Friday, August 22, 2008

Enneagram Personality Types of the Candidates

We Enneagram enthusiasts cannot resist the temptation to type public figures. And while we know that we are really only guessing at type by observing external cues rather than apprehending the inner terrain that the Enneagram truly describes, we can’t seem to help ourselves. That’s okay, just as long as we don’t take ourselves to seriously. I like Tom Condon’s take on typing when you don’t know the person: he seems Oneish or Niney, rather than claiming he knows definitively a public person’s Enneagram type.

With that disclaimer, let’s take a look at the way the current presidential political candidates present themselves.

Eight years ago, John McCain exemplified type Eight. He was the maverick with a temper known for his Straight Talk. Watching him during a debate with George Bush was like watching a cat toy with a mouse. He provoked counterphobic Six Bush until W. finally lashed back at him. McCain smiled at him and said something akin to “Very good, George.” Eights want to know where you stand and respect having their considerable energy met.

But today, we see a very different John McCain. He stammers out answers to questions or defers to his staff. What’s happening here? Has the Straight Talk Express derailed? Is he really too old to be President? Has he slowed mentally?

I don’t know the answers to any of the questions, but the Enneagram and its movement might shed a little light on this seeming sea change. Remember that Eightishness did not prevail in the election of 2000 - George Bush won the nomination. It’s enough to shake the confidence of any candidate, even an Eight.

Watching John McCain in 2008, I don’t necessarily perceive a man whose “lost it” but rather an Eight in the stress point of Five. His hesitancy to answer questions with the bluntness of the past and his constant replies that he “needs to check on that” are Fiveish. Fives don’t shoot from the hip too often, but most often will want more information before they commit themselves to a definitive statement or course of action. Right now, McCain looks tentative in comparison to the McCain of old.

Barack Obama is the great orator; the man with the gift of language and inspiration. His social Threeishness has people comparing him with another great Three candidate of the past: John F. Kennedy. Obama, if indeed he is a Three, is solidly on point. He’s charming and captivating with a positive message - hope. (A higher virtue for Three interestingly enough.)

There are hints of his heart or security point of Six in his desire for social justice, equality in health care access, and other issues he places priority on, but it may also be a Three take on public service. What we have not seen publicly thus far is a move to the Stress Point of Nine. But then he’s been either tied or leading in the polls thus far - what happens if that changes remains to be seen.

Of course, the potential downside of Three is a tendency to be more performance and image than substance and there are certainly those who question whether Obama has real plans or the experience to govern. In other words, is there substance as well as show?

Regardless of your political leanings or persuasion, it is interesting to apply the Enneagram map to what we see in our candidates. Would that they all were conversant with the Enneagram and their own types, how better might they serve? If a candidate knew his or her Enneagram style and understood the gifts and pitfalls of type, stress and security points, how might each be able to predict and handle themselves in difficult situations?

Those of us who use the Enneagram in our own daily lives can attest to the power of stepping back from our default mode, making sure we are running the personality and not the converse. It’s important to know your strengths, but maybe even more important to know what trips you up so you aren’t caught by surprise or entrenched in a habitual worldview when the situation calls for a different way of perceiving and acting. As Dirty Harry quipped, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Only then can we rise above them.