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On Talent and Three Ways of the Enneagram

Sometimes connections between ideas come when you’re not expecting them, even in front of a room of people. Recently I was leading an introductory strengths workshop for a team. While explaining the concept of talent, I shared Gallup's definition of talent:

Talent by Gallup

“Talent is naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.”

Each of us is naturally good at certain things, and these things fall into one of three categories—thoughts, feelings or behaviors. We may think in an extraordinary manner, have feelings that lead us to make unique contributions or may behave in ways that cause remarkable results. These talents in thinking, feeling, and behaving are special aptitudes for success in life.

I had taught this definition of talent many times before, but this time was different. I suddenly saw a different side of it, like light shining through a diamond in a new way. My mind jumped to the connection between this definition and another wisdom tool I had been learning—the Enneagram.

Wisdom of the Enneagram

Enneagram wisdom states that there are three “centers of intelligence,” and each of us primarily lives from one of these centers as our essential way of responding to the world. So, when something happens, our “go-to” response or means of interpreting what just happened comes through one of these centers.

What are the three centers?

  • THINKING/HEAD: planning, thinking, organizing information, strategizing, analyzing
  • FEELING/HEART: relating to people, feeling, bonding, comparing, socializing
  • DOING/GUT: acting, behaving, doing, initiating, moving toward or away

These three centers sound amazingly close to Gallup on talent, don’t they? Could it be that the study of talents as presented by Gallup is somehow connected to the Enneagram wisdom of the centers of intelligence?

Maybe these are ancient truths about the soul of humanity that have been scooped up by different parties in different times. Maybe these modes of essential living wanted to be discovered to help us understand ourselves better. Maybe they’re upended diamonds in the rough.

Talents and Centers

Which leads me to wonder how the 34 individual talent themes presented by Gallup (called CliftonStrengths) may relate to the three talent patterns/three centers of intelligence. It may seem logical to assign each of the 34 talent themes to a different center of intelligence as a means of understanding how talents may relate to the Enneagram. But I think that’s wrong to do.

Talent themes are types of talented behavior. They reveal HOW you go about getting positive results. For example, my "Communication" talent helps me to put ideas into words so others can receive them. How are ideas transmitted clearly from my head to my hearers? Through this talent. In this way, talents and strengths are the means of driving the outcome.

But they’re not the same as centers of intelligence or Enneagram types, which is why assigning talent themes to them isn’t relevant. I’ve heard from a few folks who have years more experience than me in using both tools, and they say they’ve found no correlation between talent themes and Enneagram types.

That’s because what these tools reveal is different from each other. Not competing, not contradictory, just different.

For example, on the Enneagram I'm a NINE, which means WHAT I do naturally is:

  • accept people without judgment
  • avoid conflict
  • see from multiple perspectives
  • go with the flow

The NINE is in the acting/gut center of intelligence.

At the same time, my top talent themes are:

  • Responsibility
  • Connectedness
  • Belief
  • Positivity
  • Individualization
  • Relator
  • Developer
  • Woo
  • Commmunication
  • Activator

The talents are HOW I go about doing well, WHAT I naturally do. And so I "go with the flow" through Connectedness (everything's connected), Positivity (we'll make lemonade from these lemons), Activator (I'll get right on that).

I "see from multiple perspectives" through Individualization (I see what's important to you), Developer (it's got potential), Relator (she's really sincere).

The thing is, even though the NINE is in the gut/doing center, not all of these talents would be thought of as "doing" talents. I pull from other centers of intelligence to do WHAT I do naturally.

So you see, together the insights from the Enneagram and strengths tell a fuller story and provide more depth than one of them alone, which is why I wouldn’t want to go without either of them.


Thinking about the talent themes in relation to the centers of intelligence is exciting for the insights it may bring for self-awareness, personal growth, and team contributions. There’s a lot we could do with talents and centers, not only understanding why and how we function, but also from where growth can occur.

We'll talk more about the intersection of strengths and the Enneagram, but hopefully this post stirred something new and sparkly in you.

How do your top talents relate to the centers of intelligence?

Copyright © 2000, 2018 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. Gallup®, CliftonStrengths®, and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup, Inc.


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