Lead Yourself Better with These Two Tools

AdVance Leadership » Lead Yourself Better with These Two Tools

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #036. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll gain two personality tools to strengthen your self-knowledge.

1 Insight

Leading others well first requires leading yourself well. Before you can lead yourself, you must know yourself.

Francis Bacon, a 17th-century English philosopher and statesman, claimed, “It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else and still unknown to himself.” The practice of knowing yourself takes time and intentionality. It is a crucial competency that lays the foundation for developing other leadership skills.

7 Ingredients of Self Knowledge

Self-knowledge is a lifelong craft. Seeking to understand who you are must be a regular habit. Think of it like perfecting a favorite dish. It starts with a recipe and improves with practice. The recipe for self-knowledge requires seven key ingredients.

  1. Personality—what makes you distinctive
  2. Strengths—your “sweet spot” combinations of natural ability and enjoyment, resulting in excellent outcomes
  3. Weaknesses—areas of personal depletion that inhibit success
  4. Passions—interests that you feel strongly enough about to sacrifice for
  5. Values—the core ideals that drive your beliefs and actions
  6. Preferences—the ways that you want things to be
  7. Triggers—others’ preferences or behaviors that irritate you

To begin a regular self-knowledge practice, start with the first ingredient, personality. Just as it’s impossible to see your physical reflection without a tool (like a mirror), it is also impossible to see your personality reflected without a tool. The personality assessment market is saturated with helpful tools. The two we have found the most beneficial for both leadership and team development are the CliftonStrengths Assessment and the Enneagram.

CliftonStrengths Assessment

The CliftonStrengths assessment resulted from the research of psychologist Donald Clifton in the 1950s and 60s. With a focus on studying distinctive talent, Dr. Clifton is known as a pioneer in Positive Psychology.

He divided the vast array of talents he observed in his subjects into 34 general areas he called themes. The unique order of these 34 themes in each individual influences his or her responses, activities, and relationships and describes how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.

CliftonStrengths allows for 34 million different results (unlike four in DiSC and sixteen in the MBTI), thus validating the distinction and complexity of human personality. Now a part of Gallup, the StrengthsFinder movement has not only evolved into bestselling books but also into an army of certified coaches (including Dorothy) to help guide organizations and individuals in the self-discovery process.

How to Get Started with CliftonStrengths:

  1. Click the Gallup link here, and follow the steps.
  2. At the bottom of the page, select your assessment.
    We recommend CliftonStrengths 34, currently priced at $59.99. For a leader committed to growing in self-knowledge, familiarizing yourself with all 34 of your themes in order is invaluable.
  3. Read your report.
    After you take the 177-question, 30-minute assessment, you will receive a customized report, including suggestions for taking action.
  4. Experience the benefit of accelerated leadership growth.

In their last team meeting, Vicky’s employee, Wendy, presented her ideas for their upcoming fundraiser. In years past, they had organized a dinner and auction, but his year, they were trying something new—a carnival-style family lawn games competition.

As Wendy talked, Vicky grew excited. Her ideas were good. So good, in fact, that they sparked Vicky’s imagination. For each piece of the planning Wendy shared, Vicky added a suggestion of how to make it better.

As the meeting progressed, Vicky noticed her own enthusiasm increasing but Wendy’s demeanor draining. Wendy had started the presentation filled with energy, but she ended it depleted.

When Wendy wrapped up, Vicky asked her what was bothering her.

“I’m just sorry that my ideas weren’t strong enough for you.”


Vicky was confused. She had loved Wendy’s ideas. If she had not liked the ideas, they wouldn’t have driven her to think of ways to make them better. But this was common feedback for Vicky from her employees. They frequently interpreted that nothing they did was ever good enough for her.

After Vicky took the assessment and received her CliftonStrengths 34 report, she discovered that one of her top five themes was something called Maximizer. Maximizers thrive in moving anything good into the realm of excellence. It was the most natural step in the world for Vicky to take others’ good ideas and elevate them. She hadn’t considered how her additions may make her employees feel pushed instead of lifted, their contributions devalued instead of appreciated. Now that Vicky was aware of this trait, she could communicate with her team in a more encouraging manner.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a hybrid of ancient wisdom traditions combined with modern psychology. It explores nine personality types, identified by their numbers. For example, Dorothy is a Type Seven, and Garland is a Type Three.

The Enneagram shows how our personality is influenced by our basic fears and desires, resulting in passions or areas where we fall short of acting out of our best natures.

We were introduced to the Enneagram over twenty years ago and found it to be the most transformational tool we have encountered. It has been exciting to observe the Enneagram’s recent resurgence and the traits of its nine personality types becoming more common vernacular. We once felt as if we knew few to talk about it with, and now we hear strangers discussing it in line at the grocery store.

That being said, there is a danger in so many people considering themselves “experts” in interpreting their own as well as others’ personalities after skimming one book or listening to a podcast. These actions could cheapen the complexities of human behavior as well as the tool itself.

Here are some tips to avoid Enneagram pitfalls:

  • Don’t dismiss the Enneagram as a passing trend. In fact, the Enneagram is an intensely researched and validated tool that has been bettering lives for decades.
  • Because the Enneagram is based on fears, desires, and passions over behaviors, it can be more difficult to assess. If you take an Enneagram assessment, review your results as possibilities, not absolutes. Study your top three results to make your own determination.
  • Study the Enneagram, but also study yourself. It takes time and maturity to be honest with yourself about why you do the things you do.
  • Use the Enneagram as an individual development tool or with a trusted group, led by a well-studied guide.
  • The Enneagram, like any other personality test, is intended for self-assessment. Meaning, it should not be used for attempting to evaluate others. This is especially true for the Enneagram because it is based on inner-motivation more than outward behavior. No one can accurately assign intention to someone else’s actions.

For example, Tim’s employee, Nathan, was constantly doing for others. Any time anyone asked him to take on a project, he would say yes. Tim assumed that Nathan was Enneagram Type Two, sometimes known as The Helper. Helpers need to be needed out of a fear of being unworthy of being loved. From Tim’s knowledge of the Enneagram, he knew Helpers are motivated by helping others. He encouraged his team to continue asking Nathan for any assistance they may need.

Over time, however, Tim noticed Nathan’s performance decline. As Nathan continued to acquiesce to others’ needs, he grew worried, rigid, and anxious. After he uncharacteristically snapped at a coworker over a confrontation around a dropped task, Tim began to question his assumptions. He provided Nathan with tools for self-assessment.

Nathan identified himself as Type Nine, sometimes called The Peacemaker. Peacemakers are motivated by the need to feel settled and in harmony. Nathan had been taking on others’ work in an unhealthy attempt to avoid conflict, out of an inability to say no. Now that Tim knew what was actually driving Nathan’s behaviors and actions, he could guide him toward self-development and lead the team to work better with Nathan.

How to Get Started with the Enneagram:

There is a lot of material out there, and it’s hard to know whose to trust. We have read dozens of books on the Enneagram over the years. Here are four we would recommend for an introduction:

  1. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality TypesDon Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
    This book has assessments to help you get started in discovering your Type.
  2. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-DiscoveryIan Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  3. The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your LifeHelen Palmer
  4. The Enneagram: A Christian PerspectiveRichard Rohr and Andreas Elbert

1 Action

Select one of these personality tools. Add this tool to your regular self-knowledge practice.


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