In our first profile of Enneagram types as school leaders, we'll examine the Type One, usually known as the Perfectionist or Reformer. In our own work, we've begun to emphasize that the key difference among types is motivation, or what we "seek" from work, relationships, and life in general. In this sense, we call the Type One the "Perfection-Seeker," or (perhaps more flattering), the "Ideal-Seeker."
Vision: the Perfection-Seeker's gift
Type Ones bring a tremendous gift of vision to their work as school leaders, and can inspire teachers and students to higher ideals and higher levels of achievement. But as with all types, Ones also have a dark side, and Type One school leaders can be prone to perfectionism and frustration when their vision is slow to become a reality.
Ones view their experiences through a sharply evaluative lens, judging everything as good or bad relative to their refined and deeply innate sense of what "ought to be." Ones have a capacity for assessing every situation and imagining how it could be better. This idealist vision can motivate Ones to engage in small and large-scale social reform efforts, to push for improvements to their work environment, and (or) to push themselves and others to higher levels of personal and professional performance.
For a variety of reasons, many school leaders struggle to articulate a meaningful vision for school improvement. As wave after wave of state- and federally-mandated school reforms are handed down from policy makers, many administrators have occupied a largely passive role, trying to faithfully do what they're told and implement new directives and changes.
Type One school leaders, on the other hand, draw from various reform mandates and movements to articulate their own vision of what schools should become, and can usually share their vision with some confidence, often inspiring teachers to adopt new strategies for improvement. Type One school administrators tend to be extremely well-organized and seek to maintain an orderly and predictable environment throughout the school, a trait teachers and parents greatly appreciate.
Perfection-seeking has its price
But the One's tendency toward perfectionism can lead to a grueling work schedule and a failure to complete projects until they meet his exacting standards, hyper-criticism and impatience with self and others, and a reluctance to share decision-making and governance with teachers and other stakeholders. As a part of the "Instinctive" or "Body" Center (along with Types Eight and Nine), Ones have a vexing sense that they are not in control of their own lives. This is a particularly perplexing situation for someone so dedicated to fighting for an idealized version of reality.
On this last point, the nature and structures of schools as organizations poses specific problems for the Type One school leader. Schools are generally understood to be "loosely-coupled" systems in which individuals and groups within the school function with a high degree of autonomy. Research on the impact of school principals on student achievement is clear: while principals can exert a significant effect on student outcomes, primarily through their role as instructional leaders, that influence is always highly mediated through the principal's influence on others, especially classroom teaching practice.
This means that principals must usually work within existing structures and use the power of influence to realize their visions for school improvement. They cannot control the process or use their own personal power and effort to make their vision a reality. Healthy and highly-effective Ones appreciate their limitations and trust the process that the ideal will be realized in time, whereas unhealthy Ones become easily frustrated by the slow pace of change, or resentful and critical when others question or challenge their vision. As the One "goes to" Four, he can become increasingly withdrawn, alienated from others, and overwhelmed by conflicting and negative emotions.
Practices for wholeness: Seeking perfection in what is
To maximize their health and effectiveness, Ones should consciously engage in reflective practices that help them become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and build on their core gifts to gradually transcend more negative habits of mind.
Body-based practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation are highly recommended for all Enneagram types. For the One, these strategies are particularly helpful since the idealism of the One tends toward spending an excessive amount of time in one's mind. Body-based practices reconnect the One to the reality of present moment and help her see the goodness and completeness of what is. Ones should spend time every day reconnecting to their breath, and consciously becoming aware of the mystery and wholeness of reality.
Ones often think the truth of their convictions is self-evident and obvious to others. This is a blind spot that can lead to dismissing other perspectives. Ones need to consciously monitor the tone of their messages, practicing boldness in their vision-seeking, but tempering it with compassion for others. It is sometimes helpful for the One to ask himself, "Would I rather be right, or effective?" Which is not to say one's "rightness" must necessarily be compromised to be effective, but the One nevertheless can sometimes sacrifice his effectiveness by insisting his is the only perspective to be considered.
Above all, Type One school leaders must consciously acknowledge their interdependence with others. Ideal visions are co-created. While the One may serve as a great source of inspiration and focus for building a vision and plan for school improvement, they cannot do the work alone. Their relationships, and a healthy sense of what is right in every situation as it is, serve as the foundation for a Type One school leader's effectiveness.
Look for additional profiles of other Enneagram Types as school leaders in coming weeks. For a complete list of Enneagram resources, check the Enneagram links on the left-hand side of this page, and visit our Services page to learn about the wide range of CLS workshops available for leadership and professional development.