most complete systems ever devised for understanding why different people think, feel and act the way they do, and what makes our relationships flourish or flounder. Ultimately, The Enneagram's goal is to provide a map for discovering our highest qualities and purpose in life by offering a specific path of development for each of the nine personality types.

Here's a quick tour of the different types (adapted from

Point One: The Perfectionist. Attention goes to what is right or wrong in a situation (or in a partner); to what needs improving. You may initially love this person's detail orientation and dependability, etc. then find her nitpicky, judgmental, critical or controlling. Since life is about continuous improvement, Ones tend to forget to have fun.

Point Two: The Helper. Attention goes to helping others, to being indispensable, to feeling other's feelings so strongly they may not know their own. You may love the giving, loving empathy of the Two, then find that there are strings attached (something is expected and no clues are given as to what it is) or that you have no need for what they are so eager to give.

Point Three: The Performer. Attention goes to doing, achieving and appearing successful. Threes adjust how they come across to present the image they perceive others want. You may love the dedication to work and the successful image, and later resent the "always doing" mode. Threes don't dwell much in their feelings because these get in the way of getting the job done.

Point Four: The Tragic Romantic. Attention goes to what is missing in life. What is here in front of me isn't quite it. If only.... Fours have difficulty with the flatness of ordinary life and are considered the Artist personality. You may be drawn to the depth and feeling of the Four, to his uniqueness, and have difficulty with his emotionality and game of attracting and rejecting people.

Point Five: The Observer. Attention goes to asking, What do people want from me? Fives have a profound need for privacy and their own space. You may be drawn to their self-sufficiency and exceptional ability to think things through, but sometimes feel rejected by their need for privacy and detachment. Fives also have difficulty accessing and discussing feelings.

Point Six: The Devil's Advocate. Attention goes to what is threatening or dangerous in the world. Sixes are planners who prepare for the worst-case scenario, which may make them fearful or confrontational. You may be drawn to their loyalty and fascinated by their imaginative planning, but be hurt when the Six looks for clues to validate their negative outlook in relationships.

Point Seven: The Epicure. Attention goes to what is pleasurable and to keeping many options open all the time. Sevens avoid pain and emotional discomfort. You may be drawn to Seven's zest for life, adventure and fun, but that can wear thin when the Seven won't acknowledge difficulties or pain. Seven is the eternal escapist.

Point Eight: The Boss. Attention goes to being strong, for this is how Eights survive in the world. Eights are cut-to-the-chase people and can be bulls in the china shop. They can make you feel protected and safe at times, and at other times be controlling of the environment and other people. Their impatience with emotions and inability to show vulnerability can be hard to live with.

Point Nine: The Peacemaker. Attention goes to other people's preferences--even to the detriment of his or her own, if it will keep the peace. Nines are quite mellow, laid-back people who accept others just as they are. They can see all points of view and merge with others' preferences. You may become irritated with Nines when they don't make decisions and seem to float through life.

Perhaps you just recognized someone on your team, or yourself, or why some people have been responding to you the way they did. Unlike many other personality typing systems, The Enneagram does not put people in boxes. Rather, it helps us identify and transcend those boxes we are already in that may be keeping us from living more fully.

If you want to understand people's strengths and struggles, what motivates them and what scares them, how to communicate effectively and bring out the best in them, there are many resources to further your knowledge of this age old wheel of personal growth. Here are some excellent introductions: The 9 Ways of Working: How to Use the Enneagram to Discover Your Natural Strengths and Work More Effectively, by Michael J. Goldberg; The Enneagram Personality Portraits: Enhancing Professional Relationships, by Patrick J. Aspell; The Everyday Enneagram: A Personality Map for Enhancing Your Work, Love and Life...Every Day, by
Lynnette Sheppard.