"My father was dominant, short-tempered, and controlling," said Matt (style Six) during our first meeting. "My mother was caring, traditional, focused on her kids, her husband, her home. She was also fearful: always afraid of an accident, of something bad happening, always talking about who was sick, who was dying. They were both strict and -- although I was a really good kid -- they wouldn't trust me to take care of myself. Even today, my mother asks unbelievable questions about my health."
Matt had impressive presence. He was often one step ahead of me as we talked about the Enneagram and its application to his interactions with the other three people on the executive team. In response to my example of a style Six client from another organization who'd been described as "wearing his emotions on his sleeve," Matt said, "I think I'm too open. I've heard our CEO Pete (style Five) describing other people by how things go straight from their gut to their mouths, and I think that's how he sees me."
Aware that he'd been looking to others for affirmation, Matt was learning to give himself credit. With reflection, however, he saw how key dynamics of style Six had been playing out with his team mates. He felt close to Joe (style Nine), but sometimes resented Pete for being "stingy" with praise, and found it difficult to accept any suggestions from Sally (style Three) without thinking she was meddling.
"I'd like to be more centered, more at peace with myself," he said, "so my reaction doesn't become a function of what somebody else says every twenty minutes!"
Matt's team mates described him as a very bright, capable executive, an intense individual with "a lot of emotions pumping." They said he brought a tremendous amount of energy and excitement to the group and put in immeasurable hours to reach his goals. He was also applauded for excellent management skills: "He appreciates what it takes to motivate people, understands the little things that make a difference, and treats his people with respect." Another key contribution to the team was Matt's attention to team work across company lines. "He has an appreciation for the various roles that need to be played in the company," said Joe, "so he promotes cross-functional discussions, copies others on voice mail, and reminds his direct reports to include others."
The other three all agreed, however -- as Joe so eloquently put it -- that Matt was "a package of contradictions." He had a good sense of his inner strengths and capabilities and portrayed an aura of professionalism, but he worried overmuch about what people thought of him. "He has this element of caution about 'danger out there,'" Joe said, "yet he also projects a note of reckless abandon" (Matt referred to this as his kamikaze quality). His team mates saw this paradox in Matt as affecting his decision-making: "He can decide on an impulsive, intuitive basis," said Joe, "yet will sometimes say 'We can't do this because...'"Sally assumed Matt "wants to do well and be right, yet has serious doubts, so sometimes he'll take too long to decide, and sometimes he'll back down too readily, especially when challenged by Pete." And, as Matt suspected, Pete said, "Matt needs the most work on not blurting things out."
As a consequence of our personal work, Matt learned to reach inside when he started to react strongly to someone else's opinion and "let it go." In fact, he passed on to me an article by Carl Hammerschlag about ordinary people who journey past fear and illusion:
The primary task in the pursuit of salvation and healthy living is to choose to respond to the summons of life's journey. The truth is that you don't have to take somebody else's path or identify with an established heroic figure. You are the principal character in your own life's drama.