Mastery Vs. Mystery: a Tension of Enneagram and Strengths

As I’ve worked with both the Enneagram and Strengths, I’ve noticed some tensions between these tools. That’s because while both tools do measure and reveal personality, they focus on different parts of personality.

The Enneagram is oriented around drive and whole-person health while Strengths is oriented around talent and performance. We must not make the mistake of treating both tools the same.

As the finishing touches are being applied to our study of Enneagram and Strengths, we've noticed some positive tensions between the two.

Positive Tensions

I say “positive” tensions because not all tension is bad. Sure, as a Type 9 whose core drive is to be at peace, I can sometimes run the other way when tension and conflict arise. And they seem to get in the way of my talent for positivity.

But in truth, tension isn’t bad:

  • in exercise, tension builds muscle
  • in relationships, tension reveals individuality
  • in life, tension shapes character
  • in problem solving, tension leads to new solutions
  • in scholarship, tension breeds new ideas

One of the tensions between Enneagram and Strengths is Mastery vs. Mystery.

Think of it like an older married couple who knows the other so well and still leaves room for mystery between the two. They may say a key to their relationship is mastery and mystery.

Mastery Vs. Mystery

If you come to the intersection of Enneagram and Strengths expecting full mastery, you may be disappointed, and likewise, if you are expecting deep mystery, you may give up. That’s because each tool adds its part.

Mastery of Strengths

I’ve known Strengths to be mastery-oriented. There is a science model, emphasis on skill development, evaluation of how talents are being used, and application of talents toward positive outcomes. There are action steps, concrete definitions, and performance metrics.

For example, I attended the recent online Strengths Summit and the people were trying to solve practical workplace challenges thru the use of Strengths. They wanted to improve workplace engagement, become more productive, and drive efficient teams. Results and outcomes were of special interest.

Mystery of the Enneagram

On the other hand, I’ve known the Enneagram to be mystery-oriented. It is a system that reveals depths like childhood wounds, sinful coping behaviors, and internal messaging schemas that impact our wellbeing. There are inward questions, spiritual disciplines, and wandering reflections.

I also attended the recent online Enneagram Conference and the people were trying to understand themselves thru the Enneagram. They wanted to achieve whole-person health, pay more attention to their longings, and find deep fulfillment. Soul and spirit were of special interest.

When Sparks Fly

I have to say, attending both events was an education! I could not imagine bringing both audiences together in one place! They seemed so different from each other, spoke different languages, aimed at different goals, surely they would clash if these worlds came together. Sparks would fly.

But that’s precisely the point!

Strengths need the sense of mystery that the Enneagram brings. And the Enneagram needs the sense of mastery that Strengths bring.

We need:

  • action steps but also awe,
  • definition but also ambiguity,
  • completion but also journey.

Without them, there are no sparks, no heat, no fire. Relationships that last need this and so do personality systems that help us.

I'm thankful for the tension. 

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