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Using the Enneagram Wings to Deepen Leadership Effectiveness

One of the core values of the Enneagram is balance.  Some examples are:

  • Don’t overplay your strengths or they will become weaknesses
  • Balance different personality strategies on leadership teams
  • Balance your three intelligence centers: thinking, feeling, and doing

Another, often misunderstood opportunity to deepen self-awareness is balancing one’s Enneagram wings.  Wings are simply the two numbers to the sides of one’s core Enneagram number. People regularly misunderstand the concept of wings, thinking they are the numbers that resonate second and third for an individual but that is not the case.  For example, if you are a Five, your wings are (by definition) Six and Four regardless of how much you resonate with any other number on the Enneagram.  Everyone has access to both wings, although most people have one that is substantially stronger than the other.  There are two ways to think about wings:

  1. Descriptive: If one of your wings is stronger than the other (as is usually the case) that means your core number is “flavored” by the dominant wing number.  For example, Ones with a dominant nine wing will resonate more with the harmonizing, diffuse and sometimes “checked out” energy of Nines than with the helping, sometimes intrusive energy of Twos. 
  2. Developmental:  Knowing which wing is dominant for a leader can help them see where they are out of balance and therefore have an opportunity to grow.  If, for example, a Seven has a dominant Six wing, they may struggle more with anxiety (like Sixes) and can get to a healthier place by tapping into some of the direct, more confident energy available to them via their Eight wing.  If a Nine is struggling, they could look at themselves and see if they have a harder time maintaining the energy/ drive to finish projects (would want to develop their Eight wing more) or if discerning the right path and doing the right thing under the circumstances is the heavier lift (would want to develop their One wing more).

Some Enneagram teachers say that one’s dominant wing shifts from one to the other in mid-life or in response to major life changes.  Even people who resonate with both wings equally will sometimes say that in certain contexts or situations one or the other wing is more dominant.  Again, noticing the imbalance and working to have greater access to the less dominant wing is the idea. 

In sum, knowing one’s core number, including core motivation, strengths, and blind spots is ground zero for self-awareness in the Enneagram system.  But also thinking about which wing, if either, is less accessible can provide another rich and personally tailored map to develop individual leaders as well as leadership teams.