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.


Anna said...

Of all the Enneagram types, the Eight is probably the most commonly misunderstood and mistyped. A typical error is for a Six to be mistyped as an Eight, but I’ve seen Eightness ascribed incorrectly to just about every type.

Ennea Type Threes and Eights do have certain similarities, but they are also distinctly different, both in behavior and appearance. They are both attracted to power, and they are both amoral, with the Threes even more so. (Depending upon what role a Three has adopted, they can appear to be righteous and moral, like, say, Billy Graham.) Eights and Threes can both be stunningly insensitive and cruel. One significant difference, though, is that Eights rarely lose their tempers, but Threes do. John McCain is a Three. The straight-talking McCain you witnessed was the role he was playing at that time. As the stakes rose and his audience became more demanding and diverse, the uncertainty you’ve witnessed is the result of the challenge he’s experiencing in reading his audience. He’s trying to be all things to all people - give them what they want - and at the same time appease the conservatism of his party. He is a scary prospect as a potential president.

Sixes can be brutal, but it’s a brutality fueled by paranoia. Their targets tend to be entire groups that represent something threatening to them, whereas Eights are more specific - it will be someONE they want out of their way. Rather than exterminating their enemies, Eights are usually just dismissive of them and walk away; they typically pose no real threat to what an Eight wants, and they are not into fisticuffs and battles. Tyrants are almost always Sixes, not Eights. Sixes challenge or are suspicious of authority. For an Eight, authority is not an issue - it simply doesn’t exist. They’re unimpeded by position, class, rank, title, etc. If you’ve ever actually known an Eight, the differences are clear and markedly different. Eights are scarce (especially in this country), and I seriously doubt that most people have ever had much (if any) experience with an actual Eight.

Barack Obama is a Six, not a Three. Sixes often have the “gift of gab” - they can be tireless talkers and eloquent speakers, and they can also be flim-flam men, con artists, and snake oil salesmen. But Obama demonstrates far greater depth, originality and independent thought than you will ever hear from a Three. He’s being compared to John Kennedy because he’s an inspiring speaker, and he also has that charisma and class that Kennedy possessed. But Obama has far more substance than a Three, which he clearly demonstrates.

Anna said...

I sent you a comment last week. Are you not interested in this discussion?


Anonymous said...

While the leaning of the author maybe not hidden let us put a light on them.
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Anonymous said...

I don't think McCain is an eight. I think he is a six and that might explain the difference in his actions in 2004 and 2008. Yes, he toyed with Bush in 2004, which doesn't take much, given Bush's now recognized lack of articulation. But I think that event was a six on six interaction and McCain was in his power feeling stable, secure, and fearless. A powerful place for a six to be.

But now he has met his match in someone who is always fear less. I think he is unable to accept the reality of Obama being so naturally confident in this face-off, and so unbelievably supported, that his six stress buttons have been pushed.

As a fear based six he finds himself lacking the clarity of what to do in his time of weakness. He has been backed into a corner caused by his lack of support and his fear and consequently he is pressed into stress ... distress ... which has him falling apart as a counter phoebic six.

Now he is trying to act like an eight and is fragmenting before our television eyes. He can't get a grip and consequently because as a six, he is exemplifying what the Enneagram Institute says about a six, "It is the contradictory picture that is the characteristic “fingerprint” of Sixes, the fact that they are a bundle of opposites."

I vote for him as a six with a seven wing.

I am a seven with an eight wing, which I am sure colors my observation of him.

Lynette Sheppard said...

My apologies to Anna and to "Anonymous" for my lack of replies. I've been working on the election the last two months and have neglected to even check for comments or to post. You both present excellent, well thought out evidence to support your assessments of McCain as a Six. While I know some folks who actually know him and believe him to be an Eight, none of us can truly know his inner territory except, well......John McCain. So we can only speculate.

While I admire your analyses, I want to caution you against stereotyping - for example to characterize Threes as "amoral" or that they don't have substance. That may be true of the least evolved of Threes, it may be a pitfall for the Three type, but I can assure you that I know many Threes with highly developed morality and plenty of substance, especially in the Enneagram world. All types can transcend their low side and put their gifts to good use. Remember that a pitfall of type is most often simply an overused or distortion of the innate gift.

As for Eights rarely losing their temper - it is true that Eights will say they rarely get angry, but what we other types see LOOKS very much like anger to us. We'd have to ask John McCain if he really feels angry during his outbursts (more Six) or if he's just blowing off steam or releasing energy, as the Eights describe their blowups.

So ultimately without John McCain's input, we can't really type him. My guess is still Eight - seeing the stress point of Five during most of this election. And I welcome other viewpoints and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, 8s are more likely to show their anger than any other type. By nature, 8s are conflict oriented. 3s, less authentic by nature, are more likely to smile through their seething teeth. Neither is amoral (wow - what a comment!) The health of the person depends on their level of morality.

Obama is definitely not a 6. Its an interesting question regarding whether is a 3 or a 9. He campaigns like a 3 but governs like a 9.

Lynette Sheppard said...

Dear Anonymous,
Very true - Obama campaigns like a Three and governs like a Nine. He does try to mediate and reach compromise, it would be interesting to know if that is his bent because he is a Nine or an overlay from Hawaii - where I live, a Social Nine milieu. Wish we could ask him...